Some individuals presenting problem in couple therapy is their mate’s flirtatious behavior towards others in spite of the couple’s mutual agreement that their relationship is solid and loving. The hurt partner reports feeling embarrassed, shamed and puzzled by this conduct and wishes to have the spouse understand and cease this behavior. What causes one to be flirtatious and the other to be jealous within a loving union?
Jealousy is aroused when one feels rejected, excluded or discounted by another’s acts or words. It is puzzling to experience one’s mate seeking attention elsewhere, as he/she professes total love, loyalty and commitment to the spouse. What may be some underlying psychological mechanisms that propel one to flirt and the mate to feel humiliated?
Dr. Gregory White of the University of Maryland found that jealousy was experienced by both male and female partners but was associated with different core issues. He stated, “Both sexes’ jealousy was positively related to exclusivity and feelings of inadequacy as a partner. For males, jealousy was also positively related to sex role traditionalism and the degree of dependence of self-esteem upon partners’ evaluations. For females, jealousy was positively related to dependence on the relationship.”
Part of the flirtatious behavior and the reaction to it can be traced to the early childhood bonding experience between parents and infants. John Bowlby’s research with infants found that the core of jealousy or security in relationships was imbedded in childhood by the attachment style of one’s primary caregiver.
Researchers Cindy Hazan and Phillip R. Shaver identified that interactions between adult romantic partners shared similarities to interactions between children and their caregivers. “Those with a secure attachment in childhood were less likely to experience profound angst about jealousy, mistrust, insecurity and suffering than did those whose early childhood attachment was less secure.”
Pieternel Dijkstra of the University of Groningen, the Netherland, used evolutionary psychology principles to determine that men and women differed in the characteristics they most valued in their mates as based on survival motivations. “Men value physical attractiveness in women because a woman’s physical attractiveness is related to her fertility, whereas women value dominance in men since dominance is related to a man’s ability to provide resources.” This researcher also found that “the source of jealousy in males was influenced by the level of a rival’s dominance, whereas jealousy in females was influenced by the rival’s physical attractiveness.”
Since the above findings exclude any marital relational issues and emphasized primarily subconscious survival and procreation needs, it is understandable why logical or emotional denials of the presumed intent of the one who flirts are futile and fall on deaf ears.
To reduce jealousy and increase couple intimacy:
- Regularly affirm your man’s productivity and your woman’s attractiveness and desirability as uniquely pleasing and appreciated by you.
- Redirect your early childhood instinct for bonding exclusively to your partner and children.
- Exercise restraint in your exuberance towards others as a measure of your love and respect for your beloved spouse.