Dear Life Matters,

I was supposed to hang out with a male co-worker — truly just friends — last Saturday night. But my long-distance boyfriend surprised me and showed up over the weekend. I didn’t think much about it but my other co-workers said his motive was either protective or jealous. At what point is jealousy unhealthy and at what point is it natural? Where is the line drawn?

Signed,

Better at controlling this then he is

Dear Better,

Jealously, as we think of it, is a natural instinct at times. It may serve to inform or protect those we care about and ourselves. But when it is acute or chronic, there is nothing healthy about it.

Normal is a term that comes from statistics. If it falls within the bell curve, meaning that most people do it, it becomes normal. This is not the same as healthy, although many issues are defined this way. Just as an example, we have an epidemic of obesity in our country right now, not sure it has become the norm but it certainly is not healthy.

So let’s talk about healthy and what jealousy actually is. Jealousy is either a quick instinct that is protective or it comes from an anxious attachment.

First of all, do you think your boyfriend meant to truly surprise you or did he know you were hanging out with your co-worker? If it was a real surprise, then I don’t think we should label it as jealousy. It is actually curious to me how your co-workers determined this about your boyfriend, an outsider?

When we are in relationships, males are protective when it comes to other men, especially when they don’t know them. Boys will be boys and they can barely help it with that powerful testosterone running through their veins.

There are many men that believe that opposite sexes cannot be just friends, unless of course one is gay. I disagree because over the years I have had a number of male friends that I shared intellectual and work-related interests with and nothing ever happened. We are still friends to this day. Yet we still need to be careful, especially when we are young.

In relationships, we have a tendency to think “she is mine or he is mine” and we do protect that which is ours. Having said that, no one belongs to anyone; that kind of thinking is unhealthy for sure.

Real jealously comes from anxiety in your attachment. To secure the relationship, communication about these kinds of things is key. You need a heart-to-heart talk so that you are open, honest and clear with each other and hopefully can and will learn to trust each other. Relationships do not work out well if the trust isn’t there.

Now a lack of trust is not exactly the same as jealously, but there is a relationship. Anxious attachment comes from insecurity and fear of loss. Your boyfriend, if he is jealous, may bring this anxious attachment to the relationship. If he did not have a secure relationship with his family growing up he will be insecure in relationships that are important to him.

It is unfortunate that we often judge people as clingy or dependent or even obnoxious and call them jealous types when what they really have is insecure attachment. Building trust will help, but he may need some counseling around this particular issue in order to resolve it because it will continue to get in his way or spoil his relations.

Finally, to answer your question more specifically, try a heart-to-heart talk and building some trust with your boyfriend if he is really important to you.

How much is too much jealously, as you put it, comes down to how much you can endure. There is no blueprint for relationships. It all depends on the people involved. How much can you take?

Also, a little self-examination is in order to make sure you are not bringing it on so that you can feel more important or secure. As they say, it takes two to tango and you did say that you are better at “controlling it?” Be sure your side of the street is clean.

If you can’t build the trust that requires both of you, and one of you is suffering from anxious attachment, get some professional help.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or write in your anonymous questions to newshrink@gmail.com Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.