If you’ve ever found yourself perusing relationship advice in popular media, for sure you’re acquainted with contradictory statements self-proclaimed gurus are dishing out. There are so called experts who proclaim that true “players” never show jealousy. There are those who argue that a guy has the right to communicate what he really feels — after all, there’s nothing wrong with jealousy per se. And then there are love coaches who contend that showing jealousy can actually strengthen a relationship.

So who has it right?

All have valid points, actually. The thing with pop psychology is that they’re often presented without any context, thus coming across as a one-size-fits-all formula. But it’s actually your specific situation that can help you decide what to do. You can show or not show jealousy — there are no right or wrong to these two options. In fact, some women actually like it when their men show jealousy from time to time — it makes them feel appreciated and protected! But wherever you fall on the debate, the key is in striking a balance between protecting your relationship (which is the function of jealousy to begin with), and not letting jealousy become neediness and control that becomes unattractive.

Below are some points you can consider when deciding how to show small and big amounts of jealousy.

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It’s ALWAYS Better to Communicate Love and Caring, Instead of Jealousy

Fact: you can’t go wrong showing your girlfriend how much you want to be with her, how much you appreciate both who she is and what she does, and how important she is in your life. For instance, you can surprise her with a foot massage when she’s having a really stressful day, or you can learn to cook her favorite dish. You may even buy her flowers, not because you’re celebrating an occasion — just because.

Communicating love and caring strengthens a couple’s bond, and makes overt displays of jealousy (the one some women crave) unnecessary. When you’re the communicative and demonstrative type, you tell your girlfriend that you’re secure enough in your manhood to broadcast your affections. And you help your gal feel secure enough in your relationship to not even bother looking at someone else!

Show Jealousy Proportionate to its Trigger

When deciding how to express your jealousy, make sure you respond according to the situation. As the saying goes: when aspirin will suffice, why buy stronger medicines? If you’re reacting to your woman suddenly putting on perfume, then show jealousy by good-natured teasing. For instance you can jokingly say: “You never used to put perfume before — new man in your life?”

When she seems to be quite impressed with the new guy at work (which is not necessarily a sign of unfaithfulness), then a short sulk might be acceptable. But when she cancels your pre-scheduled date to spend time with an “old flame,” then maybe it’s time to be direct and tell her how the whole thing makes you feel.

And if she still continues the same behavior despite your calmly delivered confession, then maybe some anger (expressed assertively not aggressively!) is justified. In short, don’t raise hell unless you’re absolutely sure that you have to. Test the waters.

Communicating jealousy is all about testing boundaries. To know what’s appropriate and what’s creepy, always look for feedback from her every time you communicate a jealous reaction. There’s no list out there of what acts of jealousy girls will find cute and what acts girls will find offensive — it differs from person to person. The only person who can tell you if you’re going too far is your girlfriend herself.

So ask: “do you find it okay that I tell you these things?” Or: “are you feeling strangled when I fetch you from work?” If she says “it’s okay,” then it’s okay. If she says “it’s like having a noose on my neck,” then back off a little. If you’re sensitive to non-verbal signals of distress — and game for some open communication — you’ll eventually find the middle ground that can satisfy both of your needs.

Note the Stage of Your Relationship

It’s reasonable to assume that the more established a relationship gets, the more comfortable partners become with displays of jealousy. Jealousy presumes entitlement, and entitlement comes only from commitment. Displaying jealousy in the early stages of a relationship (for instance during the dating stage before going steady) will only communicate insecurity and neediness — and therefore should be avoided. Wait until your relationship has deepened, when loyalty and commitment is formally due you, before displaying jealous behavior whether big or small.

Communicating jealousy to your girlfriend is ill-advised during the beginning stages of a relationship. There are many reasons for this. For one, courtship or the ‘getting-to-know-you stage’ of dating is the time when you want to put your best foot forward — the last thing you want is to brand yourself as potentially neurotic when you’re still trying to win your girl’s affections. Second, it’s premature possessiveness. Jealousy is an indirect way of communicating that you desire exclusivity, and in the early stages of a relationship, exclusivity may not be part of the deal. And lastly, intimate disclosures are best left to the period when partners are already at ease with each other’s vulnerability.

Feel Manipulated? Express Your Jealousy When Least Expected

In parenting, it’s acknowledged that some misbehavior is actually a ploy by kids to get negative attention. Your girlfriend may deliberately trigger your jealousy when she’s feeling insecure or because she wants to be noticed. But while your girl’s insecurity is a serious issue that you both should address, you also don’t want to encourage the habit of playing with your emotions. If you feel manipulated, choose not to react when your girl is trying to make you jealous — but communicate the jealousy when she least expects it, like in a heartfelt confession before going to dinner. You get to give her the attention she wants, but on your terms.

In other words, do not show jealousy immediately after her act of manipulation. It will just reinforce the manipulative behavior, ensuring that it will get repeated again and again. But if you want, you can still show jealousy but on random occasions. If your girlfriend is merely seeking for attention, then there’s nothing wrong in giving the attention, just make sure you don’t reward deliberate attempts to make you jealous.

Express What You Prefer, But Don’t Demand Obedience

When showing jealousy, make sure that you’re able to tell what exactly makes you jealous. This way, you don’t come across as a bratty little child who feels bad because, well, he feels bad. Tell her what you feel, and what is the reason you feel that way. More importantly, share with your girl what you prefer that she does instead to make you feel more at peace — without demanding obedience. You can’t control your partner’s thoughts, feelings and behavior; if she’s going to cheat, she will. Share what you think will work for you and your relationship, and give her the freedom to follow through or not.

Lastly, Whatever Way of Showing Jealousy You Choose, Make Sure That You Both Can Label It

Communication, to be effective, must be clear and not prone to misinterpretation. Don’t throw a tantrum, without saying what your tantrum is all about. Don’t sulk without explaining why you’re sulking. Couples who have been together long enough are usually good at interpreting their partner’s non-verbal communication, and can do without much labeling. But if this is your first year together, then you may have to invest time in deliberately orienting one another in your unique ways of expressing how you feel.

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