Pathological envy is not the same as romantic jealousy. These two emotions have little to do with each other.
Romantic jealousy is the product of a violation of trust; a breach of romantic exclusivity of intimacy; and a denial of possession. It also involves damage to the self-esteem and self-perception of the cuckolded spouse, as he compares himself unfavourably to the “competition”: the affair is perceived to be an overall rejection of the cheated partner.
But there’s much more to it when it comes to narcissists.
Romantic jealousy is a narcissistic defence. It reflects the narcissistic traits and behaviors of possessiveness; objectification (treating the spouse and regarding her as an object); and extension (treating the spouse and regarding her as an extension of oneself: devoid of autonomy, personality, needs, wishes, and emotions). Thus, the spouse’s cheating (as in infidelity) is perceived by the narcissist to be tantamount to a violation of and an encroachment on his self, or, more simply put: it amounts to a major narcissistic injury.
Exactly like non-narcissists, narcissists are humiliated by having been lied to; suffer abandonment anxiety; compare themselves with the spouse’s new paramour; and feel deprived when the “services” of the unfaithful spouse are no longer available to them (a denial of service which may encompass sex, emotional intimacy, house chores, companionship, or any other function.)
But, in the narcissist, the violation of trust provokes full-scale and raging paranoia (where else lurks deceit?); the breach of exclusivity threatens the aforementioned narcissistic enmeshment; and the denial of possession translates to an overwhelming fear of loss and to crippling abandonment anxiety. Some narcissists even begin to display codependent behaviors, such as clinging, in a desperate attempt to regain their control over the doomed relationship.
Additionally, the narcissist’s self-perception as unique, perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient – in short: his False Self – is threatened and challenged by his spouse’s affair. If he is, indeed, unique and perfect – why did his spouse stray? If he is omnipotent – how did he fail to prevent the transgression? And if he is omniscient – how come he was the last to know about his wife’s fling, or, worse, her long-term illicit liaison?
Narcissists are, consequently, even romantically jealous of intimate partners their spouse has had before the marriage and after the divorce. Some narcissists, realizing that they cannot control their spouses forever, become swingers or engage in group sex, where they feel that, by bringing adultery home, they have “tamed” and “controlled” it. If you can’t beat it – join it, as the saying goes.
Romantic jealousy is a warning sign to be heeded and a worrisome red flag. Use the “Volatility Threshold” and “Threat Monitoring” instruments (see my previous articles) to shield yourself from its inevitable outcomes.
The “Volatility Threshold” tool is a compilation of 1-3 types of behaviours that you consider “deal-breakers” in your partner. Observe him and add up the number of times he had misbehaved. Decide in advance how many “strikes” would constitute a “deal-breaker” and when he reaches this number – simply leave. Do not share with him either the existence or the content of this “test” lest it might affect his performance and cause him to playact and prevaricate.
The “Threat Monitoring” tool is comprised of an inventory of warning signs and red flags that, in your view and from your experience, herald and portend an extreme and danerous attack of romantic jealousy. In general, try to act as though you were a scientist: construct alternative hypotheses (interpretations of behaviours and events) to account for what you regard as transgressions and bad omens. Test these hypotheses before you decide to end it all with a grand gesture, a dramatic exit, or a decisive finale. This “scientific” approach to your intimate relationship has the added benefit of mitigating your anxiety.
Early on you should confer with your intimate partner and inform him of what, to you, constitutes unacceptable behavior: what types of conduct he should avoid and what modes of communication he should eschew. You should both agree on protocols of communication: rules of conduct, fears, needs, triggers, wishes, boundaries, requests, priorities, and preferences should all be shared on a regular basis and in a structured and predictable manner. Remember: structure, predictability, even formality are great antidotes to pernicious miscommunication.
But there is only that much that you can do. Your partner may require therapy. If push comes to shove (for instance: if he becomes violent, or paranoid) insist on it. If he adamantly refuses to help himself – don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can do it for him.