Advice: A Jealous Fiancé

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice to a woman whose fiancé suffers from delusional jealousy.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on February 2, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

I am engaged to a wonderful man. We have known each other for many years but never got together until six months ago. This man loves me very much and the feelings are returned, but he has one flaw—jealousy. He can get very jealous over men who were in my life in the past. His jealousy is so strong that I cannot even be comfortable around other men I work with, or who are longtime friends or are in the family, and we both have large families. I am afraid of his tirades. Should I be scared? Should I ask that he seek counseling? Should I ask for an even longer engagement?

Yes to all of the above questions. Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat—real or imagined—to a valued relationship. A little jealousy is reassuring and may even be programmed into us. It's very common. A lot of jealousy is scary, and has driven people to some very dangerous behavior. There's no reason to believe that jealousy will improve with time or marriage.

Jealousy is normal when it arises from a real threat to a relationship; say you have been seeing someone on the sly and there is time you can't account for and times when you are not available to your fiancé. Delusional jealousy exists in the absence of any real or probable threat, as in your case.

Jealousy commonly reflects a weak sense of self and arises from fear of loss, fear of exclusion, or feelings of humiliation, among others. It may in fact have its origins in some actual experience of loss your fiancé endured earlier in his life.

That doesn't make it right or useful in a relationship. Your fiancé needs to gain some awareness of what is at the heart of his jealousy. Is it fear of loss? Is it a feeling of humiliation if you pay attention to another man? He needs to ask himself, what is the most painful thought associated with his jealousy.

Because jealousy goes right to the core of the self and its roots are deep, it is not something that can be banished by wishful thinking. This is a clear instance where a little counseling with an excellent therapist can make life better for both of you. It's best to put off the wedding until then.