The Stab of Jealousy in Marriage

My husband and I walked into the living room of the home we were at for a fundraiser for a charitable organization we were supporting. The first thing that caught my eye in this expensive, beautifully decorated home was a six-foot by four-foot portrait of the couple hosting the fundraiser and their three adult daughters.

I felt what I only describe as a stab in my gut with overwhelming pain.

I was jealous. I wanted what it looked like they had.

It wasn’t the home, nor the portrait itself. It was what it represented.

The pain was familiar. I had felt this before when I was hurting over the dysfunction in my marriage, but this time it had to do with the pain in my family.

There was a time that I felt convicted over this feeling of jealousy. After all, one of the Ten Commandments is to not covet anything your neighbor has. And, I definitely wanted what they had.

I have had a dysfunctional marriage which means I had a dysfunctional family. My three adult daughters have pain and at this time, I was feeling the effects of the brokenness and it was affecting my relationship with them and my grandkids.

It is particularly painful because I vowed as a little girl not to do what my mom did. I planned on raising my kids in a healthy home. I forgive myself for that because it is pretty common to repeat what you were raised with until you learn how to do it differently.

Walking into that home was a reminder of the pain I was feeling over the effects of that dysfunction. It was pain over the loss of my desire for everyone in my family to get along well and to be able to do things together. My grandkids had just moved out of state and I was grieving the loss of being able to see them often.

Grief is a messy process that isn’t finished overnight. It is necessary for us to move forward. It has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and finally, acceptance. I was feeling the sadness.

Whether it is infertility, an estranged child, an addiction, a difficult marriage, death, divorce, chronic illness, financial problems, mental illness, or anything else, not having something we desperately desire is a loss.  

I wasn’t in acceptance when I walked into that home. I was still working through the grief over the loss. Had I been at acceptance, the portrait might have reminded me of the situation, but it wouldn’t have been as painful because acceptance brings you to a place of rest and peace.   

I no longer beat myself up when I have this stab of jealousy because I recognize that it is more than covetousness. It is grief related to a deep struggle over something painful in my life. I offer myself grace just like I would if it were a friend telling me she felt the same over a loss in her life.

I don’t believe God is unhappy with me over this either. I believe He gets it. He sees me, His daughter, hurting and He has compassion.

I’m no longer at that place. There has been some healing and I am in acceptance.

And the funny thing is, I have one of those family portraits on my wall taken years ago. It isn’t as big, but it is one of us all together smiling. 

In reality, I didn’t know the people in the giant painted portrait. I had no idea what things were going on in their family that I couldn’t see. Perhaps they dealt with painful dysfunction like my family did. Maybe they too were experiencing hidden grief or jealousy.

For many of us, the stab of jealousy is simply a reminder to keep working through the grief. As you turn your grief over to God, he will show you compassion and lead you toward acceptance.

*Editor’s note: There is a difference between jealousy based on your own insecurities and past pain, and jealousy based on your husband’s actions. If your husband gives you reason to doubt his commitment or honesty in your marriage, please seek professional counseling today.

Wife Step: What triggers jealousy in you? Consider whether it is related to a loss that you need to grieve, whether on your own or with a counselor’s help.

Karla Downing New

Karla Downing, the founder of, offers Christian marriage help and Christian relationship help as a speaker, author, counselor, and Bible study teacher. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and then found herself struggling with Christian codependency in her own difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles, which she now teaches to others. She also trains counselors, pastors, women’s ministry leaders, church leaders, small-group leaders, non-profit ministry leaders, and individuals to minister to Christians in difficult relationships. Karla’s passion is to see individuals, marriages, and families set free from the chains of dysfunction, misunderstanding, and emotional pain through a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches about relationships.

Karla Downing is the author of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2004 Silver Medallion Award winner, 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages. Her second book, When Love Hurts: 10 Principles to Transform Difficult Relationships, applies the same principles to all family members. Her third book, The Truth in the Mirror: A Guide to Healthy Self-Image, offers a unique and life-changing approach to looking at self-image. 

She holds a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Hope International University. Karla also holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communicative Disorders from California State University, Fullerton. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. Karla was also the director of Friends in Recovery, a Christ-based, Twelve-Step recovery program.

Karla lives in Southern California. She has been married for over thirty years and has three adult daughters.



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