The question: After being happily divorced for 35 years, I met a man my age (I'm 65) who is also divorced. We've been dating for almost 2 years now and I think I'm in love. The problem? He has a very good female friend that he's known for decades. She's also divorced and they have never been anything more than friends. Strangely, she has made it clear to him and to me that she hates the idea of me being in his life. She is very dependent on him to help her at home, which I don't object to. But he does spend far too much time with her when he's not helping with the chores. While I don't suspect him of infidelity, I'm beginning to think he has more complex feelings for her than he's let on. At this age, am I just being petty and suspicious?
The answer: Our emotional reactions serve as a temperature gauge of how we feel about circumstances in our lives. When they're positive, our emotions help validate that things are as we wish them to be; when negative or distressing, they give us a sign that something important to us is being threatened in some capacity.
It's important to pay attention to what you perceive to be potentially threatened, then (importantly) ask yourself: Is your reaction accurate and valid given the situation?
Jealousy is one of the most toxic emotions we can experience. It often has a very intense, almost obsessive flavour to it. Feelings of jealousy are most commonly triggered when we have the perception that we will lose someone or something that we are strongly attached to. Anxiety, fear and insecurity are often associated emotions.
It can be hard to shake jealousy, and once we are sucked into its vacuum, we tend to – often disproportionately – view behaviours of others as being evidence that supports our belief.
You certainly aren't being petty: Your emotions relate to a relationship in your life that is clearly an important one. Whether or not you are being suspicious depends on whether your interpretations ("She hates the idea of me being in his life," or, "He has more complex feelings for her than he's let on") are accurate, or whether they are misinterpretations of an otherwise benign relationship.
You need to have an open and honest conversation with your partner. Approach the conversation in a non-accusatory manner. If you jump into it already thinking he is guilty of something inappropriate, you will shut down the lines of communication quickly.
Let him know that you trust him and don't suspect he has been unfaithful. Ask him to describe his feelings for his friend (without making assumptions). Convey how you feel about the situation and listen. It may be that he has very little sense of how his relationship with his long-time friend has been affecting you.
Ultimately, the two of you need to come to some agreements. You need to have respect for a friendship that has been in his life for decades before you entered it, and he needs to set some parameters with his female friend that demonstrate respect for you. For example, he can tell her that he is unwilling to tolerate any negative or disparaging comments about your relationship.
Don't forget that she has been in his life for a very long time. If he wanted a relationship with her, he likely would have long before you came into his life.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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