In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, Are You Suspicious of Me?

“He that is not jealous, is not in love.”

"He that is not jealous, is not in love." Saint Augustine
"We can't go on together with suspicious minds, and we can't build our dreams on suspicious minds." Elvis Presley

Jealousy stems from the desire to be "favored" in some respect and the fear that one is not. This fear might be based upon hard evidence, such as when your partner leaves you for another person; in this case, reactive jealousy is generated. Here, you have to cope with a harsh new environment in which you have lost your present relationship and a new one has been established without you. Suspicious jealousy is another type of jealousy, which is not based on the actual deeds of our partner, but merely on our state of mind. Suspicious jealousy is harder to bear as we are not sure what the real situation is and the optimal course of action is unclear.

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Robert Rydell and Robert Bringle have suggested that greater reactive jealousy is related to greater relationship dependency, greater trust, and lower chronic jealousy. Persons who displayed more suspicious jealousy experienced greater insecurity, greater anxiety attachment, greater avoidance attachment, greater chronic jealousy, and lower self-esteem. In this post, I will discuss suspicious jealousy (see also here).

Signs of suspicious jealousy include, among other things, constant negative emotions toward the partner; prowling around and checking on the partner's activities; spying on the partner's telephone calls, messages, and e mails; going through the partner's personal belongings; and being suspicious and feeling insecure when the partner gives attention to someone who may be a potential rival. Insecurity and an active imagination are crucial aspects in suspicious jealousy. These thoughts are irrational most of the time; they are painful at all times.

The greater pain of suspicious jealousy stems, among other things, from the fact that we are typically excited by anything that is incomplete, unsettled, unexplained, or uncertain, as we perceive it to be unusual and so it demands our attention and thoughts. When the situation becomes stable, there is no reason for the mental system to be on the alert and invest further resources. Ambiguous states have this kind of incomplete nature and hence have a certain lure and danger.

Furthermore, extramarital affairs usually have the nature of unfinished business, as they are not complete and comprehensive in the way that normal primary relationships are. In such affairs, lovers might feel profound satisfaction, but they still desire more and yearn for even deeper fulfillment. Unfinished business does not imply merely expectations, but suffering too, since the element of frustration at not having achieved what we really desire is central here.

Suspicion has a dynamic of expansion; it is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The initial seeds of doubts about the partner's fidelity give rise to a larger scope of doubts and uncertainties. The person's suspicion becomes the prism through which the world receives its meaning. Suspicion colors the person's picture of reality and supplies a permanent device for interpreting the partner's behavior. The person is constantly testing the partner's behavior. Every type of behavior, every action or word starts to be interpreted as a sign of something else, an indicator that supports and exacerbates the sense of distrust. Thus, in an infinite vicious circle, the more reasons the person finds for jealousy, the more solid the suspicion becomes and the easier it is to find more such apparent reasons. The violent energy of jealousy accumulates inside the lover and devours him from within. (see here).

Since suspicion generates greater attention from the partner, there are cases in which people deliberately behave in a suspicious romantic manner in order to increase their partner's attention on them. As their suspicious behavior makes their partner fear that the relationship is threatened, the partner enhances both the level of attention and the desire to maintain, nurture, and protect the relationship.

We may compare suspicion with teasing. One definition of teasing is to laugh at someone or say unkind things about them, either because you are joking or because you want to upset them. Both suspicion and teasing involve ambiguity (in teasing it is about whether you are joking or not) and hence uncertainty. In both cases, there is an increased interest and emotional excitement. In suspicion the uncertainty concerns negative events; in teasing it may involve positive events and playful experiences. Teasing is often a kind of play with the beloved; suspicion arises from doubts concerning the beloved's play (or worse) with another person.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, asking me all the time where I have been and why drives both of us crazy and undermines our relation. So can you please refrain from doing it? And one more thing: If you do suspect me of infidelity, please imagine me with Brad Pitt rather than with our neighbor."

 

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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