Delusional Jealousy: Husband Wrongfully Suspects Me of Cheating

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Reader’s Question

My husband of four years and partner of 11 has told me he no longer trusts me, for absolutely no reason on my part. I am a devoted mom to 3 and have always been “a good girl,” never into partying and getting drunk. Four years ago, my husband and I went to Cuba to get married. It was just the two of us, and we had a great time. We met up with a couple from England, and hung out with them a few times. Three years later, my husband informed me that he thinks I slept with the English guy (which absolutely did not happen!). He insists that there are so many signs, it is obvious that I did it. He remembers something every day that he sees as new “proof” and simply can’t get past the idea I cheated. I have told him over and over that absolutely nothing happened, and he should know me better than that. He said cheating fits me, because I’m such an unlikely person to do it. He checks up on me all the time, which is fine, because I’m not hiding anything, but I even get the third degree when I go out to the movies with my sister. He stops talking to me for a few days at a time. I told him I would take a lie detector test to prove to him I’m not lying, but he doesn’t want me to do that. He told me just last week (after another few days of not talking to me) that he’s been thinking about leaving because he could not be with me if I did cheat, and even if I didn’t, he doesn’t want the possibility of getting hurt in the future. He said he decided not to leave because our youngest little guy, who is two, changed his mind by telling him he loves him. I have taken down all our wedding pictures, because he says he can’t look at them without thinking that the day before they were taken, I was with someone else.

We’ve talked, and I told him over and over again that I didn’t cheat, but he doesn’t believe me. He knows he’s got trust issues, and I think in his heart, he believes me, but his brain won’t let him believe it. I don’t think he wants to go to counselling either. What can I do? I hate living like this. I’ve been nothing but good to him, and I hate living like this. The tension is eating away at me. I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells. And is it possible for a person to remember irrelevant details about something that was four years in the past? He doesn’t get that I don’t remember EVERYTHING from our trip the way he does, like when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He believes that’s when I snuck out and had sex with the other guy (which I didn’t!) Please help!!!

Psychologist’s Reply

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Various labels have been given to the kinds of beliefs people hold that aren’t really true. Sometimes, we can entertain a false belief because of misperception, misunderstanding, or being provided incorrect information. But we can also entertain a false belief because of some kind of pathological process. The term “delusion” is used by psychologists and psychiatrists to denote a fixed yet false belief based on an incorrect inference drawn from external events that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary and which is in contrast to the kinds of inference that most people would make, given the same objective facts about the circumstances. Not all false beliefs rise to the the level of a true delusion, which is distinguished by the level of conviction the person retains about the false belief despite the conflicting reality of the situation.

Delusional jealousy or infidelity delusion is one of several types of delusions. It usually involves one partner maintaining a steadfast false belief that their partner is having or has had an affair and about which they often attempt to gather “evidence.”

Delusions most often occur as part of a mental condition such as schizophrenia, mania, bipolar disorder, or even a depression that has some psychotic features. But individuals can also suffer from Delusional Disorder, which is characterized by the holding of one or more delusional beliefs in the absence of any other psychopathology.

In earlier times, when psychodynamic explanations dominated the field, delusional jealously was thought to have it’s roots in a “projection” onto the innocent spouse of the lustful urges of the accusing spouse as an unconscious “defense” against the accusing spouse’s guilt for either having or desiring an affair of their own. Most modern explanations of the phenomenon simply see it as a mental dysfunction, possibly related to abnormal dopamine activity in the brain.

When a loved-one’s belief system has become impaired and brings pain into the lives of others, it’s important to secure professional assessment and help. Not only are many factors likely to be contributing to the problem, but also the impact on a family and relationships can be varied and substantial if adequate assessment and intervention is not secured. It would be best to seek appropriate professional assistance.

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