Research Update: Obsessive Morbid Jealousy

Have you ever checked a partner’s phone to make sure they are not cheating on you?

Some people experience distressing and intrusive thoughts that their partner is being unfaithful and find themselves behaving like a private investigator to track down ‘the truth.’ This can involve checking phone and emails, clothing and underwear, even following them to find out what they are up to. This can be unbearable for an innocent partner, and can lead to conflict and sometimes violent fights.

This condition is called obsessive morbid jealousy, and may be linked with growing up without a sense of being loved and cared for, or feeling secure in the knowledge that you will not be abandoned.

Researchers don’t really know what works best for obsessive morbid jealousy and few studies have looked at the effectiveness of integrative therapies.   However, a team of researchers based at Sheffield University completed a study looking at how helpful cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) is for people with this condition.

CAT is a time limited therapy lasting between eight and twenty-four sessions.  It is often used in NHS mental health services.  It focusses on patterns that are causing problems for a person in the present, but also takes into account past influences.  Diagrams and letters between therapist and patient, and monitoring between sessions, are used to help the person develop better understanding of their difficulties and make changes. CAT also pays attention to the feelings and behaviours that come up in the relationship between the patient and therapist throughout sessions.

The research team intensively focussed on a sample of three patients with obsessive morbid jealousy, looking in detail at the their jealousy and how it responded to CAT therapy.  The three were then followed up for a period after therapy had ended. Using measures of jealousy that were particular to each person, the researchers measured these on a daily basis throughout therapy and the follow-up period.

The obsessive morbid jealousy was successfully treated in all three cases, using CAT.  The researchers also measured scores on rating scales which compared the participants to others in the general population.  All three scored as “non-jealous” by the time of follow up.  In all three cases, the people having CAT therapy also stopped being violent to their partners.

The researchers wrote up and published this work in 2018.  Their article includes some thoughts on ways their study was limited and how future research could look further at this condition.  They concluded that their study showed CAT is a suitable therapy for people with obsessive morbid jealousy.  They also shared ideas for therapists using this approach, on how it could be even more effective for people with this condition.

You can read the abstract of the original study at


Curling, L., Kellett, S., & Totterdell, P. (2018). Cognitive analytic therapy for obsessive morbid jealousy: A case series. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. Advance online publication.

Thanks are extended to Steve Kellett for helpful contributions to this blog.

Research Update – Obsessive Morbid Jealousy by ACAT Public Engagement Team
CC BY-SA 4.0