Overly jealous men are usually abusive

The morbid jealousy

We all know jealousy. It always occurs when a relationship that is important to us is threatened. This can be a couple relationship or jealousy between siblings or friends. There is always a feeling of fear behind this, combined with rivalry. In couples therapy, around a third of all couples cite jealousy as the main problem.

Short version:

  • The boundaries between normal and pathological jealousy are fluid.
  • Pathological jealousy is not an independent disease, but a symptom of various disorders.
  • Experts differentiate between compulsive and delusional jealousy.
  • Therapy includes treatment of the underlying disease, behavioral and / or couples therapy, and medication.


Because each individual can tolerate a different level of jealousy, it is almost impossible to define it clearly: the boundaries between "normal" and "pathological" are fluid.

Evolutionary biologists suspect that jealousy is an innate sensation. In primeval times, it ensured the care and material resources of men for women and their offspring. For men, in turn, it increases the chance of passing on their own genetic material and at the same time reduces the risk of caring for a “cuckoo child”.

What is jealousy?

Jealousy can be roughly described as an "excruciating feeling of an alleged or actual deprivation of love". It is mostly caused by real competition. If the triggering situation is over again or if the partner can plausibly rebut the suspicion, the negative feelings usually subside relatively quickly.

What feelings does jealousy trigger?

  • Anger
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • feeling betrayed / hurt
  • uncertainty
  • mistrust
  • hate
  • sadness
  • Humiliation

What physical symptoms does jealousy trigger?

  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heart
  • Chest tightness

Pathological jealousy

One speaks of pathological jealousy when the quality of life of one or both sides is severely restricted by the possessive behavior, although there is insufficient evidence of the partner's infidelity. According to studies, men are significantly more often pathologically jealous than women (64%).

Pathological jealousy is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of various disorders. Experts differentiate between compulsive and delusional jealousy:

Compulsive jealousy

In the case of compulsive jealousy, the person concerned constantly revolves around the sexual or emotional infidelity of the partner, even though there is absolutely no evidence of the culprit's misconduct. The jealous person knows that the suspicions are exaggerated and irrational, but can not do otherwise: The thoughts constantly push themselves - similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder - even without a specific reason. This can go so far that other areas of life such as work or maintaining social contacts are neglected. But their “victims” also suffer: They are severely restricted in their personal freedom by the constant controls of their partner.

+++ More on the subject: Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents +++

Delusional jealousy

In its strongest form, pathological jealousy can also take on delusional traits; most cases are observed around the age of 40. In most cases, delusional jealousy occurs as an accompanying symptom of other diseases:

The central theme of delusional jealousy is the unwavering conviction that the partner is unfaithful when there is not the slightest cause to be. In contrast to compulsive jealousy, delusional jealousies are not aware of their problem: The delusion becomes a private reality that cannot be corrected by anyone or anything. Even harmless events, such as conversations between the partner and other people or disordered clothes, are misinterpreted as confirmation of their convictions. Counter-arguments or attempts at explanation are dismissed, ignored or viewed as partial to the accused; they can make the effects even worse. The delusional jealousy often leads to an immensely high level of suffering - on both sides:

On the one hand, those affected resort to drugs, alcohol and medication more often - a vicious circle that not infrequently (in up to 20% of cases) leads to a suicide attempt.
On the other hand, there is also a considerable risk to the "victims", since delusional jealousies usually confront their partner with their allegations and try to counteract the alleged infidelity with all possible means. The result can be massive restrictions on personal freedom, threats of separation, stalking and even the use of violence against the wrongly accused partner.

+++ More on the topic: Mental illnesses +++


The diagnosis of pathological jealousy requires a full psychiatric evaluation.

Therapy of morbid jealousy

  • Treatment of the underlying disease
  • Behavior therapy
  • Medication
  • Couples therapy

Helpful tips

  • Maintain or try to regain your independence and do not completely adjust to your partner.
  • Avoid control measures (rummaging through bags, control calls, etc.).
  • Don't try to make your partner jealous out of “revenge”.
  • Try not to lose respect for your partner.
  • Open up to your partner so you can see signs of affection.
  • Try to clarify your own needs and demands on the relationship with your partner.

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Astrid Leitner
Medical review:
O. Univ. Prof. Dr.h.c. mult. Dr med Siegfried Kasper
Editorial editing:
Nicole Kolisch

Updated on:

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