Blog January 2020
Into the depths of jealousy and out the other side
Years ago, when my wife (then girlfriend) cheated on me, an almost unbearable tornado of feelings swept over me for months. Anger at her, at him and at myself, sadness, fear of losing her and being alone, powerlessness. Toxic and confusing thoughts - how can this happen to me? How could she willingly hurt me like this? what’s wrong with me? what’s wrong with her? I kept fantasizing about how I would follow this man I knew only from Facebook pictures into a dark alley and leave him lying bloody and crying pitifully on the ground. You could say I was totally consumed by jealousy.
Some years later she cheated again, and again the tornado was unleashed. This time it led to a period of separation from my wife, during which I went head first into jealousy hell and eventually out the other side. I would like to share this experience with you.
The first months felt like I being slammed over and over into the same brick wall by my obsessive, repetitive thinking. Alternating between outrage, victimhood, emptiness, exhaustion and worst of all desperation, the feeling that there is no way out of this.
Thankfully, there’s only so many times a person can walk into the same hole before he starts to ask himself if there is another way. And so one day, I started taking a closer look at the beliefs and thought patterns that were fueling this tornado. I started getting more curious and less judgmental - why had my wife cheated? Surely she did not set out to hurt me - she did it despite knowing it would hurt me. Which needs and desires of mine (and the fears behind them) had I been suppressing in order to be a good, faithful husband? Why was faithfulness so important to me - was it my own value or something imported from the outside?
With these questions came brief moments of relief. The light on the other side of the dark tunnel of jealousy was starting to appear and guiding me.
One evening in particular stands out - walking along the lake of Lugano, where I was living at the time, I was turning over some simple but mind-blowing questions in my head that my friend and teacher had asked me earlier over dinner. “You say without a doubt that there is a great love between you and your wife- what more do you need?” and “You keep saying you need commitment - what exactly do you mean by this and why is it so important to you?”.
Suddenly, it was as if a huge weight dropped from my shoulders. It literally felt like that. At the same time I was filled with a deep joy and a lightness of being that is still feelable as I write this. I laughed out loud. If I could put the feeling into words it would be “there is absolutely nothing wrong. Everything is perfectly fine”. I called my wife and told her that everything was ok, that I love her and that I would tell her more when I saw her in a few days. With all this came the realization- we can define and live our relationship any way we want - the only people who have to agree is me and her. Crazy…and yet in retrospect, so obvious.
All this took place around 5 years ago and is a chapter in a novel that continues to write itself. Back then my wife and I started the process of defining our relationship on our own terms, mostly through trial and error. Since then we continue to redefine and renegotiate it to adapt to new circumstances, new needs, and evolving relationships with other partners. It is not the easiest path (as many are quick to point out) , but it is definitely vibrant, alive…it keeps us awake and on our toes. Our commitment to each other as life partners feels more solid than ever, without being rigid or stuck.
As for my old friend jealousy, it still pays me a visit from time to time, but doesn’t have nearly the same grip as before. It has lost its oxygen supply since I stopped believing what our culture tells us - that love is a zero-sum game. Instead I have experienced that the opposite is possible - the more love is set free to flow where it wants, the more it can grow and flourish without seeking to possess or get something in return. Having said this, as this journey has taught me - you never know what old shadows lie beyond the next curve…