When envy invades a marriage relationship, the results are particularly tragic. Husband and wife, once a union of love and partnership, now compete for recognition and spiritual “one-upmanship.”
Typically, jealousy among spouses masks itself in legalism—creating discord and suspicion. It effectively destroys the potential for teamwork by fostering individual kingdom building rather than cooperation. Jealousy is commonly rooted in insecurity and is defined as that “peculiar uneasiness” we experience when we see others receive the attention we desire for ourselves.
When a spouse’s insecurity is left undealt with, he or she will demand increasing measures of satisfaction from the other. Take for instance, the story of Sheila and her husband, Bob*.
Sheila became increasingly threatened by the influence of her seemingly unspiritual husband in their circle of religious friends. She’d had a long history of being “the spiritual one” of the couple.
In any social gathering, Sheila assumed the role of directing the conversation around her own spiritual experiences. Her friends would inwardly cringe at the thought of spending a long evening with her. At the same time, Bob’s company was refreshing and regularly sought out.
Sheila began to complain that she was being ignored and rejected. She continually prodded Bob to be more “spiritual.”
In effect, Sheila was jealous of the fact that her husband held more influence in the lives of their Christian friends than she did. This cycle left her open to seek fellowship in intensely religious circles, where she was the primary relational link instead of the two of them together.
Alienation and conflict between the spouses grew. Bob became less and less excited to participate in church activities, and Sheila became more desperate to be at every meeting.
Her jealousy of her husband burned like the fire Psalms describes (see Ps. 79:5). Before long she began suspecting him of being “emotionally unfaithful” and preferring the company of other women “in his heart.” When Bob refused to respond to Sheila’s manipulation, she fell into a series of illnesses that required him to stay close to home.
Her sickness exacerbated her imaginings and drove a wedge of resentment between the couple. Bob could never do enough to cooperate with or care for her.
Though she appeared outwardly to be the weaker of the two, in reality, Sheila was locked in a power struggle with her husband for control of her world and the people in it. She was driven by her own inadequacy and insecurity. In demanding to be of primary importance to her husband, she was smothering any flame of true affection between them and becoming the bane of his existence.
Solomon wrote: “Jealousy [is] as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame” (Song 8:6, NKJV). In Proverbs, he described “three things that are never satisfied, four [that] never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water—and the fire” (30:15-16).
Jealousy is the fire that never says “enough.” If left to burn, it will consume love, trust, fellowship and truth, leaving a wide swath of destruction in the same way that Satan’s envy of God became a fire of deception, rebellion and ultimate evil.
Envy Begets Suspicion
Jealousy has a close-knit fraternity of emotions that includes vain imagination, paranoia, anger, hatred and murder. The spirit of jealousy is impossible to appease, for it will “accept no recompense” (Prov. 6:35).
The spouse of a jealous person will be continually suspected or accused of wrongdoing. He will be required to give more and more frequent proofs of his devotion until the spirit of jealousy manipulates every aspect of the relationship’s dynamics.
Unfortunately, the following example is all too common in church circles. It concerns a pastor’s wife I’ve known, who was convinced her husband was being sought after by females in their congregation.
Any expressed concern for the other women in the church was always suspect to her. It made the pastor reluctant to share the details of his schedule with his wife, knowing that they would probably lead to draining discussions and confrontations.
The wife should have been a co-laborer with her husband, especially with regard to the other women in the church. However, due to her suspicions, he preferred to have her occupied elsewhere.
The requirements of this pastor’s duties would always put him in situations his wife perceived to be threatening. He dismissed her nagging and fits of rage as unjustified, but this only made her feel and appear more foolish.
Eventually, not even counseling could assuage his coldness. Nor could it reassure his spouse, who was convinced of her failure as a woman and a wife.
A relationship ruled by jealousy exists in a continual cycle of suspicion, accusation and rejection. Ultimately, constant discord destroys any real intimacy between the two partners, who have become rivals.
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