How To Tell The Difference Between A Protective Boyfriend & Toxic Jealousy

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uncertain woman hugging a man

Jealousy is the green-eyed monster. Whatever you choose to call it, it's the only negative emotion that we normalize as a society.

It's even romanticized in pop-culture. We are overwhelmed with memes like “it makes me feel loved when (s)he gets jealous,” “my guy/girl can't have any (fe)male friends,” and, "my girl can only have three male friends: the father, the son, and the holy ghost."

But there's a different type of toxic jealousy: ownership.

Just because you're dating, engaged, or even married to someone, it doesn't mean you own them. And even if you think you are just being protective of your relationship, it's not a justifiable action.

You can't own another person. You can't control what another person does or who they hang out with. You can express your concern, but you can't control their life. Believe it or not, this is a form of abuse and one of the signs of a toxic relationship.

RELATED: 10 Sneaky Effects Of Jealousy On You And Your Relationship

This may be an unpopular opinion, but allow yourself to look at things from a different perspective.

Jealousy is typically caused by at least one of these three things:

1. You or your partner’s needs aren't being met.

You need to have a conversation with your partner about what your needs are, and figure out if they are able to meet them.

2. There isn’t enough clear communication.

You need to learn to communicate better and set boundaries with your partner.

3. You feel as though you're owned, or you own your partner.

It's important to realize that neither you nor your partner are property, and setting clear boundaries can help to avoid that type of jealousy and controlling behavior.

As a society, we have a bad habit of romanticizing toxic traits and emotions.

It's too often that we claim ownership (which is toxic) as jealousy (which is normal). But when we do this, we don't recognize when the toxicity leads to actual emotional abuse.

Jealousy is a completely normal, manageable emotion that can lead to better communication and a healthier relationship with your partner.

RELATED: What Jealousy In Your Relationship Is Trying To Tell You — And How To Overcome It

In order to have this healthy relationship, you must be able to spot these differences between toxic jealousy and protectiveness.

1. Deciding who they can and can't be friends with.

It's toxic to keep someone from having certain friends. People can be just friends without any romantic attachment.

If someone attempts to make you delete friends off Facebook, or demand that you allow them to read your text messages, it's abuse.

On the other hand, it's protectiveness if your partner expresses certain concerns about a friend.

If your partner expresses that she's concerned about a friend who is always borrowing money and never pays you back, for example, that's being protective and trying to help you find people in your life whom you would be better off without.

2. Keeping you from texting other people.

Just as you're allowed (and encouraged) to have friends outside of your relationship, you should be able to contact them without constantly being monitored by your partner.

If you're spending time with your partner and can't put your phone down, it's natural for them to want to know who you're talking to.

However, it breaches into toxic jealousy territory if you catch your partner reading through your texts when you put your phone down or telling you that you can't talk to others.

3. Monitoring social media.

It's toxic if your partner stalks your Instagram and gets upset when you like someone else's picture.

If your partner gets upset when you find another person attractive, it's because they feel they own you and that you shouldn't be looking at other people. As a human, you're bound to find beauty in many things, including other people. It's natural.

It's protectiveness if he tells you that your friends’ sexual advances are unwanted.

If you have a friend that doesn't have any boundaries when it comes to consistently commenting on your pictures how much they want you, it's natural for your partner to get uncomfortable. They may ask you to talk to your friend. If the friend continues the behavior, it may be best to cut off the friendship to protect your relationship.

It's important to know the difference between a partner looking out for your best interest and someone trying to control your life.

Noticing controlling behaviors early can help you discuss the unhealthy habits with your partner or get away from someone before things get worse.

RELATED: 7 Signs You're The Controlling Partner In The Relationship — And How To Stop

Lilith Bealove is a freelance writer who focuses on relationships and mental health.