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Dear Dr. David,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for several years and love each other. We have talked about marriage many times, but haven’t gotten to the point of setting a date. Even though we nearly got married last year, we both decided to postpone the marriage because of our conflict.
While our conflict has lessened in most ways, and we are both encouraged about our relationship, there is one area where we are in severe disagreement—my jealousy over his relationship with a co-worker.
He works with a woman who makes me feel jealous. I’ve caught my boyfriend going out to dinner with her, lying about it, and then making excuses that “it’s no big deal.” He says he has only met with her concerning business. I don’t really think my boyfriend would sexually cheat on me, but I don’t trust her. I think she likes my boyfriend, and would latch onto him if she had the chance.
My feelings get hurt over and over again, and he thinks I need to work on my jealousy. He won’t make any agreements that limit his freedom, short of saying he won’t cheat on me. I’m not sure whether I have the right to be upset, or whether I’m making too big of a deal over nothing. I hope you can help me sort this out. ~ Jealous
First of all, let me say that it is no fun to feel jealous—rightly so, or exaggerated. To feel threatened and uncertain about your boyfriend, someone whom you love, eats away at the integrity of a relationship. Furthermore, I can see that this issue erodes not only your trust for him, but possibly even the love you feel for him.
Your jealousy, however, is a symptom of a deeper problem needing attention. There are several issues you and he need to sort out, probably in professional counseling.
It is unclear from your note whether you approach your boyfriend in a reasonable way, seeking an agreement okay to both of you. If you approach him by attacking or accusing, he is more likely to become defensive. When you sit down to talk to him, make it clear that you own your jealousy and need his assistance in the matter.
I’m concerned about your boyfriend’s secrecy and dishonesty. While this doesn’t, in and of itself, suggest wrongdoing, it certainly doesn’t look good, or help you feel more secure.
Since you feel threatened, I’m puzzled as to why your boyfriend won’t takes steps of precaution, which you both agree upon, to end your jealousy. The fact that your boyfriend won’t empathize with your feelings is concerning. Your jealousy is an opportunity for him to empathize with you, reassure you and seek an agreement where you feel secure.
This “other woman” is your boyfriend’s co-worker, and as such, there is little you can do about her behavior. What you and your boyfriend can do is agree upon his behavior. Seek an agreement where he will not socialize alone with her, and certainly never be dishonest with you about her. He needs to send his co-worker the clear message that he is “taken.” Perhaps even creating an opportunity where you both are together with her will help solidify the issue in her mind.
What should you do if your boyfriend refuses to take your feelings seriously? If he won’t take your feelings seriously now, when you are dating, he certainly is not likely to take them seriously in marriage. Think about sharing the importance of this matter and the need to come to an agreement that works for you.
Readers: Please cast your vote as to what you think this woman should do in this situation. Is jealousy usually one person’s problem in a relationship or, as I have suggested, an issue involving both parties?
This article originally posted on January 15, 2008.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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