After a year of frequenting my clinic complaining of headache for which I found no cause despite myriad tests, Mary walked into my office one morning and after exchanging greetings, blurted out:
“It is finished, doctor, it is.”
Before I could comprehend what she was trying to say, she broke down and started crying. This was definitely not the best of days for me. I had just arrived at the clinic and she was my first patient. I quickly tried to think of a way to bring the situation under control, even though I did not know what it was all about.
“Mrs Maneno,” I intervened, “I am really sorry for what you are going through. Please have courage and...”
“Doctor please, please do not call me that stupid man’s name again,” she interjected, “call me Mary.”
Mary had been married for three years and was a housewife. She had a degree in commerce but she and her husband had agreed that she stay at home and look after their daughter. Initially, she appeared happy but in the past few months, she had developed an unexplained non-resolving headache and appeared to be distant.
Every time I asked about her family, she would say little, only that they were fine, that her husband was okay and the baby giving her sleepless nights. So her reaction this day was strange. She looked devastated and for once, started talking negatively about her husband.
“I have persevered all this time,” she continued, “I am tired of being a slave. I want my freedom,” she concluded.
According to Mary, her husband persuaded her to stop working when they got married. He jokingly said Mary was too beautiful and men in the office would “disturb” her. Because of his insistence, Mary resigned from her job; if anything, she was expectant at the time and was tired and barely able to cope with work.
Her husband developed the habit of doing many things for her, including shopping, saying she needed to rest at home. Progressively, he started monitoring her, checking the messages and call log on her phone, sometimes calling back the numbers he found.
If it was a man’s number, there would be war in the house. She was not allowed to call any man because her husband believed that she was having a “secret affair”
Too sexy and seductive
Previously, Mary could take the child to the clinic on her own, but now her husband insisted on accompanying her just in case a “secret lover” met her on the way.
What worried Mary most was that her husband hired a firm not just to look after security around the house, but also to monitor her movements and arrest her “lover”, whom the man believed came to the house when he was away.
Further, her husband stopped her from making her hair and nails and confiscated some of her clothes because he claimed that they made her look “too sexy and seductive.”
Mary was upset. She had no secret lover and had no intention of being unfaithful. She believed that her headache was caused by stress. She wanted freedom. Initially, she had thought that her husband was behaving that way because of love, but it was becoming clear that there was a serious problem.
Mary’s husband’s problem is a common medical condition that most partners tolerate in their relationships. It is called pathological jealousy, obsessional jealousy, sexual jealousy, and other similar descriptive terms. It is a situation where a person has an intense but false feeling that their partner is cheating on them.
They have a deep feeling of being tricked and deceived. They see every move as aimed at tricking them and accumulate false evidence to prove their point.
Common in men
The problem is more common in men. Be on the alert for this disease if your man is always asking for your whereabouts, finding reasons to believe that you were with another man, restricting you from talking to other men, confining you so that you do not meet other men, looking for evidence of non-existent relationships, drawing false conclusions that you are being unfaithful, and fiercely developing strategies to control and monitor your movements.
In more severe cases, the intense but false feelings do not allow the obsessive men to concentrate at work and they become poor performers. The false beliefs may even lead them to harm their partner.
To be on the safe side, confront pathological jealousy as soon as you suspect it. Respectfully ask your man why he feels the way he does, and reassure him that you understand his fears, but that you could never cheat on him.
Seek the assistance of a professional counsellor,who could help him realise that his fears are unusual and false. Unfortunately, sometimes the patient may not trust the counsellor.
For those with a deep-rooted problems and who agree to seek help, it may sometimes be necessary to consult a psychiatrist. When assessed and put on long-term treatment, recovery is possible.
If all efforts fail, and especially if the patient becomes violent, it may be necessary for the couple to separate. This is unfortunate, but may be necessary for the safety one partner.
Like Mary, many people who find themselves in such situations do not realise that jealousy could be a disease. There is the normal jealousy that is an expression of love. The difference between that and pathological jealousy is the intensity and consistent pattern of false beliefs of infidelity.
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