Jealousy automatically comes across as a bad word. It’s known for making one look petty and destroying relationships.
The Bible even warns about jealousy and its consuming effects, holding it up against other sins such as murder and adultery and pride. It compares it to the grave and rotting bones.
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.” (Song of Solomon 8:6)
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:21-22)
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” (Proverbs 14:30)
But there’s also such a thing as healthy jealousy. The Lord Himself demonstrates that for us.
“Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
Multiple references in the Old Testament portray God as jealous. We know that God is holy and sinless, therefore, it is possible for jealousy to not be a negative trait. Paul also referenced healthy jealousy when writing to the church in Corinth.
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
Paul felt protective of the new converts in Corinth and was jealous for them to stay true to the vows of their commitment with Christ. Likewise, in proper context, a measure of jealousy in marriage can remind both spouses they have something valuable they should protect. Jealousy is not automatically a sin—it’s a feeling. What turns a feeling into sin is the motivations of the heart, and when we react to the feeling with sinful behavior.
Unfortunately, most jealousy issues in marriages today don’t come from a godly place, but rather are a result of sin.
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When we fall into the comparison trap, one of two things will happen. We’ll either come out feeling better than someone else and grow prideful, or, perhaps most often, we’ll come out feeling less-than and grow insecure. Comparison is a losing battle, yet we compare ourselves all the time. Wives eye the new girl at church with an insecure heart, wondering if their husband might find her more appealing. Husbands beat themselves up for not looking like the jacked-up guy at the gym and wonder if their wives would prefer that muscular build instead. On it goes.
Jealousy is a natural byproduct of feeling discontent with ourselves and who we are in Christ. That’s when we tend to assume our spouse is also not content with who are, and assume they view us through the same negative filter through which we view ourselves. Things spiral from there until husbands and wives can’t even go out on a date without casting a wary eye around them or watching their spouse to see who they’re watching.
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Sometimes, jealousy springs from the mistaken idea that our spouse is our possession—that they belong to us. Not in a healthy, covenantal way, but in an unhealthy way. When this kind of possessiveness kicks in, we start to view our spouse like property and not as a person. We start to overreact to the way others react to them, or to the way they respond to others. We’d do well to remember the wise words found in 1 Corinthians 13:4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant…” Thinking our spouse is ours to micro-manage is arrogant and will cause jealousy—and misery—to swell up. Our spouses are gifts from God and a blessing, not a transfer of property ownership.
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3. Past Issues
A marriage is comprised of two broken people living in a fallen world. It’s inevitable at some point that spouses will end up hurting each other, possibly even to the point of betrayal. When these issues go unresolved, unforgiveness can linger and create bitterness in the offended party. Or, at times, even if forgiveness is granted, the offended spouse continues to project jealousy out of fear that said betrayal will happen again.
Whether it was a brush with pornography, an emotional attachment to a coworker, or a full-out physical affair, betrayal in marriage cuts deep and lingers. Jealousy is a natural, if not unhealthy, defense mechanism from the hurt partner to try to avoid the past repeating itself. Unfortunately, it accomplishes nothing and usually causes more issues.
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One common reason for jealousy in marriage is the desire to protect. Sometimes, we want to protect what we think is ours—as evidenced in Example #2—but other times, we act out of self-protection. We fear getting hurt again, so we go around obsessively searching for proof that it’s not going to. Ironically, what happens most often in those situations is that we form a type of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our projection of fear into our marriage often ends up creating more conflict than was there to begin with! We fear our spouse is looking at this person or engaging in that activity, so we distance ourselves to guard our hearts. The other spouse, who hasn’t done anything wrong, is now guilty without a trial. The distance created feeds the lack of connection that the wounded spouse craves, giving alleged “proof” of his or her fears. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends!
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5. Anxiety and Paranoia
Jealousy in marriage often stems from a spouse realizing their lack of control. Instead of surrendering to the Lord, who is sovereign overall, they want to manage everything themselves. This obviously never works and manifests in a heart that is prone to anxiety and paranoia. The anxious and paranoid spouse look for issues that might not even exist, and default to Example #4 to protect themselves from what they assume is happening or could happen. Rather than enjoying the marriage and the happiness of the moment, they sneak glances at their spouse’s phone in the middle of the night, analyze the bank account, and pull up phone records. It’s an exhausting way to live.
Here are 5 solutions to dealing with jealousy:
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1. Admit It
Jealousy is a common issue in marriage. Don’t deny its presence or hide in shame. Rather, admit the issue is there and start taking steps to resolve it. Not only does jealousy make your spouse miserable, it makes you miserable too. It’s a lose-lose situation.
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2. Get to the Root of It
The first step to conquering jealousy is to identify its base existence. If you don’t know the real issue at hand, it’s much less likely that you’ll ever be able to cure the disease. Band-Aids don’t work for long when surgery is required. Is your jealousy caused by personal insecurity? By a past betrayal? From a former relationship? Professional counseling is a great way to discover deep roots.
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3. Increase Communication
Healthy communication between spouses is key for dealing with jealousy in marriage. Both partners should be able to freely express how they feel without fear of judgment, listen to each other, and find a solution together as a team. After all, they’re one flesh!
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4. Create an Atmosphere of Trust
Trust must be present for jealousy to fade. If a spouse has sinned against another in a way that merits some jealousy, that partner should (after repentance) take care to be compassionate as trust is rebuilt.
Certain methods need to be put in place for the offended spouse to heal. This might mean sharing passwords on cell phones or creating joint social media accounts. This will look differently for each marriage, but overall, there should be a sensitivity from the offending partner toward the other in this way for a time.
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5. Go to the Lord
The beautiful and hope-filled truth is that when we grow closer to God and find our security wrapped in Him alone, we loosen our grip on the things of this world. As our walk with God develops, we organically grow a heart that surrenders, and become less likely to try to control the things in our marriage that we simply can’t. This transformation will automatically generate more peace and joy that benefits both spouses in the relationship.
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). Men and women will fail, but the Lord never does. He is faithful, trustworthy, and true.
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Originally published Thursday, 11 February 2021.