It’s considered normal when your spouse has an affair and afterward you become extremely observant of your spouse’s comings and goings. It’s understandable to want to know what he’s doing and who he is with.
Even if you would not normally be this suspicious, vigilance can feel necessary because no one wants to find their spouse cheating a second time. What can be less expected is when the cheating spouse becomes super vigilant of the faithful spouse. You then have a situation where the cheating spouse becomes possessive and suspicious of someone who hasn’t cheated and in fact is the victim in the matter.
A wife might say: “about three months ago, I found out that my husband had been cheating on me. For a few weeks, I stayed in an apartment that my boss has by our office. I honestly did not know if I would stay married. Recently though, I have decided to move back in to see if it was remotely possible to pick up the pieces. My husband has never done anything like this before. He is a good man. And he seems desperately remorseful. We have had some good talks and for a while there, I was feeling a bit hopeful. The problem is that my husband – who isn’t the jealous type at all – has suddenly become possessive of me. He acts like my boss is trying to pursue me, which is completely untrue. And if a man so much as looks at me in passing, my husband gets very weird and jealous. Why is he acting like this? It’s annoying and it’s not very attractive. I did nothing wrong. What gives him the right to be so possessive?”
Understanding How His Fears Lead To Possessiveness: In truth, he really doesn’t have the right to be so possessive, at least in my opinion. But this is a very common behavior. And it is motivated by fear. He’s likely afraid that you will retaliate or that you will lose interest in him. He’s afraid that you will cheat to get back at him. He’s afraid that you’re not really thrilled with him right now and that you question your marriage. Therefore, by his reasoning, you might be more susceptible to having your own affair. Or you may look around and decide that you would be better off without him.
He’s likely afraid that he would not compare favorably to another man. What if a kind man at work started showing you attention? Your husband might fear that you might be tempted since your spouse has betrayed you. So he figures if he can keep a close eye on you, he can lessen the chance of this happening.
I’m not defending him. His behavior is destructive. But I want you to understand his thought process. It is not that he thinks that you aren’t trustworthy. It’s that he is afraid that his mistake is going to have consequences. Frankly, he fears losing you. So he is holding on as tightly as he possibly can.
A Suggestion: Of course, that doesn’t mean that you just have to accept it. You can certainly have a conversation about this. It would be understandable to get angry and defensive and to demand that he back off. But I think a more calm approach might have better results.
I’d try something like: “I can’t help but notice that you are constantly checking up on me and acting overly possessive. I do not understand this behavior. I have never cheated on you, nor do I intend to. No matter how angry I get at you, cheating would not be my solution. Cheating is what got us in this mess to begin with. I know that you might be worried about retaliation. But this possessiveness is not the way to keep that from happening. Your keeping tabs on me like this only frustrates me and damages our marriage. I have never given you a reason not to trust me. I don’t intend to start. Your suspicions are misplaced. Please stop being so possessive. It is doing more harm than good. Being possessive is not going to stop me from making my own decisions. It’s not going to change my feelings. If anything, it is more likely to contribute to negative feelings over positive ones. The more effective way to help our situation would be to communicate and to start healing. Can we agree on that?”
Hopefully, he will readily agree, but know that you may have to remind him again later. Sometimes when we are operating based on fear, we simply act out of emotion without taking the time to think. So while he might intellectually realize that being possessive is wrong and silly, he may resort back to doing it when he becomes fearful that you will leave him or retaliate. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. But you might have to remind him if you see him doing it again.
I know that realizing that this behavior is fear – based doesn’t make it acceptable. It isn’t. But sometimes if you can understand why he is acting a certain way, you can more effectively stop it. And once he sees that it is hurting and not helping, he may be more mindful of his behaviors. If you’re in counseling, I would definitely mention this so that the counselor can drive the point home.