Tell Me About It

My boyfriend is stopping me from seeing a male friend

It doesn’t seem to matter how much I stress to my boyfriend that it is platonic

PROBLEM: I celebrated the first anniversary with my boyfriend recently. I love him but we have been having problems lately. Over the past number of months he has tried to alienate me from the group of friends I had before I met him. He is fine when we spend time with his friends, but he becomes agitated and territorial when we see mine. He especially does not like it when I see my male friends without him. One of my best male friends in particular seems to make my boyfriend insecure. I’ve known my best male friend for years and at one point in the past we were romantic, but that is ancient history between us. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I stress to my boyfriend that I am platonic with my male friends.

It has got to the stage where my boyfriend will try to prevent me from seeing my best male friend under any circumstances. This means I’ve been avoiding parties and social events for the past few months, which is placing a wedge between me and my old life. I don’t want to lose who I was once, but I don’t want to break up with my boyfriend either. It is becoming hard because I feel like he doesn’t trust me. There is a tension between us and I’m afraid that, if we break up in the future, I won’t have any friends to call on because of all the time I’ve spent away from them. It seems like it’s a choice between my boyfriend and my friends, and I don’t know what to do.

ADVICE: My guess is that this is a common problem in relationships. The danger is, if the responses are not changed, both the resulting behaviours and habits could become permanent in the relationship. You say you love your boyfriend, and this means that you are considering a serious or long-term relationship with him. Being in a relationship requires things that stretch you and challenge you. In other words, being in a relationship is a developmental stage that hopefully makes you a better person.

In this situation, you have the right to challenge your partner because you love him: you know that he will have a better life and be a better person if he lets go of his jealousy and allows you the freedom to have your friends without fear of you leaving him.

If you are going to challenge his fear, he will need to know you are serious about the relationship, and that, while he is experiencing panic or anger, you will not abandon him for some agreed duration. Can you do this? Can you offer him, say, six months of loyalty and fidelity no matter how difficult the situation becomes? If the answer is yes, then you can move to the next step. Tell him that this situation is not tenable and that, as long as you are with him, you must have the freedom to spend unaccounted-for time with your friends.

The benefit is that he will be secure in the role as your boyfriend and will have your full support while this situation is being challenged. Then you can begin to spend time with your old friends and can agree the amount of time, moving from a small amount of time to longer durations. Initially you will not talk about these encounters with your boyfriend. No texting or calling can happen during this agreed time away, unless there is an emergency. You should always return at the agreed time, and gradually his fear and panic should lessen as he becomes accustomed to your leaving and returning.

However, there is the possibility that your boyfriend has been abandoned in the past and that his jealousy is part of an old response that had him living in fear. He might have developed a hard exterior where he didn’t need anyone, and perhaps falling in love with you has opened him up and left him feeling exposed. If the gradual leaving and returning still leaves him in panic, he might need to look at other sources of his jealousy. This might require some sessions with a counsellor or psychotherapist. No doubt this would be a huge step for him, but again, you are in full support mode and so you could offer to attend the first session with him.

There is a chance he will resist all efforts to address the issue, and that, after the agreed six-month period, he still has not shifted his position. If this happens, you may have to reassess the situation and ask yourself if your love and faith in him is enough to sustain you while you wait for opportunities to instigate change. Change is inevitable, and your continued influence on him will be felt. However, if you become resentful or angry, the outcome will be negative for both of you.