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When Suspicion of Infidelity Becomes Abnormal

While finding out a partner has been unfaithful can bring out a range of reactions, suspicion of infidelity and the reaction to it can be extreme and irrational if a person has a psychological disorder called Othello syndrome. The name comes from the character in Shakespeare’s play Othello, who murders his wife because of a false belief of infidelity.

Elena’s symptoms did not start until her first relationship. She was completely insecure and would often go through her boyfriend’s Facebook page. Likes and comments on his posts, from girls he had never met before, seemed suspicious to her, and caused her so much grief. She felt like locking him up so she could have him all to herself.

This psychological disorder is also known as delusional jealousy because affected individuals are often delusional, and hence have false beliefs of the infidelity of their spouses or partners. People who suffer from this disorder have a strong tendency to stalk, sabotage, or even resort to violence.

Symptoms

  • Accusing partner of infidelity when sexual activity stops.
  • Keeping tabs on the partner’s calls and messages.
  • Searching through partner’s belongings for pieces of evidence that don’t even exist.
  • Keeping partner away from friends and family members, thus controlling the partner’s social circle.
  • Verbal and/or physical violence towards a partner and the individual(s) considered to be the rival, or both parties.
  • Making excuses for obvious jealous behavior and blaming it all on the partner.
  • Denying the jealous behavior, unless when cornered.
  • Threatening to self-harm or injure others.
  • Always curious about the partner’s whereabouts.

A person with delusional jealousy might feel a stabbing pain whenever their partner is being polite to the opposite sex; seeing people who match the partner’s interests might also make such a person feel a violent uncontrollable anger.

Causes

Personality: Fearful people who are very insecure and have low self-esteem are more likely to question their partner’s commitment to them.

Brain disorder: Othello has been associated with organic brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

Drug and alcohol misuse: This has been linked to delusional jealousy. Amphetamine (a potent central nervous system stimulant that is used in the treatment of obesity) and cocaine have been known to increase the probability of a delusion of infidelity, which can continue even after the intoxication ends.

Treatment

The type of treatment depends on the symptoms that are observed in the individual. For example, if alcoholism plays a role in the behavior of an Othello patient, it is best to treat this addiction.

Therefore, Othello syndrome has numerous treatment options. Some of them are:

1. Treatment of the primary psychiatric condition.

2. Use of antipsychotic and antidepressant medication.

3. Psychoeducation for affected individuals and partners.

4. Therapy (behavioral, cognitive, family, and couple).

5. Psychotherapy (individual, insight-oriented).

6. Geographical separation of the partners.

7. Treatment of alcohol and substance misuse.

In extreme cases, the psychological syndrome drives affected individuals to murder their partners and spouses, and also commit suicide. This thus confirms the Song of Solomon which says,

“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”