You and your guy have a good thing going. But sometimes it can be hard to feel 100 percent confident of his affections — especially when he’s meeting up with his ex “to catch up,” working late nights with his bubbly female coworker, or flirting back with that Starbucks barista who makes his latte every morning. Yes, jealousy is an ugly emotion, but there are ways to harness it so you don’t go ballistic. And — let’s be honest — there are times when that little green monster is trying to tell you something. Here’s how to decode your emotions and tell whether certain women in his life truly spell trouble:
Scenario #1: You’re jealous of... the ex-girlfriend who’s still hanging around
How to tell if there’s a problem: For starters, know that it’s good to have a boyfriend who’s on good terms with his exes. “It’s a sign of maturity and says that he’ll treat you well if your relationship doesn’t work out,” explains relationship therapist Dr. Jenn Berman (DoctorJenn.com). However, their contact does need to be appropriate. Lunch every few weeks and an occasional phone call is fine. But when push comes to shove, his priority must be you. “If he’s running to meet her instead of you for some reason, there’s a problem,” warns Laurie Puhn, J.D., communications expert and author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.
How to deal: Whatever you do, don’t bash his ex or call her needy — that will only convince him you’re just jealous and put you on the defensive. Instead, say, “Listen, I really like her, but it makes me concerned when you two go out to dinner or an event together.” Any boyfriend worth his salt will do what he can to make you more comfortable, by either paring back his time with his ex or emphasizing all the ways you’re his one and only.
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Scenario #2: You’re jealous of... a past love who rocked his world
How to tell if there’s a problem: Every guy has a woman like this in his past — someone who was so smart, funny, or seductive you feel you just can’t compare. Making matters worse, she’s so long gone that you can’t even meet her, which only stokes your insecurities. Asking for exhaustive details to satisfy your curiosity, however, is silly for several reasons: “First, you’ll only learn things that will upset you,” says Puhn. “Secondly, if he’s willing to share unlimited details with you about her, you can be sure that he’ll share the same details about you with the next girlfriend if you two break up!”
How to deal: You can’t very well change his past, so you’re better off just accepting it, reminding yourself that no matter how amazing she was, there’s a reason these two aren’t still together. “You should know his history in a general sense but you have to logically realize that he has a right to, and should have had, previous relationships, just like you do,” says Puhn. “If you have a need to learn specifics, it says something about your issues, not his.” In other words, you need to let go.
Scenario #3: You’re jealous of... the female coworker
How to tell if there’s a problem: Are those late nights at the office purely professional, or the scene of a budding office romance? The difference, says Dr. Berman, lies in what they do together. “If he’s going out with his female coworker with a group of people, that’s appropriate,” says Dr. Berman. “If it’s just the two of them out at a swanky lounge, that’s something else.” Also watch for behavior that escalates. “People are likely to develop feelings for anyone they spend a lot of time with,” says Puhn. “If they go for coffee, then have lunch, which then leads to a regular after-work outing, that’s a sign that something could be happening.”
How to deal: It can be easy to misinterpret office rapport as something more, so the fastest way to get a better gauge is to meet the woman in question. Tell him you’d like to meet his new coworker (or coworkers) at happy hour some day. If he resists, arguing it’ll be just “boring work talk,” that could be a red flag. “The question is, are you being deliberately excluded?” says Puhn. “If so, why is he trying to keep his work and personal life so separate?” If you do meet the woman in question, your intuition will probably send you strong signals about what is really going on (or not) between them.
Scenario #4: You’re jealous of... his best female friend
How to tell if there’s a problem: They’ve been there for each other through thick and thin — even so, best buddies should fade into the background once a relationship gets serious, says Dr. Berman. “At some point, his primary source of support should shift from his best friend to you,” she says. And while this can take some time, it’s within your rights to expect it.
How to deal: When you talk to him about your concerns, focus on how his friendship is specifically harming your relationship — for example, “When I’m over at your house and you’re on the phone with her for half an hour while I’m doing nothing, that upsets me because we don’t have that much time to spend together.” And if he accuses you of being jealous? Admit to it, advises Puhn. “Tell him, ‘Yes, I’m jealous, but I’m being honest because I don’t want it to drive us apart.’” If he still insists there’s no problem, that could spell trouble. “If his friendship is more important to him than his relationship with you, that tells you something about how he ranks things,” warns Puhn. “Maybe he intends to keep his best friendship and marriage separate, but you may well dream of marrying your best friend. That’s a problem!”
Scenario #5: You’re jealous of... a hot stranger he meets
How to tell if there’s a problem: So his head turned to follow some hottie strutting down the block, or he blushed when the waitress called him cute? “He’s your boyfriend, he’s not dead!” exclaims Dr. Berman. “We’re not blind once we’re in a relationship. We can appreciate a good-looking person. It’s about not acting on it.” Puhn agrees. “It’s OK to smile at the cute barista, but that’s about it,” she says. “Your boyfriend should not be making any effort to meet this person because they’re not friends. If he’s going out of his way to cultivate a conversation or see her, it says something about who he is.” And trust us, it’s not good.
How to deal: Since it’s probably nothing, feel free to tease him with comments like “Oh, she’s got a crush on you,” or “Having fun flirting with the barista?” But if your guy constantly needs to feel desired by others, it could be time to get serious. First, in case he’s not aware of what he’s doing, say, “You know, Tom’s sister has a crush on you. Maybe it’s better if you don’t chat her up and send the wrong signal — not only about how you feel about her, but about us.” This double-whammy guilt trip should sober up the most inveterate flirt.
Maggie Kim is a writer, rock musician and mom living in Paris, France.