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Friday, October 1, 2021

Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships - Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic, Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships, I gave a basic description of this dynamic.  In the current article, which is Part 2, I'm providing a clinical vignette to illustrate a typical scenario.

Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships

Clinical Vignette:  Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in a Relationship
The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information removed, illustrates a typical dynamic related to irrational jealousy and mate guarding:

After her boyfriend, Nick, told her that they should take some time apart, Sue sought help in therapy to deal with her irrational jealousy.

Sue told her therapist that Nick was a great guy and she had no objective reason to believe he was cheating on her or even interested in anyone else.  However, even the mere thought that he could become interested in another woman made her anxious, obsessively jealous and insecure.

She gave many examples of when she and Nick were around other people and how she would imagine Nick with one of the women in the group.  She felt something came over her, she lost all objectivity and then she would spend the rest of the night monitoring Nick's behavior--even watching to see if he glanced at any of the attractive women in the group.

Afterwards when they were alone, Sue would grill Nick to try to find out if he found any of these women attractive.  Since Nick knew about Sue's irrational jealousy, he would try to change the subject, but once Sue was on the topic, she wouldn't let it go.

Eventually, after she hounded Nick about whether he noticed the attractive women at the social event, they would get into an argument and she would break up with him.  

Once she calmed down, Sue realized that these thoughts had taken over her better judgment and she would apologize to Nick.  Then, they would make up and get along for a while until the next time that Sue got jealous.

After the last event, Sue insisted that Nick check in with her several times a day to give her an account of his whereabouts.  She also told him that she wanted to install a tracking device on his phone, which he adamantly refused.

Most of the time Nick was patient with Sue, but after a particularly volatile exchange where she accused him of looking at an attractive women at a party, Nick said he was fed up. That's when he told her that he thought they needed some time apart.

As usual, when Sue calmed down, she realized she was being irrational and she apologized, but Nick insisted that they spend a few months apart so he could clear his head.  Even though Sue felt remorseful because she realized her mistake, she was even more concerned now that they were apart that Nick would meet someone else during their separation.

Sue revealed to her therapist that this wasn't the first time she experienced irrational jealousy in a relationship.  She felt the same way in her previous two serious relationships and her jealousy contributed to the demise of those relationships.  

In each case, she said, she knew logically that she had no reason to be jealous, but she felt once she became jealous, she couldn't help herself.  She told her therapist that she didn't want her jealousy to ruin her relationship with Nick, and she hoped it wasn't too late to overcome her problem.

As Sue discussed her family history with her therapist, she recounted her parents' marital problems.  She said her parents fought openly in front of Sue and her siblings about the father's infidelity (see my article: How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Intimate Relationships).

She said her mother eventually found out that the father not only had an extramarital affair, but he also had several children with the other woman.  According to Sue, after her mother found out the father had another secret family, she threw him out of the house and he went to live with the other woman and their children.

Sue said she and her father had been very close before this, but after her mother told him to leave, she didn't see him for many years.  She said she believed as a child, and even as an adult, that her father loved his other children more and she was devastated by the loss.

Just before her father died, Sue said, he reached out to her and her siblings to reconnect.  Her siblings wanted nothing to do with him, but she went to visit him and spent the remaining weeks of his life visiting him at the hospital.  By then, he was a sad and lonely man--his relationship with the other woman had been long over and he had no contact with the children from that relationship.

Even though she had a chance to reconnect with her father before he died, she couldn't overcome her longstanding feelings of being abandoned and that her belief that he preferred the children from the other relationship (see my article: Fear of Abandonment Can Occur Even in a Healthy Relationship).

Her therapist recognized that Sue's childhood trauma was triggering Sue, and that history was having a negative impact on her relationship with Nick. So she helped Sue to develop internal resources to contain her emotions first, and then they worked on the original source of the trauma related to feeling abandoned by her father with a combination of EMDR therapySomatic Experiencing and AEDP therapy).

Once Sue processed and resolved her childhood traumatic memories over the course of trauma therapy, she was able to distinguish between her emotions related to her memories and her current relationship with Nick and she was no longer triggered.

Eventually, Sue no longer felt jealous and she had no need to engage in mate guarding behavior. Over time, after she and Nick reunited, they were much happier together.

When a person knows there are no objective reasons to feel jealous in their relationship and yet they still struggle with jealousy and mate guarding behavior, there is usually underlying unresolved trauma that is getting triggered. 

Trauma therapy can be very helpful in processing unresolved memories that trigger irrational jealousy (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

Although the clinical vignette presented above was focused on a woman who engaged in irrationally jealous behavior, this story could have just as easily been about a man because both men and women engage in these dynamics.

Getting Help in Therapy
Irrational jealousy and mate guarding behavior can ruin a relationship.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome problems related to irrational jealousy so you can free yourself from this dynamic and have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and EFT therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.