Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.  

"He wants to know everything I'm doing, day and night," Tami said anxiously, tapping her fingers on the edge of her chair. Normally a self-assured woman, she had grown weary of her husband's subtle—and not so subtle—suspiciousness.

"There doesn't seem to be anything I can do to reassure him of my love for him, and it's killing our marriage."

"Tell me more about how his jealousy impacts you," I asked.

"It's stifling," she said with obvious irritation. "I feel like he watches everything I do. It's like he watching over my shoulders. I can't breathe without feeling like I owe him an explanation. I don't think he understands what he's doing is slowly killing my love for him."

I shared with Tami some of the symptoms of unhealthy jealousy:

  • Excessive questioning about your behavior;
  • Unusual insecurity;
  • Easy irritability;
  • Subtle paranoia and story-telling;
  • Accusations of inappropriate behavior.

"These symptoms," I reassured Tami, "with no cause, are signs of pathological jealousy. If there are ‘reasons' for the jealousy, of course, that is a different matter."

"So," I asked curiously. "Was there anything to bring on this behavior? This kind of jealousy usually arises after there has been unfaithfulness."

"Never!" Tami said emphatically. "I go out with the girls on occasion, but I've never been unfaithful."

"How does he feel about you going out with the girls?" I asked. "Is it possibly poking at some wound of his?"

"He doesn't like it," Tami said. "But, I'm not doing anything wrong, and I shouldn't have to give up something completely innocent to make him feel secure."

"What exactly are you doing with your girlfriends?" I asked.

"Nothing," Tami said emphatically. "We meet at a local restaurant every week. Sometimes at a coffee shop. You'd think from his reaction that I was out drinking and carrying on. I'm a Christian and hanging out with Christian friends. We don't cheat on our husbands. But, I'll tell you. I've been tempted to since he keeps accusing me of it. I'd never do it though."

"Since you've never done anything inappropriate Tami, I think we've got to assume this is his issue. However, even if it is his issue, it's also your issue because you are married to him. You may be able to help him deal with his issues and certainly it will be an opportunity for growth in your marriage. Let's explore what you can do."    

Tami and I then explored several possible action steps she could take to help her husband deal with his jealousy. 

1. Understand some jealousy is normal. We have been created to be bound to one another in love. Scripture tells us to "cleave" to one another, in fact, and when a marriage bond is fragile in any way, jealousy is apt to arise. When there is any threat to feelings of security, jealousy is a one of the first symptoms of trouble. Don't be alarmed at some jealousy. Look for the opportunity in this difficult situation.

2. Explore the roots of his jealousy. Ask questions about his jealousy. Rather than reacting defensively, which is a natural response, ask him if there is anything at all you are doing to pique his jealousy. What exactly are his fears? What are his illusions? Are they rooted in issues from a previous relationship and tweaked by current behaviors. After he shares his fears, and feels safe in doing so, they may simply dissipate.

3. Work on keeping communication completely open. Creating an open line of communication, where fears and concerns are expressed, offering safety. Guard against pathologizing insecurity, but rather agree to have an open attitude. It is quite likely that this open forum for fears and concerns will dissipate his anxieties.

4.  Allow for an opportunity for him to feel and heal old wounds. If he does have old wounds, perhaps a previous relationship filled with unfaithfulness, he needs to grieve those losses. He needs to feel safe in sharing about his feelings of betrayal and grieve them. You may be the person who can minister God's healing love to him.

5. Create an atmosphere of security, trust and love. Agree together that rather than creating an atmosphere of distrust and insecurity, you long to create an atmosphere of love and security. Reassure him you're your intent is create a relationship where he feels completely loved and secure and are dedicated to that end. "Mature love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) Strive to develop mature love, filled with affection and appreciation. This will be a strong antidote to insecurity.

6. Embrace healthy attachment. Seek ways to reassure your mate that you are attached to them. Explore ways to spend quality time together. As you spend quality time together, attachment grows. Understand that threats to your attachment should create anxiety. Note any anxiety as a warning sign, seeking to correct threats to your attachment to each other.

If you are experiencing jealousy in your marriage, let me know how you have overcome it. 

September 28, 2009


Dr. Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover 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