Is your partner convinced you’re cheating on them? If you’re innocent of the charges, and they still insist you’re displaying this behavior, you might think they’re acting irrationally. Well, maybe they are. Jealousy is a powerful human emotion; its effect on the psyche devastates many people.
Jealousy can make people fly into fits of rage, causing them to behave out of character. They see red in the moment, do something they regret, and then wish they hadn’t when the dust settles. If your partner thinks you’re cheating on them all the time, and you aren’t, they might suffer from “Othello syndrome.”
What is Othello syndrome exactly? After all, your partner probably isn’t a Shakespeare fan, and even if they are, what does it have to do with your relationship? This post unpacks the characteristics and behavior involved with this mental disorder.
What Is Othello Syndrome?
The Shakespeare play, “Othello,” is a literary classic involving the effect passion and jealousy have on a person’s mind. In the play, the lead character, Othello, slays his wife, Desdemona, because he falsely assumes she’s cheating on him.
English Psychiatrist, John Todd, would use the play as the inspiration to form his theory on rampant jealousy, called “Othello Syndrome.” Todd released his paper on the mental disorder in 1951, claiming it was a form of dangerous psychosis brought on by intense feelings of jealousy.
People suffering from Othello syndrome have a rare psychiatric disorder. Their psychosis stems from an obsessive idea their partner is cheating on them with someone else or multiple partners. The constant stress experienced by the person causes them to develop paranoid and delusional behavior, leading to a form of psychosis.
People with Othello syndrome don’t trust their partner, and they think that every moment they spend away from them gives them an opportunity to cheat. Some cases are so bad that if their partner leaves the house for very short periods, such as to go to the store, the person believes they’re meeting up with someone else to have an affair.
What Triggers Othello Syndrome?
People suffering from Othello syndrome have a serious mental health problems requiring immediate treatment. Their obsessive belief that their partner is cheating on them causes them to act erratically. The outcomes from their behavior affect both their lives and that of their partner, leading to massive amounts of anxiety, stress, and conflict in their relationship.
A person with Othello syndrome may find themselves so convinced of their partner’s suspected infidelity that they regularly check their partner’s phone messages, email accounts, social media DMs, and shopping receipts for proof of cheating. Some may even ask their partner to take a lie detector test to prove they aren’t sneaking around on them.
Typically, people with Othello syndrome become hostile towards their partners, openly accusing them of cheating on them. Their partner may deny the accusations and offer proof of their whereabouts under question, but the person won’t accept this proof, choosing to believe their suspicions instead.
The person suffering from Othello syndrome experiences these episodes of doubt and duress through a process that “triggers” their psychosis. The trigger can result from either partner’s behavior. For instance, they may suspect them of cheating when they merely went to work that day.
Or they could suspect the partner of inviting another lover over to their home when they’re away from it doing errands. The trigger results in the syndrome’s onset, with the affected individual spiraling into a state of despair, anxiety, and depression.
Even something as simple as seeing an attractive woman in a movie might be enough to get the person to accuse their partner of wanting to sleep with them. Or suppose the couple walks past another man or woman on the street they think is attractive. In that case, they may accuse their partner of wanting to engage in sexual relations with them, erupting into a full-blown argument in the presence of other people.
Anything the person sees as a threat to their relationship acts as a trigger, making life very uncomfortable for the couple in social and non-social situations. The partner cannot stop the syndrome when it arises. They may plead with them, attempt to convince them otherwise, and pled their commitment, but their partner continues their irrational rage until they burn out.
How Does Othello Syndrome Affect Behavior in Relationships?
Othello syndrome creates massive amounts of stress for both people involved in the relationship. In many cases, the other person’s rampant jealousy and irrational behavior cause their partner to leave them because they can no longer handle the accusations and outcomes resulting from them.
However, if their partner leaves them, it reinforces the syndrome’s effect on the affected person. This action confirms their suspicions, and they assume their partner is leaving them for someone else. They expect their partner to work to try and save the relationship from deteriorating, but the action of leaving does nothing but further their psychosis.
Ife is a rollercoaster ride for anyone involved with a person suffering from Othello syndrome. If they are honest about being committed to their partner and never cheating on them, the constant accusations make life miserable, with the couple frequently fighting over nothing.
If they love the individual and consider themselves trustworthy, being told they are always cheating or thinking about cheating can devastate their mind and behavior. Their partner might call them derogatory names, constantly interrogate them, and judge their character negatively, even though they’ve done nothing wrong.
Some might assume this behavior stems from a need to dominate or control their partner. However, this is not the case and is a common misinterpretation of the syndrome and its effects. The core issue involved with the onset and triggering of the syndrome comes from the individual’s inability to trust the other person.
While Othello syndrome seems to express a case of severe jealousy by the affected individual, it is not the reason for the condition. These people don’t have any issues regarding low self-worth or problems with their self-esteem. They typically have no insecurity in themselves and don’t project any of these feelings onto their partner.
Psychiatrists believe the issues have roots in the affected individual’s childhood or adolescent experience. They may have endured a trauma in their lives resulting from someone breaking their trust in them during this stage of their life when the brain is most plastic and forming its life experience.
If these issues combine with the assumption of their partner withholding information from them or their discovery of them telling white lies, it compounds these irrational beliefs. As a result, they become even more convinced that they can’t trust their partner with anything, especially fidelity.
Othello Syndrome – The Fear of Losing Someone You Love
Some psychiatrists believe that Othello syndrome has the same characteristics as a “phobia” or a fear of something, such as spiders (arachnophobia). People that are afraid of spiders feel terrified when they’re around them. Even the act of seeing one in a nature documentary makes them break out into a fearful state.
So, we might consider Othello syndrome as a “fear of losing something we love.” They become petrified at the thought of their partner engaging in sexual relations with other people because they might leave them for the other person.
They’ll do anything they can to avoid this, even going as far as destroying their relationship to ensure they don’t have to face this potential reality. They have a deep fear of rejection and abandonment, resulting in their behavior. If they detect any risk of this occurring, they’ll resort to any behavior they see fit to prevent it from happening.
In their mind, they’re acting in the best interest of both of them, but in reality, they’re driving both of them crazy.
Othello Syndrome – A Case Study
The most famous incident of Othello syndrome occurred in the UK in 2013. So much so that it found its way into stories published by several leading UK-based tabloids. Then 42-year-old “Debbi” was convinced her partner, Steve Wood, 30, would cheat on her when he was away from home.
She would insist on checking his phone messages, email, and bank accounts several times a day for evidence of her suspicions. At the time of the article, the couple had been dating for two years, and Steve even proposed to Debbie in early 2013.
Debbie banned Steve from watching TV shows and movies featuring women because she thought he was thinking about cheating on her with them. She even installed privacy and child filters on his tech devices to prevent him from accessing the internet without her around.
Debbi admitted, “Even if Steve pops out for 15 minutes to buy a pint of milk, I make him take a lie detector test as soon as he gets home.”
Debbie developed the disorder after being cheated on in her previous relationship. She developed Othello syndrome from the trauma endured from her experience.
Is there a Treatment for Othello Syndrome?
There is no known treatment for people suffering from Othello syndrome. It’s possible to medicate the anxiety caused by the condition, but no medication can cure the person’s psychosis. Their only option is to undergo counseling to help them work through the past trauma responsible for developing their behavior.
The person may require regular sessions with a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to help them work through their problems. However, there is no recorded case of anyone ever recovering from the hold Othello syndrome has on their psyche.
What Do You Do If Your Partner Asks You to Take a Lie Detector Test?
Like Debbie in our case study, many people suffering from the condition end up paranoid about their partner cheating on them. They feel so convinced of their suspicions that they make them take a lie detector test to prove their fidelity.
Being told to take a lie detector test by someone you love is a slap in the face of your commitment to them, especially if you’re honest and committed to the relationship. You might feel that your partner’s lack of trust in your fidelity is irrational, and their behavior supports your assumptions.
The constant stress from fighting might place you on edge, and being told to take a lie detector test to prove yourself might tip you over the precipice, forcing you to break up with them. Even love has limits, and constant accusations of being unfaithful are enough to break any sane, well-adjusted person.
If your partner insists you take a lie detector test, you might decide to do it to prove your commitment to them if you really love them. However, there is no guarantee they’ll believe the results. They might assume you found a way to beat the lie detector machine, or they might ask you to take a weekly polygraph to prove yourself.
So, agreeing to take the test might not work out as expected. In fact, it might lend your partner support to polygraph you more frequently, or they may think you’re agreeing to it because you’re working with the polygraph examiner to manipulate the test results. Simply put, there is no end to their psychosis.
Can A Polygraph Detect If Your Spouse Is Cheating?
A polygraph is a sophisticated piece of technology. It has a success rate of 97% in detecting deceptive behavior. It works by asking the examinee a set of questions with yes-and-no answers. For example, in this case, the questions might be the following.
- Have you ever had sexual intercourse with anyone other than your partner after meeting them?
- Have you ever considered having sexual intercourse with anyone other than your partner after meeting them?
- Have you ever lied to your partner about meeting with another person whom you find sexually attractive?
The lie detector machine looks for signs of deception by monitoring your “fight-or-flight” response to these questions. It’s impossible to control this reaction due to its link to the autonomic and sympathetic nervous systems.
Polygraphs are often used in divorce proceedings or in cases of suspected infidelity. It’s an effective way of proving fidelity to someone before you marry them or to prove that you’re committed to a relationship. However, it might not make a difference to the person suffering from Othello syndrome.