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Published December 24, 2010, 12:00 AM

Farmer: Accusations of jealousy undermine a marriage

How can a hard-working, steady, generally level-headed man lose his cool and become irrational and obsessed to the point of driving away someone he loves? Meet Jim and Samantha – not their real names, of course.

By: Val Farmer, INFORUM

How can a hard-working, steady, generally level-headed man lose his cool and become irrational and obsessed to the point of driving away someone he loves? Meet Jim and Samantha – not their real names, of course.

Jim is a reserved man, a bedrock of strength and virtue. He is loyal and dedicated, a plodding man who advanced in his company through sheer effort and determination. He had an abusive childhood that he doesn’t talk much about and, when he does, he minimizes any psychological impact on his life.

Samantha’s personality is the opposite of Jim’s. Samantha has an easy way with people. She is exuberant, fun loving, and wears her emotions on her sleeve. Her joy of life is contagious. She has a lot of friends, whether it is at work, in her church circle or socially. Jim is reminded of this at social gatherings when Samantha displays a magnetic effect on others.

Jim becomes jealous by how Samantha acts in public. In fact, if he had his way, they wouldn’t go out much at all. When they do go out, Jim invariably gets into a dark, ugly mood. He wants some of the attention she gives to others. He feels slighted. He finds fault with Samantha’s friendliness and gives her the third degree about her actions and conversations.

Samantha doesn’t think twice about her motives. She resents having to explain her innocent behavior. Jim’s accusations are groundless and absurd. She resents the implication that her morals are suspect or that she is gullible. Samantha’s attempts to reassure Jim don’t stop his jealousy. Simple occasions have the potential for disaster – either on the spot or after they go home.

Jim’s active imagination almost seems like paranoia. He now starts interrogating Samantha about her conversations with male friends at church meetings and keeping track of how long she takes to get home.

Samantha resents his control and chooses to defy him. She goes out with her friends just to prove she has the right to do so. To avoid unpleasant clashes, Samantha withholds information or tells a few “white lies.” This backfires. When Jim “catches” her, his worst fears are confirmed, and the pressure intensifies. This panics Samantha even more. Jim is wearing her out with his endless accusations and questions.

Samantha becomes depressed. She can’t go on this way. She’s losing her love and respect for Jim. The man she counted on for stability and good judgment is falling apart. She starts threatening to leave him if the wild accusations continue. Bringing up separation or divorce triggers even more of Jim’s insecurities. Ironically, Jim has caused the thing he fears most – losing Samantha.

Jealousy stems from poor self-esteem. At the heart of jealousy is a crisis of self-esteem. Samantha’s effervescent personality and smooth social skills are quite a contrast to Jim’s reserved, introverted manner. He began to believe she was too perfect, too good and that he was lucky to have her. Worse, he imagined that she would recognize this and be attracted to someone else.

Since Jim didn’t trust his hold on Samantha’s love, he became obsessed with keeping potential rivals out of her life. His suspicious interrogations, wild accusations, and rigid control were efforts to fend off threatening relationships before they could get started. He treated Samantha like a possession he was going to keep at all costs.

What Jim feared, happened. Samantha pulled away. He can’t make the connection that it was his control and jealousy that drove Samantha away. He was too fixated on what she was doing wrong.

Advice for Jim. Jim has forgotten how well he and Samantha were matched up emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Samantha saw in Jim qualities she admired, respected and loved. His strength and steadiness appealed to her. How he was then and how he is now – minus the jealousy – met Samantha’s needs. Jim has to reaffirm his trust of his own desirability – something Samantha believes more than he does. Samantha pins her hopes on getting in for professional counseling.

Jim’s self-confidence is a key to letting go of his fears. He needs an attitude that Samantha is just as lucky to be with him as he is to be with her. It was that independence and self-assurance that drew Samantha to him in the first place.

Jim is worrying too much about himself and his needs. Besides his fears, his obsession about himself and his feelings have become the problem. Can he get back to caring about her instead of worrying about himself?

Jim needs to refocus his attention on meeting Samantha’s needs. He needs to lighten up, listen to her feelings, and go out of his way for her in a non-smothering way. Their relationship needs some lighthearted fun instead of a suffocating atmosphere of conflict and control.

Samantha needs freedom and trust. Jim can get her heart back only by letting go. No amount of force or pressure will keep her. Samantha already loves him – the way he used to be. By relaxing and believing and then admitting he is the problem, Jim can get back to being himself – the self that won Samantha’s heart in the first place.

Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist specializing in family business consultation and mediation with farm families. He lives in Wildwood, Mo., and can be contacted through his website.