November 27, 2018

Retroactive Jealousy: How to Overcome Anxiety about our Partner’s Past.

It’s typical of partners to share things from their past.

When we learn about our partner’s past sexual and romantic experiences, some of us might overthink them, allowing them to threaten our current emotional and intellectual state.

I had no idea that this condition has a name.

For those who don’t know, the threat and discomfort that a person feels upon learning of their partner’s past is referred to as “retroactive jealousy.”

Perhaps we’re troubled by the fact that our partner had multiple sexual partners, was deeply in love with someone, or had romantic (or sexual) experiences that we haven’t lived. We might also compare his previous lovers or sexual partners with ourselves and wonder whether the experience was more enjoyable with them or us.

Some therapists identify this type of mental turmoil as a compulsion. Those who suffer from retroactive jealousy tend to revisit and mull over things their partner has shared about their past over and over again in their minds. In doing so, they begin to imagine their partner’s thoughts and emotions during past relationships, regardless of how accurate they may be.

People who experience retroactive jealousy know how tough it is to exit the endless loop of their partner’s past. Since it’s in the past, there’s no actual solution because we can’t change the past, so it’s wasted emotional energy. And discussing the topic with our partner could be equally unproductive—after all, to them, the issue is long over despite how concerning we find it currently. Oftentimes, it seems as if we’re punishing our partner for their past.

Although retroactive jealousy is painful for both partners, we can get a handle on it.

Here are some thoughts that might help us put an end to our retroactive jealousy.

It’s okay.

Let’s start with the fact that retroactive jealousy is a normal, instinctive emotion. It’s normal to want to be our partner’s only one. Therefore, feeling jealous of those our partner has crossed paths with is common. Be kind to yourself, and don’t give yourself a hard time for what you’re feeling.

It’s in your mind.

Yes, I’m going to pull the “it’s in your mind” line here. In taking this advice to heart, we realize that what’s troubling us doesn’t actually exist in the present moment. With that in mind, practice some breathing exercises or meditation to calm yourself whenever you start to overthink and overanalyze.

Try not to overthink.

Overthinking begets conclusions that aren’t precisely true, and it’s utterly useless. Mental images are like plants—the more you water them, the more they grow. We can never know what our partner was thinking or feeling at the time. Not only does overthinking lead us to create unreal scenarios, it also pushes us to compare ourselves with our partner’s past lovers. If our partner is with us today, it means they see in us something they didn’t see in their previous partners.

Look within.

While we might think we need to change something on the outside, retroactive jealousy is an indication to look within and examine our repressed fantasies or fears. If our partner’s past triggers feelings of turmoil, then we might suffer from a fear of abandonment, we might not have completely healed from an emotional trauma, or we have an unfulfilled desire. Discuss this with your partner so you can find a solution together.

Look at all the good things your relationship has.

Instead of obsessing about the past, it’s valuable to focus on the relationship we have with our partner today. We will surely find something special they haven’t experienced before with anyone else. Work on making the relationship better because it’s the only thing that exists now. Resurrecting the past only invites trouble; however, improving the present brings intimacy and love.

Be grateful for their past.

Our partner’s past and everything they’ve experienced are part of a long chain that has led them to you. They’ve had to learn from their past experiences to make their present relationships successful; the true love he experienced with someone else might have taught him valuable lessons to use in your relationship today. In fact, being with a partner who has had many experiences can be comforting. Trust me, no one wants to be with a partner with zero experience.

Look at your own past.

Think about it this way: you might have experienced things that make your partner feel jealous. Reflecting on this truth helps us to better understand our partner’s past and our reaction to it. Don’t lash out at your partner or blame them for their experiences. Now is the time to craft your present relationship with them!


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