The Absurdity of Being Jealous of One’s Spouse
My husband and I are one. Being jealous of him is like being jealous of my arm.
I was reading an article recently about the destructive role of envy in marriage, particularly being jealous of one’s spouse. I was a struck by it. While I confess to envying my husband’s ability to eat whatever he wants without gaining weight, in general I find it hard to imagine actually being jealous of him. My husband and I are one. Being jealous of him is akin to being jealous of one of my limbs. In fact the Talmud says, “One’s wife is like his own body.” They are an inseparable unit.
As the Torah describes the first experience of coupledom when Adam says of his wife Eve, “This time it is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The notion that our eyes would be jealous of our ears seems patently absurd.
And yet it exists particularly in the area of accomplishments, especially if we work in the same field. And in the area of paychecks. (I guess I could imagine it.) If my husband and I were both professors and he got better student reviews or tenure before me, while being happy for him, his successes would in some way highlight my perceived failures. I would confront my lower level of achievement every day, virtually every moment. That can be destructive unless I remember that his success is not separate from mine. Since we are one, his success is mine as well. We can rejoice together. And my less exciting, less career-affirming experience is also his. We can share the pain and the challenges. It’s not him versus me. It’s the two of us together.
One powerful way of reinforcing this notion is to be cognizant that couples not only spend their lives in this world together, but we are connected for eternity in the world to come as well. As the Zohar says, “Those who merit the afterworld, will be with their spouse eternally” (Zohar, Mishpatim, 102:1).
Marriage isn’t a zero sum game or a competition. We are, quite literally, in this together.
Our souls are united forever. That’s what it really means to be one. That sense of “forever” (real forever, not just the cutesy “BFF” forever) has the power to shape how we look at each other and our relationship. Every act of good, every kindness, every moment of thoughtfulness benefits the two of us. And conversely, every act of cruelty, selfishness and yes, jealousy, harms us both. This is not a zero sum game or a competition. We are, quite literally, in this together.
Internalizing this recognition allows us to rejoice in our partner’s accomplishments, be they physical or spiritual, because they are mine as well – or more accurately ours. It allows us to strategize together to avoid mistakes that will harm the two of us, or more accurately our marital unit. And it sets the stage for greater peace.
Of course there will be moments. What stay-at-home mother hasn’t felt jealous when their husband walks out the door, leaving her with chaos and crying? (And vice versa depending on the jobs etc). But it’s temporary. It’s not deep. It’s not based on a true understanding of the situation or a thoughtful evaluation of the circumstances. It’s momentary frustration, quickly gone as the demands of the day take over and as appreciation for the ability to make that choice surfaces.
And, of course, what spouse who is the wage earner hasn’t felt the similar stab of envy when leaving the family to go to the daily grind of work while the spouse get to hang out with the kids all day? In a true partnership these are temporary blips, not deep feelings.
Our marriages thrive when we embrace the oneness, when we understand that we are really in this together, that all of our actions shape each other and affect each other and when we welcome that. Not only does envy have no place in a healthy marriage but, with a true recognition of the fact that we are, in essence, one being, it is foolish on the face of it.
So I will only experience happiness for my husband as he eats his bowl of ice cream while I munch on some carrot sticks. But if we are truly one, why am I not experiencing the same pleasurable taste as him?