Morbid jealousy in abusive relationships

I began to lose control.
I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I’m sorry that I made you cry.
Oh no, I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I’m just a jealous guy.
(John Lennon)

A recent UK news item  – where a sufferer of Othello Syndrome talks about why she makes her boyfriend take a lie detector test whenever he goes out -made me reflect on the dynamic of extreme jealousy within abusive relationships.

Photo by williamshannon

Photo by williamshannon

We all know that the green-eyed monster can rear its head from time to time in any relationship. Often, it’s fairly normal to feel that spark over someone you care about. However, most of us have healthy ways of dealing with jealousy.

Abusers – who often suffer deep-seated confidence and control issues – don’t, and they use it to fuel emotional or physical abuse. That’s why jealousy is often a recurring theme in an abusive relationship.

My experience

For me, jealousy was present right at the start of my relationship, although I didn’t spot this as a red flag at the time. Instead, I saw this as evidence that he loved me and didn’t want to lose me.

He was from a patriarchal culture, where a woman’s virtue is seen as an extension of a man’s worth. So, I expected the possessiveness that I experienced early on in the relationship. He’d warn me that other men weren’t to be trusted. If another guy approached me, he’d get in his face. Then, he picked fights with anyone he suspected of looking at me (even if they weren’t). I felt embarrassed, but also cherished.

But, before too long, I felt persecuted. I wasn’t allowed to look in the direction of another man. I couldn’t have a male friend: even gay guys were just staging an elaborate act designed to lure me into bed.

He’d take me to see his friends, and afterwards I’d be grilled endlessly about what they said to me, how they looked at me, what they meant when they said this or that. Eventually, he stopped speaking to a lot of his pals because he imagined that they had made a move on me.

He monitored my every move, and pored over my texts and emails. He kept a watchful eye on my phone and would dial any number he didn’t recognise.

Once, he answered an weekend call to my work mobile and heard a man’s voice. I had to beg for the phone – cutting him off mid-rant – to have a flustered colleague explain that I needed to come in to support the emergency response to a local fire.

Pregnant, and already giving Dumbo’s mother serious competition, I was regularly interrogated and accused of sleeping with just about everyone he could think of. He didn’t seem to notice that it took all the energy I could muster to heave myself off the couch. These sessions would go on for hours, and whatever I said made absolutely no difference. At times, I was so exhausted that I considered a false confession – though I’m pleased to say that the survivor in me recognised that this would be a wrong move of monumental proportions.

Even though his spies in the neighborhood had nothing to report on my alleged extra-curricular activities, it became easier just to withdraw from the world. After all, if I didn’t go out without him, he would have nothing to accuse me of – right? Wrong. He passionately believed I had another, hidden, mobile phone which I’d use to communicate with my lover. Searching for it, he turned the house upside-down, emptied my car, and subjected me to strip-searches.

I realised that this was not ‘normal jealousy’, and I started looking for other explanations. At first, I thought that cannabis was the culprit. He started smoking around the time his jealousy deepened, and drug-induced paranoia seemed a likely suspect. But then, I heard about morbid jealousy syndrome.

What is morbid jealousy?

Morbid jealousy – also known as Othello Syndrome or delusional jealousy – is jealousy taken to dangerous extremes:

Morbid jealousy describes a range of irrational thoughts and emotions, together with associated unacceptable or extreme behaviour, in which the dominant theme is a preoccupation with a partner’s sexual unfaithfulness based on unfounded evidence (Cobb, 1979)

Often linked to psychological disorders, whilst sufferers of morbid jealousy arguably may not be abusive, Othello Syndrome in an abusive partner is very serious indeed because it fuels all aspects of abuse – emotional, physical, sexual and financial. Drink and drug use, common amongst abusers, are known to worsen the symptoms of morbid jealousy.

Emotional abuse may include haranguing or continual accusations of infidelity, and using emotional blackmail to stop you from going out with friends. You may experience ‘punishments’ for perceived transgressions, or ‘red mist’ beatings, slaps, shoves – and he may lock you in the house. You could be expected to ‘prove’ your love through sexual acts, with refusal to have sex being used as evidence that you are ‘getting it’ elsewhere. The children may be asked to report on who you have been calling. A morbidly jealous abuser will almost certainly increase financial control over you – poring over your bank statements, and limiting the money available to you.

Crimes of passion

Photo by Cpt

Photo by Cpt

The scariest thing is that in many countries – including the UK until fairly recently – men who have beaten or killed  women in a pique of (founded or unfounded) jealous rage have been able to plead provocation for ‘crimes of passion‘. The abusive behaviour is implicitly sanctioned in the courtroom, with the defence focussing on proving the woman’s infidelity.

Jealousy and control are often interlinked in an abusive relationship –  a very dangerous mix.

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

25 responses to “Morbid jealousy in abusive relationships

  1. Wow, I never had such an intense display of jealousy directed at me in my relationship, but there was definite shades of it.


    • Hi Rebecca, thanks for your comment.

      Jealousy is normal in most relationships – because lets face it, if we have reason to fear we are going to lose the love of your life, we certainly want to do something positive to stop that happening.

      It’s scary though when it happens without any grounds. I’m glad you’ve never had to experience delusional and extreme jealousy – it is really destructive, especially on top of other abusive behaviour.


      • My ex used to call me at work and accuse me of giving my co-workers blow jobs. He would call my cell phone hundreds of times in a 12 hr shift and if I didn’t answer he would accuse me of having sex with my co-workers. He used his jealousy to control me when I was at work. I lived in a constant state of fear and eventually quit my job because of the abuse. He committed suicide after I left him and refused to take him back. I live with the after affects to this day.


  2. Hi Rebecca. I’m surprised that in your first comment you said you have never had such intense jealousy directed at you, because what you describe sounds extreme, and emotionally abusive! Jealousy can be soul-destroying for those of us on the receiving end – especially when you are doing nothing wrong and nothing to ‘deserve’ the accusations and extreme behaviour.

    I’m so sorry for what you experienced and the after affects you have to live with. My jealous, abusive ex regularly threatened suicide to keep controlling me – I regard it as callous emotional blackmail, but it still terrifies me that he may actually do it one day. However, I have accepted that only he is responsible for his choices – not me – just as your ex was. You are clearly a strong lady to get out of the relationship and refuse to go back. I really hope you’re in a better place now.


  3. I still struggle with determining how not normal his behavior was. I wonder if I am being too sensitive. My sense of what is normal behavior is skewed from years of abuse. I don’t trust my judgement. What I read in your post seemed extreme to me, but having lived through jealous behavior my experience didn’t seem nearly as bad as what you went through. Now that I think about it, what I lived through was pretty messed up but at the time it was normal and I just thought this is not nearly as bad as what it could be. I think over time my perception of what was abuse and what was normal conflict in a relationship was severely distorted. I’m still trying to figure out what Is normal and what isn’t. Its why I haven’t been in a relationship since that one ended. I don’t trust myself to be able to guage what is normal. I do not ever want another relationship like that one again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand you saying that you are struggling to understand how not normal his behaviour was. When we are in these relationships the abuser saps so much of our physical and emotional energy it is impossible to see straight. Plus, we are conditioned over time to accept increasing levels of extremity – so it’s hard to see where the line was crossed and when things tipped into unacceptable.

    For me, it was only once I got out and decided that this time it was for good, that I started to analyse it and understand the full extent of the abuse. A lot of what I had repressed or just ‘got on with’ at the time came out, and it was pretty hard to deal with. I had time to reflect and speak to others and that really helped – but you will always find someone worse off than you, so I try not to ‘measure’ the abuse I experienced against the experience of others. For example, I was slapped and shoved etc but never actually beaten as some women are – but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t physically abused (though I was lucky not to have experienced the extreme end).

    From what you describe, you have been at the receiving end of emotional abuse, and that’s not normal or acceptable. The abuse and jealousy was extreme enough for you to know that you needed to get out, and never go back. You are very wise to be clear that you never want to be in a similar situation again.


  5. Its bizarre to continue to minimize the abuse even after he is gone and can’t challenge my perceptions of what went on. To this day I take his POV into account and minimize minimize minimize. He spit in my face once, and picked me up by my throat another time. Over the years he used his physicality to intimidate me on a daily basis, blocking doors, refusing to let me leave rooms. Throwing things not at me but near me, slamming doors, breaking or damaging m, but y property, but I never thought I was being Physically abused. He didn’t beat me, so I didn’t think that he was that bad. He was emotionally and verbally abusive. That much is clear to me, but as I sit and go over the memories I am realizing that there was a physical component to his abuse as well.


  6. Oh yes, I think a lot of abuse is interlinked, and some women that I’ve spoken to say that emotional/ verbal abuse can happen without physical abuse, but physical abuse cannot be sustained without emotional abuse (so we don’t leave the relationship).

    Abusers have a range of tactics to retain control. Mine was mostly emotional, but he was still extremely physically intimidating at times. I had slaps, shoves, spitting, and lovebites on my face (his way of signalling to other men that I was taken). None of this left even a bruise but when you live with an emotionally abusive man you are treading on eggshells, never certain how far he will go or if this is the time he will snap and lose it altogether.

    We are also conditioned to see things from his point of view – as you say. We hear his POV so often, and our lives revolve around his needs and problems, so it is not surprising that even after the relationship is over some of that still lingers. It’s human nature to want to downplay the worst and focus on the positives. When I left my abusive relationship the last time, I took a number of steps to take off the rose-tinted spectacles. This included writing a memory list – which was painful, but enabled me to understand the extent of the abuse. Have you tried something like that?

    You sound like you are continuing to take positive steps forward in your journey, so please don’t minimise what you experienced. I am sure you will know this anyway but spitting, picking you up by your throat etc is assault. Breaking your property and blocking your way is criminal damage and intimidation. He couldn’t do it to a person on the street without criminal sanctions, so it is not acceptable to do it to the woman he supposedly loved.


  7. This sounds like my life. I am sure it is not the same man, but it sounds like a clone. I left him after 31 years of living together and 21 of marriage. I stayed trying to prove I didn’t sleep with all the men in the world. He tells me I am a sex maniac. I was so isolated and depressed, didn’t want anyone know this was happening to me. I thought “when I get old he will stop, who is going to like an old woman?” but I have got old and he still insists I am looking for men. My sister helped me to get out. After 9 months I feel calm and I have started to get out of depression. Is not over. We still have to talk. He asked me to re-think my decision after one year. He thinks I’ll change my mind and will go back. We must talk about the distribution of money.


    • I’m so sorry that you went through all that. It truly is crazy-making to live with someone with delusional jealousy. Crazy-making and soul destroying. You sound like you’ve made up your mind not to let him back into your life, please hold true to that – especially if he hasn’t used your year apart to seek serious help.


  8. I was 38 years old when I first fell for an abusive man. I never knew about extreme jealousy and controlling men and the red flags until this yahoo came into my life. I was not privy that these monsters existed. All my exes were pretty mentally stable and never had to deal with abuse. This guy, named Brutus, came into my life with the intention to make my life a living hell. He was so mentally unstable, but due to his oscar winning performances of pretending, and I repeat, PRETENDING, to be the most extremely charming, sensitive caring man who would love bomb me with his poems, letters, phone calls of undying love, everything you could imagine to make me not see his true self, of course, within six months, he proposed and wanted me to live with him, I was duped and fell hard for him. Red flags started popping up, he claimed the usual that he had to control what I wore who I saw and where I went, to protect me from all the evil men who might steal me away from him. Within a year, I knew that this man was dangerous and my daughter and I had to get away from him. I was in shock. I thought I had street smarts to stay away from his kind, but I didn’t know they hide so well behind a mask. It’s not like he was the typical stereotype loser, he had a job and kids. He didnt drink much and didnt touch drugs. He even coached his kids sports. So I thought I was safe. I’m just angry that he was such a con artist and how dare he come into MY LIFE and do what he had done in all his relationships to me! I didn’t ask to date some mental case like him, I didn’t realize the extent some people go to capture a new victim. I’m very lucky I never married him. I thank my blessings daily that I wasn’t subjected through years of torment at his hands. I understand how hard it is to get away from these men. Every situation is different. I get angry that these abusive men hide their illness from the girls they vow to live and cherish and protect. They know they are not worthy of our love but will continue to destroy every woman they date. Grow up and get a life!! We deserve better than you and you know that. Grow some balls and get the help needed through therapy, if you can’t do that, show your true personality at the beginning of every relatiohsip and stop hiding your illness from girls looking for a genuinly nice guy, eventually your mask wears away and it’s scary.
    Thanks, I feel better that I can get this off my chest. I feel sorry for anyone stuck in these relationships. One step at a time and you will eventually be free.


    • Hi Tina

      I’m really sorry you went through all that, and thank you for sharing your experiences here. I especially like the way you point out how deceptive abusive men can be – they are indeed skilled at pretending to be nice, normal people. Yes, they have to wear that mask, because if we saw them as they truly are at the start, we’d turn around and run the other way!

      The love bombing though is a known tactic, a way of reeling us in hard and fast so they can begin the process of establishing control – which is the only thing these people actually live for.

      So thank you for your words of encouragement for those facing domestic abuse / violence. Freedom is always possible.


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  10. Thanks for your reply
    the experience left me mentally exhausted tthe accusations of infidelity became weekly which lead to arguments the morbid jealousy traits even imposed on the television programmes I watched anything with adult content would be questioned. I loved my partner and the family we had I don’t understand but harbouring the thoughts must have been traumatic for her but themail impact for myself was tremendous it creeps into every aspect of life and no matter what evidence to the contrary was presented the conviction of infidelity was so strong
    there’s little support that I could offer her
    she accused me of passing on a sexual Infection to her then two nights later had unprotected sexual with me this is how irrational morbid jealousy is and it destroy s love
    both partner’s suffer greatly

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi Stronger Soul Surviver
    thanks for your comment looking at other people’s stories have helped me to cope along with some talking therapy
    when your living the abuse it’s hard to see clearly as the emotional aspect is so controlling if I went out with friends my partner would monitor certain Facebook accounts I had to ask my manager not to put X on the end of text messages due to accusations of infidelity. My partner was constantly questioning about my actions once accusing me of being in a massage parlour morbid jealousy squeezes the life out of both partner’s and leaves devastation in its wake
    My experience was that my partner put a zoemob family monitoring app on my phone which could read every text message sent & received which does not appear to be against UK law the app gave her ultimate power she was able to track my movements & conversations and I was blissfully unaware the jealousy even extended to time spent with the 4 year old grandson
    I would be branded a pervert If I watched any TV programme that contained adult content I once returned the TV so I could watch call the midwife. which reactivated the adult channels she had blocked this lead to voilance against me as due to being male I couldn’t possibly be interested in such a programme
    The ironic thing is that the only person with thoughts of infidelity was my partner who is now in a relationship with
    Her work colleague Im glad to be out of the relationship and healing
    The jealousy took both my partner & myself to dark places that I would not like to revisit the worst bit is being unable to apply any logic to the situation
    or events morbid jealousy has no reason


  12. It’s refreshing to know I’m not the only one who suffers the wrath of extreme jealousy and paranoia on virtually a daily basis. I’ve been with my husband for 11 years, married for 5 and we have one toddler. I struggle every day with the decision to have another child because it breaks my heart every day to see her sitting there alone with no brother or sister to play with. But how can I have another baby when I live with the abuse every day? Anytime he feels angry or anxious, he channels it all into this fictional world of paranoid jealousy. It’s gets violent about every few months where he will grab or or shove me (I’ve had the courage to hit back a few times) because he’s dreamt up yet another interaction I have apparently had with another man. I stared at him too long, or I am just ‘too extraverted and flirty’, the list is endless. Even this morning he found my underwear on the floor and went crazy. I just feel trapped. I am successful and make twice as much money than him. I suspect he deeply resents that too. We have a beautiful house and everything in the world and he’ll never be happy. If I divorce him, we have to sell the house, I lose everything and have to start from scratch. I just can’t picture bringing another baby into this world when I have to live with someone who is so utterly miserable and takes it all out of my in the form of paranoid delusions of jealous rage. I know I don’t deserve it I’m just hoping he’ll change. Am I fooling myself?


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  14. I felt like I was reading my own story. My ex would do terrible things including putting tracking devices on my phone, video cameras in the house and calling my work. I got pregnant soon after we got together but still was accused every day of cheating. When he went out he would accuse me of sneaking people in the windows where there weren’t cameras. He would watch the videos live while he was at work and make me stay on the phone with him constantly. He would have people stop by and expect me to let them in to inspect the house when he wasn’t home. I left him and took my two daughters with me in June. It was very painful, sometimes I think more painful than the abuse, to leave. I have been going to therapy but it is so hard to deal with these feelings that I don’t know what to do. People I talk to seem to think I’m looking for pity and just tell me to look to the future.. Every once in awhile I get flashbacks of times he would emotionally and physically abuse me. He would often take a taser and put it close to my pregnant belly until I started crying and hyperventilating out of fear for my youngest daughter’s life. He would then demand I tell him the truth. I have had to move away just to get away from him and he goes around my old town saying I cheated on him and my youngest daughter isn’t even his, and that is supposedly why I left. He has started dating someone since then and she has two kids. I pray that she will come to her senses and not expose her children to such a monster. How can I continue on with my life without people thinking I am just getting others to ‘take my side’. People don’t believe the things he has done when I tell them. I feel like no one understands. I am not a victim anymore. I have taken control of my life to the fullest degree. Full-time job, school full-time, 2 kids, joined a gym and go OFTEN for relief. I have buried myself so I don’t have to deal with these feelings but they won’t go away.


    • Your story just about broke my heart. I relate so much to you and the situation you’re in, so I’m very proud to read you feel you’re ‘not a victim anymore’. Recovery from abuse isn’t easy, it’s a journey and I hope you are able to see just how far along the road to peace you’ve come. The pain does ease with time, I promise you – and until then, take it one day at a time, be kind to yourself, don’t concern yourself with other people’s opinions. Just know you’ve done the best thing for you and your children, and keep on putting one foot in front of the other. I’m here if you want to share or vent.


  15. I have always been aware that I was emotional ally abused. Thirty years later it is still true. My marriage has been a cycle but I was able to keep busy with work and the kids. At different times it would cycle up and down in intensity. I am and have been convinced my spouse is mentally ill and when he has periods of jeoulousy I know he truly believes that I am doing sonething. I have been accused while at work that my voice changes when I talk to him like Isomeone is with me and I don’t want him to know. Nothing I could do or say would ever change his mind. I get so nervous all the time and feel like he is always watching. Iduring these cycles I used to have the kids around and he would behave better but they are older and some gone. I am at a point that I want to live life and not in fear and turmoil. We are almost 50 years old this is ridiculous should not be dealing with.


    • Hi. I really feel for you. I know how suffocating it feels to live with a partner who is delusional in their jealousy. Nothing you say or do can reassure them, but you still exhaust yourself trying. If your partner accepts he has a problem, I’d strongly suggest he seeks professional psychological help – the starting point would be to speak to his GP.


  16. Delusional? Seriously? Well, for women with jealousy & envy, it would make sense not to call it delusional. Whats so delusional about men liking ass? Are my eyes fucked up when I see random men gawk at women? Am I being delusional? No.
    So men naturally loving women is false?
    I may be “overly” jealous because to me for someone whom loves you, isnt supposed to gawk or stare at legs or chests. For once, its utterly uncomfortable. Does that mean partner wants her? No. Does it mean he wants her in bed? No. So why do i feel i need to control what my partner sees? Because of beliefs. It is utterly painful just imagining him fantasizing. Now i may not know if thats even true- perhaps not. Perhaps im just imagining but the fact that men naturally love some bodies. Then what? Whos gonna say thats wrong? Im not gonna be a fool pretending everything’s ok while he just stares at a nice pair of ass.

    I see guys comment how hot a women is in the internet, there are strip clubs, there are nude magazines, porn, the media blasts stuff to lure men. How the heck am i supposed to take this all in when my partners a guy? Yes he loves me. Yes I KNOW HED NEVER cheat on me. I know hed never sleep elsewhere, i know he rather sleep than watch porn, i know he only wants me. Honestly if you truly love someone, you should only have eyes for that person. I dont comprehend how its so acceptable to let hubby watch whatever he likes, to let him take a little glance. I dont care if its just a wee tiny glance. I dont permit it & he respects it. He tells me he doesnt wanna look anyways. Yea. I believe him but honestly when an attractive person is in front of him, I loose it. Its like I wanna stab them. I mean, hello… Im here! Yohoo! Look at me. Not at her. Why her? Because of her nice legs?

    We have argued many times and ive been violent but I try not to. Im a really caring kind person underneath it all. Im an advocate for animal rights- my passion.
    So for anyone to say that this is crazy & judge, just think about it. You let hubby gawk and enjoy. Might as well let him enjoy them in bed. Whats the difference?
    Oh. Because its natural guys will like women? Because they’re made that way & its not their fault? Because they were programmed that way? Then you complain why he cheats. At least I know mine wont 🙂
    Oh. 6 yrs together and hes in love with me. Hes kind, caring, loyal, faithful, attentive, devoted. Anything i could ask & i truly feel lucky.


    • This article deals with delusional jealousy, which is what I was subjected to – ie. my man had NO reason whatsoever to doubt that I was faithful to him, and yet in his head I had a secret lover. Putting me under 24/7 surveillance, having his friends spy on me when he couldn’t, making ‘spot checks’ to check I was at work, subjecting me to random strip searches, interrogations that went on all night, forbidding me to even answer the door in case I inadvertently spoke to a man – even while I was heavily pregnant – I could go on. The key is this was the product of a delusional jealousy. It’s not normal, and very different to everyday jealousy we might feel if we see our partner eyeing up someone else.

      And by the way, if you’re violent, you need to seek help for that, because it’s not acceptable even if you are experiencing what you see as ‘normal’ jealousy.


  17. It appears the majority of people who suffer morbid jealousy are men. I’ve just recently ended a 5 month relationship with a woman who displayed all the symptoms associated. She even resorted to physical violence 3 times. I was cause of checking out women in reflections of car windows, restaurant windows and grocery store glass doors. My biggest mistake was getting back with her thinking I could help. I am not qualified for that.


  18. Glad to know there is a description of what I lived. Cyber stalking, real life stalking, threats, and finally the physical stuff started. It’s sad to read that other women had to experience this as well


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