Julie Answers: How do I get over anxiety when my boyfriend hangs out with his girl best friend?
Sophie relates her situation: She blocked me because she wanted to “protect him” from me seeing incriminating things. I get really bad anxiety when they hang out. How do I get over her, and get over them hanging out together? I always end up giving him attitude when he’s with her and ended up calling him once crying when she was there, so she hates me since I treated him bad. I get bad anxiety because I think they’re talking bad about me. Afraid he’ll come back realizing he’s unhappy with me after talking to her.
In responding to your question, I am going to refer to a vignette from one of my favorite relationship books by one of my favorite authors. The book is The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships, and the author is Harriet Lerner, PhD. This example from the book has really helped me in helping my clients navigate situations such as yours.
Opposite sex friendships. Or more specifically, when your partner has a close friend of the opposite sex. (Please note, I will use that terminology, since you are in a heterosexual relationship. For LGBTQ+ couples it would be “having a close friendship with someone who, because of their gender, could be seen as a potential romantic partner.” To avoid the cumbersome wording, I will refer to your male/female relationship directly.)
I find that there are a lot of opinions regarding one’s partner having a close friend of the opposite sex. Some opinions say, “There is nothing wrong with platonic friendships, you should view your boyfriend’s female friend the same as you would view a male friend; if he says they are “just friends,” you need to accept that.” At the other end of the spectrum is the opinion Billy Crystal’s character famously expresses in the movie When Harry Met Sally — “Men and women can never be friends.”
Reality is likely somewhere in between these two extremes, and different in each individual situation. This is where the Harriet Lerner vignette is helpful. (I am paraphrasing, so apologies to Dr. Lerner for any details I get wrong.)
There is a couple named Joan and Carl. Carl has a close friendship with his young assistant. Joan is uncomfortable with this and expresses that to Carl. Carl says she is being silly — he and his assistant have only a professional relationship/friendship, and there is no reason Joan should be suspicious. Joan considers that maybe he is right. Maybe she is being unreasonable and is wrong to be uncomfortable with the friendship. Maybe she is showing some kind of prejudice against male/female friendships.
She tries to reconsider the situation from this point of view but is still bothered. She reflects on this and eventually concludes that it is not a matter of how she should feel about the relationship between Carl and his assistant. It is a matter of how she does feel, and she is uncomfortable with it.
With that in mind, she tells Carl that they need to break up if he continues to engage in this close friendship. She makes it clear to him that this is about her own comfort level, not a judgment of him. She is not saying, “You are wrong to think it’s okay to have a close female friend.” She acknowledges that someone else could feel differently and have no concern with it at all. She takes responsibility for her decision — she is going to break up with him if he continues the friendship because she cannot live comfortably with the situation.
I would encourage you to look at your situation the same way. Look deep inside and consider whether it would be possible to modify your thinking and stop being threatened by this friendship. It sounds like you do have some insecurity that is triggered by it. You might decide to focus on being more confident in yourself, seeing yourself as “enough” — as a great girlfriend with no reason to think your boyfriend would have any wish to cheat on you.
Or, after some soul searching, you might come to the same conclusion that Joan did. This would mean telling your boyfriend: “There is nothing wrong with you having this friendship. Another girlfriend might be completely fine with it. I, however, am not. So if we are going to stay together, I’m going to ask that…” And then you would detail what you are comfortable with. Would you only feel secure if he broke off the friendship? If he only spent time with her when other people are present, not one-on-one? If he sees her less frequently? If she stops blocking you on social media, so that everything is out in the open?
Consider these questions before you talk to him about it. He might be unhappy about your stance. The two of you might end up breaking off your relationship if you can’t come to an agreement that both of you can live with. That would be sad, but perhaps not as sad as what you are going through right now, being tormented by this friendship and what it means in his life.
If you do come to an agreement and stay together, it will be a more solid relationship due to the fact that you were open and honest, expressed your needs, and he agreed to meet them because they were important to you, even if he did not agree that his contact with her was a threat to you. That is the nature of compromise in relationships — sometimes doing something simply because it is important to your partner, whether or not you agree.
Best of luck, and I hope this was helpful.