The number-one pop music hit of 1983 may also be the most misunderstood song of all time. “Every Breath You Take” was written by Sting—then lead singer of The Police—after a painful break-up with his first wife. Although the lyrics clearly describe the thoughts of an obsessive stalker (“Every step you take, I’ll be watching you”), many listeners still mistake it for a romantic love song, because of its pleasing melody.
Sting himself was surprised at this fact. He said, “One couple told me ‘Oh, we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, Well, good luck.”1
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at confusion over the song’s meaning. People commonly take blatant jealousy to be a sign of true affection and commitment. “Isn’t that sweet?” they might say. “He’s trying so hard to protect your relationship. He must really care.”
Well, not so fast. Jealousy is a sign all right — but what it points to is trouble ahead.
Here are three reasons why:
Jealousy signals a lack of confidence in oneself.
If you are certain that everyone your partner meets through the day is smarter, wittier, better-looking, and more fun than you — and therefore a threat to steal away your beloved — that is strong incentive to keep him or her on a short leash. Limiting exposure to potential competitors becomes a high-stakes battle for relationship survival — or so you think.
The truth is, no amount of pouty possessiveness will keep you safe. In fact, it is far more likely to damage your relationship than any of your so-called shortcomings. The best defense? Get to work on your self-image. Confidence alone is powerfully attractive — and a great way to keep your partner’s eyes on you.
Jealousy signals a lack of trust in one’s partner.
No one reaches adulthood without suffering a broken heart along the way. That means we each carry around a bucket full of painful memories. We sift it for clues as to what went wrong and strategies for preventing a repeat performance. After a hurtful betrayal, trust is the first thing to go and the last to return — even in a brand-new relationship. Jealous behavior is a way of saying, “You must prove you won’t hurt me too. Until then I’m going to watch you very closely.” But it’s impossible for anyone to prove what they won’t do — and unfair to expect them to try. Here’s a better approach: “You are free to be yourself. I will trust you until you give me a reason not to.”
Trust is the glue that holds together any committed, loving relationship.
Jealousy is a solvent that corrodes trust, dissolving the bond that keeps two lovers united.
Jealousy signals an unhealthy need for control.
Rival lovers aren’t the only thing that can threaten a jealous person. Chances are, a suspicious individual will also seek to limit anything in his partner’s life that doesn’t include him: time spent with friends, family, or pursuing solitary hobbies and interests.
Jealousy is all about trying to restrict, manipulate, and monitor another person’s behavior and choices. Look out if your relationship is increasingly is filled with questions such as, “Where were you? Why were you talking to him? Who sent you that text message? You heard from that person on Facebook again?” Insecurity often leads one person to attempt to orchestrate situations to eliminate perceived threats, but this kind of treatment is toxic over the long haul. Indeed, jealous behavior early on may be a harbinger of even tighter control as the relationship progresses.
A relationship thrives on freedom—the freedom for individuals to grow and develop, to be authentic and genuine, to pursue new opportunities. Unfounded jealousy is a stranglehold sure to suffocate any romantic relationship. Want a lasting, healthy love relationship? Make sure both partners have the space, encouragement, and autonomy to be who they are — without someone else watching every breath and movement.
Read on for more relationship red flags!