Whoever said ‘Jealousy is a curse’ wasn’t kidding. It’s a powerful emotion that all too often undermines trust within relationships, yet it’s one we’ve all experienced - some more so than others. Just recently a man was found not-guilty of murder due to ‘delusional jealousy’ after apparently developing an obsessive disorder before brutally bashing his loyal wife of eighteen years to death with a broom handle. Shockingly, on average one woman per week is murdered in Australia by her partner or ex-partner, and according to the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), one woman in four has experienced emotional abuse at the hands of a male partner. It could be argued that in the vast majority of relationship abuse cases, ‘delusional jealousy’ plays a major role.
Delivering in-school respectful relationships and self-esteem programs to young people, I am afforded a window into the world of adolescent dating. For many, their romantic relationships are healthy and normal as they negotiate their terms and learn how to set and respect boundaries, but too often their stories are peppered with early warning signs of abuse. A familiar story came from a fifteen year old who recognised that her boyfriend’s behaviour had become increasingly problematic. She’d wanted to break up with him as she felt smothered by his increasing ‘PDA’s’ (Public Displays of Affection), checking up on her constantly via text messaging and mutual friends, accusing her of flirting whenever she talked to other boys, and drawing her away from her friends by making unreasonable demands on her time. When she spoke with him about it, he said he couldn’t imagine living without her and threatened that if she broke up with him he’d have no choice than to self-harm. He kept apologising for his self-declared “over-jealous behaviour”, but claimed it was because he loved her so much. So she had stayed with him under duress.
At the core of jealousy is the sense of ownership of, or right to, something or someone. If there was ever any doubt that the objectification of women contributes to a culture that accepts men’s ownership over them, comments you may have heard on The Footy Show reflect a problematic sentiment that is all too prevalent; ‘You don’t touch a man’s wallet. You don’t touch a man’s wife.’ These remarks imply that as someone ‘belonging to a man’, a partnered woman has no autonomy; that she is merely an object incapable of making her own choices independent of her partner, and that she - like his wallet - is owned by him. Of course no-one wants their best mate to run off with their partner or vice versa, but it’s not a man’s call to make on a woman’s behalf, wife or not.
Week in and week out, as we despair for bashed and murdered current or ex-wives, partners and girlfriends, these harmful attitudes are perpetuated by high-profile men in privileged positions. It’s often asserted that such comments are merely the harmless sentiment of mateship and chivalry, yet no amount of mansplaining and cries of ‘political correctness gone wrong’ can deny the inherent sexism, nor the impact such sentiment has within the broader community behind closed doors. Parallels between sexist comments, problematic teen romances, and the deaths of women at the hands of jealous husbands may seem a long bow to draw, but it’s time we at least acknowledge the connection if we’re to see a reduction in the appalling rates of gendered violence.
It’s a fact that potential future perpetrators are our beloved sons, brothers, nephews and friends. They’re the boys who date our daughters; the boys who engage with pop culture and unquestioningly soak up the messages until perception becomes reality; the boys who are taught that women are bodies rather than somebodies and that they’re theirs to own. Until we teach them otherwise.
Perpetrator or victim, we should all be able to recognise the early warning signs of relationship abuse, and know how to respectfully handle rejection and break-ups. We must also be discerning consumers of cultural commentary and reject the message that women – wives or otherwise - are chattels to be owned. Jealously and possessiveness is not an excuse to manipulate, and never an excuse to murder.
My advice for reining in jealousy:
Stop. Observe. Steer. (SOS)
- Stop; when feelings of jealousy arise, take control of your mind. Don’t let your thoughts run rampant! Stop, and prepare to critically engage with your thoughts before they become behaviours.
- Observe the situation; breathe deeply and slowly and recognise that your thoughts may be quite different to reality. Jealousy operates on the fear of loss, so work on changing your self-talk so you’re confident you can get by without your partner, even if it’s not your desire to ever do so. See your partner as complimentary but individual to you.
- Steer; know you have the power to change the direction of your negative thoughts, and think about how much better you’ll feel letting them go. Work on and practice building trust, and negotiate reasonable expectations for your relationship with your partner. The more you trust yourself to be able to handle adversity and the more you allow yourself to trust your partner, the healthier your relationship and less likely you’ll be to experience jealousy. Steering things in a more positive direction may also include speaking with supportive friends, and/or seeking professional help.
Find a psychologist near you: www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Domestic Violence Resource Centre: 1800 RESPECT
Kids Helpline: 1800 555 800