"I'm Worried He's Going to Cheat on Me"
The Counselor's Turn
"Jealousy and possessiveness are corrosive forces in a marriage," the counselor said. "When Kim and Matt started counseling, they were furious at each other -- she because she was convinced he would have an affair and end the marriage, he by his wife's lack of trust and inattention. Yet despite this standoff they acknowledged that in happier times they were best friends -- always a good sign. Plus they remained attracted to each other and were well matched in appearance. Matt was every bit as handsome as Kim said, but she was beautiful, too, and I suspected she got plenty of attention from men but was too focused on her husband to notice it.
"Kim believed the worst of men because her father walked out when she was a vulnerable 14-year-old. This was a traumatic experience and, along with her college boyfriend's behavior, caused her to develop the idea that all men are cheaters. Since her husband was a man, he was automatically included in this category. Yet he didn't flirt and hadn't cheated. 'By constantly accusing him you're pushing him away,' I told her. 'He's not a cheater, but if you don't stop accusing him, you could turn him into one.' This analysis surprised Kim, who said she'd never imagined that her badgering Matt could ultimately have the opposite effect from what she intended.
"Listening to the couple describe how Kim's suspicions escalated after she became a mother and Matt started a business, I realized that something else was at play: She wasn't jealous just of flirtatious women; she also was jealous of Matt. As newlyweds Kim had been the star of the couple -- the one with the graduate degree and big income -- while Matt worked a blue-collar job. Unconsciously she felt her education and career were a counterbalance to his incredible good looks. But as Matt grew successful and became the main breadwinner, the scales tipped too far in his favor. 'It must be difficult to hear people praise Matt,' I said. 'You juggle multiple roles, but I bet nobody says, 'Kim, you're a sensational nurse and mother.'
"Meanwhile, Matt was susceptible to attention from women because he remained emotionally needy, the result of his parents' benign neglect and his eldest brother's harassment. Yearning for approval, he was hurt that Kim didn't give him credit for his accomplishments. Matt's tendency to act appreciative when someone called him handsome actually invited more attention. This in turn fueled Kim's jealousy and insecurity. 'When you engage in eye contact, smile, and make small talk in response to a compliment, you're sending the signal that you might be available,' I told Matt. 'Be careful how you respond. Keep your eyes in front of you, stop using your coy smile, and take Kim's hand if she's with you.'
"Matt was surprised to hear this. 'I guess I've played a role in our problems, too,' he admitted in a breakthrough session."