Jealousy and Mistrust in Relationships

Janine DonnellyOther

Jealousy and mistrust inform us about significant pieces within a relationship.  If one partner is jealous or mistrustful of another, it is either based within the person’s personal emotional style (feelings of lack of worth contribute to an overall feeling of mistrust in any relationship) or because the relationship has gone through a trauma.  If one partner has consistent and unfounded issues with mistrust or jealousy within a relationship, then this person should seek some therapeutic support, to help them to a place where they do not seek to externalise the internal negative self worth.

However, if one partner (or friend) has betrayed the trust of another, it can take considerable work for trust to be regained.  Any decrease in a level of trust attacks our fear response. Security is a core issue within relationship. Our desire to relax and feel safe is the reason that humans form intimate connections.  Building a life together, or even a short term future together, necessitates knowing that the other person will maintain the rules that we have unconsciously (and, therefore non-verbally) established.  One of these rules is certainly about monogamy which is a major area in which trust gets broken. When a partner cheats, our core values within a relationship are attacked.

Equally, within a non-sexual intimate relationship (friendships for example), we have an understanding that the other person will be on our side, will consider our needs and will prioritise us over other people.  Any betrayal of these rules means that trust is broken and repair work is needed if the relationship is to continue.

In order to rebuild trust when a fracture has occurred, the first important step is contrition.  A full and proper apology to the aggrieved party is a step that cannot be avoided. An apology has to be sincere.  A full apology contains three elements: first of all, the words ‘I am sorry’; second of all, an explicit admission that what happened was wrong and an expression of regret; finally, a desire to make things right and make it up to the person who was wronged.  This step cannot be understated in terms of helping the fear, anger and hurt of the aggrieved party to be met, seen and understood.

Next, when trust has been broken and two people are struggling to return to a place where they can be unified again, the unspoken rules needs to be renegotiated.  This can be a timely process and each rule that arises needs to be dealt with independently. Whereas before a betrayal, the rules of a relationship can be understood and not verbally and explicitly stated, the work of regaining trust necessitates these rules be made overt.  The aggrieved partner can sometimes negotiate rules that seem to infringe on their partner’s life, lifestyle and choices. When this seems to be coming from a space of anger and a desire to hurt the other person, these rules need to be carefully negotiated. Could a short term measure help in terms of re-establishing rules of trust?  (for example a period of time where both partners can check each other’s phones, or make their schedule more openly available to each other). Try not to discount these feelings of anger. The only way that they can be appeased is by them being heard and met. If anger remains, long term, the relationship cannot survive. However, if anger is a short term issue within a fractured relationship, then its voice has great validity and needs to have expression.  

Equally, with hurt, a measure of retribution might be necessary.  Something that feels that the balance that has been disrupted can be re-calibrated goes a long way in terms of making a betrayed partner feel that their needs are being cherished and met, which is a key step in terms of reforming the relationship.  

Time is the key factor in this piece.  A consistent meeting and reforming of the rules of a relationship that has absorbed a fracture can help to bring the relationship to a new level of respect, trust and love.

By Lorraine Hackett