Updated 07 March 2014

Is it love or is it jealousy?

The jealous boyfriend seems to be a regular feature in all problem columns. And also often on the front pages of newspapers. When does jealousy become dangerous?

The jealous boyfriend seems to be a regular feature in all problem columns. Does he love me? Why doesn’t he like me to have friends? Why does he spy on me? Why does he check up on me at work? Why is he jealous of everyone who talks to me? Will it get better if I marry him?

The Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines the state of being jealous as ,’fiercely protective, afraid, suspicious, resentful of rivalry, intolerant of disloyalty, envious or resentful’. None of these sound like desirable qualities you would seek for in a companion. So why do women continue to find themselves caught in abusive relationships where they are treated and regarded as awaiting-trial prisoners?

Poor self-image and insecurity
Our society places a high premium on love relationships. Being single is not regarded generally as a desirable state for men or women. Coupled with this is the unfortunate fact that so many people have poor self-images.

"And ironically, poor self-image seems to intensify within relationships, as it is the possible loss of the partner that brings deep-seated insecurities to the fore," says Cape Town psychologist Ilse Terblanche. "And it is precisely at this point where ‘state-of-emergency’ regulations become a feature of the relationship.

"Who was that you were smiling at?" "How well do you know him?" "Who did you speak to today?" "Why are you twelve minutes later than usual?" "If you leave me, I’ll kill myself."

In the beginning women feel flattered
At first, women feel quite flattered by all this attention as they mistake it for love. After all, a little jealousy is part of most relationships. But as time goes by, excessive checking up makes them feel trapped and alienated, as their every move is watched for small signs of possible rejection.

And it is fear that drives this on, not love. Fear for himself and what his life would be like if he loses his girlfriend or wife. Fear of having to face his own insecurities and inadequacies. And consideration for the girlfriend and her quality of life takes a backseat in this whole scenario.

She is seen as a possession, something which must be dominated and controlled and feared – for the havoc her rejection could wreak.

"It might also be possible that the man might have been through a rejection before and fears a repetition of those events," says Ilse Terblanche.

Read more: 10 signs of an abusive relationship

Are these things happening to you?

If the following is happening in your relationship, maybe it is time to pull the plug:

  • You are threatened with violence or some other retribution if you were to leave
  • Your every moved is watched or questioned
  • You are accused of all sorts of dalliances of which you are not guilty
  • You are constantly criticized in front of others
  • All people with whom you have contact are viewed with suspicion
  • You are closely questioned about people at work
  • You feel trapped and unable to be yourself
  • You screen everything you say in case it can be misconstrued
  • Your boyfriend is incredibly sensitive and sees criticism in things which were never meant like that

It must, of course, be said here that it is not only men who behave like this – some women also become jealous and possessive and exhibit these traits mentioned above. They are equally unattractive in both sexes. One cannot force someone to love you. Love remains a voluntary thing which cannot be extracted by threats.

Whether male or female, behaving in a jealous and possessive manner is still the most effective way of getting rid of someone. No-one enjoys living in a cage. - (Susan Erasmus, Health24)

QUIZ: will this relationship work?

What to do about your own jealousy


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