It's time to have the social media talk.
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My Boyfriend Likes Other Women's Bikini Pics on Instagram
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

DEAR DR. JENN,

I noticed that my boyfriend sometimes "likes" bikini photos on Instagram. I don't think I'd be offended if they were Gigi Hadid's, but they're acquaintances of his. How do I know if he's crushing ... and then nip it in the bud without seeming controlling? —Insta-jealous

DEAR INSTA-JEALOUS,

In the almost three decades that I have been in private practice as a therapist, there is no other development that I have seen that has caused couples more conflict than social media. The angst you are experiencing is common.

Most people in a relationship have different perspectives about social media interaction. We tend to assume our partner is going to feel the same way and when they interact in a way that makes us uncomfortable or upsets us, we tend to take it very personally. While there are some who don't care who their sig other likes, follows, or comments on, in my experience, they are the exceptions. Given that this is someone he actually knows and interacts with, not some random, unobtainable supermodel, it is more likely to raise questions and concerns.

"But men are visual creatures!" Yes, they are (of course, I know a lot of very visual women who appreciate a hot pic too!). "I bet you look at hot guys too!" We all look at attractive people. You are in a relationship; you have not lost your ability to appreciate an aesthetically pleasing sight. But there is a difference between looking and making a public statement that you are looking.

The Innocent Vs. the Guilty "Like"

In my clinical experience, there are two types of committed men who "like" the acquaintance bikini shot. The first is the innocent and the second is the guilty. Bear with me for a moment while I explain.

The innocent man likes the image for a range of reasons: he's trying to be nice, he wants to show appreciation for a beautiful figure, he is not really thinking and just likes most things that come through his feed, or his last girlfriend simply didn't care what he did on social media. Even if he thinks this bikini-clad woman is totally hot, he would never risk his relationship and isn't looking for a hookup. This guy tends to assess his behavior based on his intentions, not based on an evaluation of how it might be perceived by others or how it may make you feel. In his defense, if you have never had the conversation about where your social media comfort zone is, you can't expect him to be a mind reader.

The guilty guy is phishing. He is guilty of using his "likes" to send a message to the woman in question. He is trying to flatter her and get her attention. Usually, this guy casts a wide net, liking a lot of different women's pics. He also tends to comment a lot. This behavior often escalates to DMing.

Setting Social Media Boundaries

Assuming that you have already had the DTR talk, it is time for you to have the social media conversation that all couples in this day and age have to have. This conversation, where you talk about what boundaries you are both comfortable with when it comes to social media, is an important part of a modern-day relationship. 

If you have a history of jealousy (and/or cyberstalking your exes), you may want to get a little therapy before having this chat. If you are like most, you have ideas about what feels like appropriate boundaries in a committed relationship, and it is time to share those ideas.

Those who are fast and loose with the "like" sometimes fear that being told to change their behavior on social media is akin to being controlled or having their freedom curtailed. You might luck out and have a really easy time with it, but for most couples, this is actually a pretty heated issue. Understand that you are unlikely to resolve this in one conversation. You don't change someone's thinking overnight. This happens over time, through a series of conversations, and as the bond between you grows, your boyfriend will also come to better understand the way you think and why a double tap might actually hurt you.

I recommend starting with an open-ended introduction to the topic: "We have been dating for five months now, and I have never asked you about what you are comfortable with me doing and not doing on social media. I would love to hear your thoughts and share some of my own." You may be surprised by what you learn about your partner. As the conversation progresses you can ask him about the likes you noticed. 

As I always say, seek to understand. You will get a lot more out of this conversation, and be able to assess whether he is an innocent or guilty guy if you listen and keep your reactions in check.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.