Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Couples Presenting with Jealousy: Alternative Interventions

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Couples Presenting with Jealousy: Alternative Interventions

Article excerpt

This paper describes alternative interventions which are available to the therapist when working with couples where one partner is unreasonably jealous and the other may show a variety of behavior such as angry denial, reassurance or provocative responses.

Shepherd (1961) and 30 years later Mullen (1991) have described the changing cultural and social attitudes to jealousy. Shepherd suggested that there has been a gradual debasement of the word jealousy from what was seen as a "noble passion" within early Greek society to its more pejorative present meaning. Mullen (1991) thinks there is a need to "reframe" jealousy and give it back something of its earlier meaning. He writes: "This paper could be read as an attempt to rehabilitate jealousy by recalling that it once had both social relevance and interpersonal meaning."

Clanton and Smith (1986), on the other hand, describe a new ambivalence in attitudes to jealousy deriving from changes in sexual attitudes and greater freedom to experiment with alternatives to monogamy. "The earlier concern about one's partner's jealousy and its impact on one's life is joined by a new concern about one's manipulation of the partner's guilt about his/her jealousy," and Durbin (1986) suggests that jealousy is well on the way to becoming the New Sin of the liberated generation."

Within the context of ambivalent social attitudes to jealousy and the permanency of couple relationships, therapists such as Teisman (1979), Im and colleagues (1983) and de Silva (1987) are developing interesting and helpful interventions where jealousy is part of a dysfunctional relationship.

Working as we do within the outpatient departments of a large psychiatric hospital, the Maudsley, we see a number of couples who present for treatment in which one partner is said to be unreasonably jealous. As couple therapists our main area of concern is the couple interaction. We are therefore equally interested in the partner's response to, and way of coping with, the "jealous behavior." We are concerned to understand any ways in which the behavior of the nonjealous partner can be said to balance, support or provoke jealousy. This also means finding out about the quality of their relationship in the "nonjealous" areas including the sexual relationship, how they communicate or share their lives together. For example, many nonjealous spouses seem to be more outgoing or sociable than the jealous partner.

Any approach to such couples is set within the general framework of the behavioral-systems approach which is described in Crowe and Ridley (1990).

We have developed a clinical guideline which we call the ALI hierarchy, i.e., Alternative Levels of Intervention, which enables therapists to choose appropriate interventions according to the quality of each couple's relationship.

At the bottom of the hierarchy couples can be said to be more flexible and describe their problems as difficulties within their relationship. For such couples the more behavioral approaches of reciprocity negotiation or communication training may be most useful. Where jealousy is an issue, the interaction of the couple is usually quite rigid as they enter therapy and these behavioral skills may be more useful later in therapy as the couple develop greater flexibility.

As one ascends the hierarchy couples present with symptoms which are described as "one partner's problem" and their interaction is more rigid. The therapist now has the option of moving from behavioral into more systemic interventions, where one is hypothesizing about the function, or value, of both the symptom and the reciprocal behavior of the partner. Structural intervention or strategic approaches can be considered as options according to the rigidity of the interaction and the "stuckness" of the couple's behavior pattern. In this way jealousy is treated within the same framework in which we treat all couples.

We recognize that although behavioral marital therapy has been researched and found to be effective in many couples with mild to moderate levels of dysfunction, the systems approach still awaits research into its effectiveness. …

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