What are you laughing at? There’s not anything wrong with that.
Well, OK, you might be laughing because it’s not accurate. I’m actually relentlessly straight. But I think I must have received several gay circuits. I have been platonically friendly with women my entire adult life. I have five female friends for every male friend. I have several close male friends, but generally speaking, I prefer the company of women.
This was definitely something for Lea and me to navigate when we started getting serious, and certainly when we got engaged. Fortunately, neither of us is jealous by nature, so we tended to have conversations of validation as opposed to arguments about it. I am careful to keep her informed about changes in my routine—if I’m going to have lunch with someone I don’t see often, for example, or if I’m going to be in a part of town I don’t normally visit—but mostly, it’s just not a thing.
Jealousy isn’t a malady; it’s a symptom. Unfortunately, it tends to be a symptom of highly destructive things. I’ll put it just this simply: if jealousy is a defining component of your marriage, and you’re not actively working to change that, then you and your spouse are not going to make it.
An environment inhospitable to jealousy is an environment amenable to marital success. A primary component of that environment is a healthy level of self-esteem. (Yeah, I guess that’s a reach back to last week, isn’t it, when we talked about being all right by yourself?) When you are aware of your own worth, then you also build a reasonable sense of what you deserve. You understand that you have a lot to give to someone, and that what you give best be taken care of. That is not arrogance. That is dignity.
You each carry that dignity into how you value your marriage. It tends to be the biggest thing in the room, and risking it trivially becomes a silly thought. The dynamic is a little like mutually assured destruction, when you think about it. Your respective self-confidences are primary contributors to the covenant, but they’re also powerful deterrents. When you believe in what you have together, and you’re each further confident that the other believes in himself/herself, then why would you toy with it? If you misbehave, and your wife says “enough,” then you know that she knows that she has options.
There are two realities of life that become highly combustible with a jealous spouse. The first is that any married person who interacts with society will continue to encounter objectively reasonable candidates for marriage from time to time.
Gasp! What did he say? Relax. This is not scandal, it’s simple mathematics. There are a couple billion people in the world demographically similar to your spouse. You can filter pretty stringently—geography, religion, a certain age range, or whatever—and still be left with many millions.
And prithee, where are these millions? Look out the window.
So you didn’t marry the only person you could have (and if you believe you did, please see this earlier post in which I discussed the “soul mate” claptrap a bit more). You don’t have to be looking for trouble to encounter another one. When you do, there might be sparks. And what’s wrong with that? What were you doing but going about your business? Yet that can easily become a grave offense in the eyes of a jealous spouse.
(Now to be clear, you don’t fall in love with another person without your sustained participation. More on that in a later post.)
The second reality is that flirting is fun, and it’s fun because it feels good. (“Hey! Bo said ‘if it feels good, do it’!”) Heh. No he didn’t. I recognize, though, that flirting is a special social, and even emotional, channel. It can be as simple as a glance held a little too long in a meeting, with someone you’ve never seen before and never will again. Or, with some kinds of friendships, it can be a downright barrage of verbal bawdiness.
Whatever form it takes, what makes it special is that it is a source of personal validation that your spouse can’t provide. The takeaway is “I am desirable, and someone besides my spouse thinks so.” That’s a boost, and it’s real. I would never try to prevent my wife from experiencing it, nor would she me.
I have never seen marital jealousy that wasn’t underpinned by a lack of trust, and that lack of trust is itself underpinned by low self-esteem. That is where to attack the problem. If jealousy is a significant component of your marriage, then I strongly encourage you to work on it together. Start with a heart-to-heart. If you can’t identify a path forward yourselves, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. Unchecked jealousy is powerfully destructive, and most marriages won’t survive it.
- BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part X: The Story You Tell
- BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part VIII: The Sex Post
- BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part VII: The Scorched Earth of Divorce
- BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part V: Engage, Sacrifice, and Grow
- BoWilliams.com On Marriage, Part VI: Go To Bed Mad. Or, How To Fight