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Overcoming the Jealousy Monster

Complex Old Testament families mirror modern day stepfamilies.
By Ron L. Deal

Michelle and Jackson called for an emergency premarital counseling session. “We’re getting married next month and I’m finally facing my jealousies,” Michelle said. “Jackson is very close to his 10-year-old daughter, as he should be, but it scares me. I don’t know why, but I’m jealous of her. I’m also jealous of the fact that when Jackson and I have a child together it will be my first, but not his. Nothing in our marriage will ever be the first.”

Michelle’s honesty was refreshing to me. Stepfamily members frequently experience some measure of jealousy within their home, but often don’t tell anyone out of embarrassment or shame. In my experience, that makes things worse; jealousy buried alive quietly erodes family relationships.

Jealousy and its close cousin, resentment, are not uncommon in stepfamilies. Differences in emotional connection and attachment between parents, stepparents, and children, for example, make jealousy a common emotion. Complex Old Testament families that mirror modern-day stepfamilies had similar dynamics. For example, Sarah, Abraham’s first wife had been expecting a baby promised by God. When she tired of waiting to become pregnant, she took matters into her own hands.

Genesis 16 tells us she came up with what to us would be a horrible option, but was a common practice in that day: She offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as his second wife so they could have the promised child through her. The plan went awry once Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s son, Ishmael, and Hagar started belittling Sarah.

Instead of being fulfilled by Hagar’s child, Sarah felt challenged, insecure, jealous, and very angry. This ignited an ongoing rivalry between Sarah and Hagar. Later, when Sarah did have son Isaac, the rivalry escalated. Competition, jealousy, favoritism, and insecurity described their family experience for generations.

The root of the matter

Jealousy, called an act of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:20), is typically rooted in insecurity and fear. Sarah and Michelle alike found themselves jealous of their stepchildren for fear that what was special to them would not be as cherished by their husbands. Michelle was also jealous of all the “firsts” in Jackson’s life (e.g., first marriage, first pregnancy, first birth, first family holidays, etc.) that Michelle could not be part of.

How many women grow up fantasizing about being “second” in their husband’s life and heart? Since history can’t be changed, how can Michelle cope with what has come before her? How can she embrace her stepdaughter, her husband, and his past?

The grace paradox

Insecurity and jealousy temps us to hold tight to relationships we deem fragile and compete with others for a position of importance. This intensifies their competition with us as they, too, fight for belonging. It activates the jealousy paradox: Fighting for position only garners resentment against you.

Overcoming the jealousy monster, then, begins with the willingness to trust the grace paradox which recognizes that having a gracious spirit toward others actually makes more room for you to be loved and embraced as well. Listen to the wisdom of Scripture: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper;  he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:24-25, NIV)

The wisdom of this passage is that a gracious, generous spirit toward other stepfamily members invites relational prosperity. A spirit of competition, on the other hand, brings relational bankruptcy. Grace connects while possessiveness divides.

If Michelle is going to manage her jealousy, she must reach toward her stepdaughter, not away from her. She must be inclusive, accepting, and choose to be supportive of her stepdaughter’s relationship with her father, Michelle’s husband, Jackson. This gives permission to her stepdaughter’s place in the home and paradoxically will increase the grace Michelle receives as the new stepmom.

This same principle applies to Jackson’s past. Every time Michelle feels fearful that being “second” means she isn’t as important as she’d like, she must choose to give permission to Jackson’s past. She must find a way to incorporate it as a reality into her marriage, rather than try to deny it or minimize it. To do so only invites competition and fear. Acting on jealous feelings never diminishes jealousy. Acting on grace, however, does.

Be inclusive, filled with grace, not exclusive, filled with fear. That’s how you overcome the jealousy monster.

 

Taking action:

If you’re ministering to stepfamilies:

When teaching from the Old Testament, look for the similarities in dynamics between the families of the Bible and modern-day stepfamilies. Many stepfamilies will find hope and relief that they are “not the only ones” while non-stepfamilies will be educated about the needs of

their friends and extended family members.

©2012 by Ron Deal. All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 

Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is Founder and President of As For Me And My House Ministries, LLC (www.RonDeal.org) and now serves as director of FamilyLife Blended.

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepmom (coauthored with Laura Petherbridge)The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (coauthored with Dr. David Olson), and The Smart Stepdad. His latest book is Dating and the Single Parent. A recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative).

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Remarriage Checkup (Deal & Olson, 2010), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples the Couple Checkup Conference

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the US and Canada. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g., ABC News.com) and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., New York Daily News). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column Can This Marriage Be Saved? Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a number of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, and Christianity Today. He also writes a monthly feature article in HomeLife magazine and is an expert “Love Guru” for Love Is.com. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron Deal is husband to Nan (since 1986) and proud father of Braden, Connor, and Brennan. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue children in Ghana, West Africa from slave trafficking. They would be honored if you help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. To host a seminar, contact him at 1-800-FL-Today (358-6329).

 

 

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