DEAR AMY: I recently found a photo of my wife posing with an old boyfriend. She was 19 years old and very beautiful. They were walking arm in arm. Though we have been together for 30 years and the photo was taken two years before she even met me, this picture has made me jealous for over a week. Why is this? Is it that I see her with him? Is it that she was thinner and prettier than she is now? (I know I have aged and put on weight, too.) I can't get this picture out of my head. Is it because as a man I can't stand to see my wife with another man, or that I see her with him looking so beautiful? Any suggestions for how I can shake this feeling? I don't want something out of my control to ruin my marriage.
-- Jealous Husband
DEAR JEALOUS: This is not out of your control. And it will only "ruin" your marriage if you let it.
Your reaction to seeing this photo is both common and complex -- that's why you find it so confusing. As we age, many of us find it difficult to look at younger versions of ourselves or our partners -- some parents even develop irrational jealousy toward their own children, for the sole reason that they possess the dew of youth that is now a mere memory for the parent.
Jealousy thrives on secrecy and rumination. Take your feelings out for a spin and share them with your wife. Be completely candid with her, using "I" statements: "When I see this picture, I feel jealous, but I don't really know why." Do not put her on the defensive.
There is a strong likelihood that your wife can understand your emotional reaction to this.
This episode could spark a new, deeper and intimate understanding that you are in fact growing old together. And that's a truly beautiful thing.