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Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships

Laura Richer, Seattle Therapist

Jun 14, 2021

What is Retroactive Jealousy?

Retroactive Jealousy is a condition where an individual experiences obsessive thoughts related to their partners romantic history. Feeling of retroactive jealousy may cause an individual to seek information about their partner’s previous sexual or romantic experiences and become obsessed with the idea that they are inadequate or develop an intense fear of losing their partner.

Retroactive jealousy may trigger behaviors such as tracking a partner’s exes on social media, obsessively asking questions about prior emotional and sexual relationships, and seeking reassurance that the relationship is not being threatened. If you are experiencing retroactive jealousy a partner’s reassurance will never alleviate your suffering or intrusive thoughts. However, a therapist can work with you to overcome your fears and end the vicious cycle of intrusive thoughts.

Why do I get jealous of my partner’s past relationships?

There is the potential to experience retroactive jealousy when we learn about our partner’s romantic history. This can be especially problematic for individuals who have attachment wounds disorders, low self-esteem, or who feel insecure in relationships. Romantic relationships present an opportunity to grow and examine negative thoughts and emotions. Many people may find themselves experiencing insecurities in relation to their relationship with their partner that they are able to work through without experiencing excessive suffering our self-doubt.

Sufferers of retroactive jealousy needs treatment when they feel that their behavior is out of control. They may be constantly reviewing their partner’s online history or begin to believe their partner is betraying them even when their is no proof. They experience negative thoughts that make it impossible to accept that their partner’s past is not wrong or a threat to the relationship.

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Techniques for Overcoming Feelings of Retroactive Jealously

There are many ways a person can overcome feelings of retroactive jealousy. You can engage in your own personal work and self-reflection with activities like journaling and meditation. Or, if needed, additional support from a therapist could help. The following are techniques you can apply to help you overcome feelings of retroactive jealousy in your relationship:

  1. Stop engaging in activities that lead to jealous feelings.
  2. Accept that just like you, your partner has a past.
  3. Do you own work to discover the underlying issue.
  4. Talk to someone.
  5. Reframe the meaning of your partner’s prior history.
  6. Identify the cause of underlying insecurities that are unrelated to your partner.
  7. Cultivate healthy self-esteem. Know your own worth.

Stop Engaging in Activities that lead to Retroactive Jealousy

Today we have an abundance of information on social media and online about our partners romantic history. Retroactive jealousy is more common than ever now that we can access anything from our partner’s high school prom pictures, to a clue that leads to their exes perfectly curated Instagram profile. This can lead people who are already feeling insecure to create false narratives that lead to jealousy and insecurities. If you are struggling with retroactive jealousy, we recommend you stay off of social media. There is nothing there for you. You will also want to avoid asking your partner to share unnecessary information about their relationship or sex life prior to meeting you. Unless you have concerns regarding your physical health, this information does not present any value. It could serve as another thing your brain may fixate on to trigger retroactive jealousy and lead to the behavior you may regret.

Accept the Past

You can free yourself from retroactive jealousy if you accept the past. If you feel jealous of your partner and suffer because of it, it is likely that you are arguing with reality believing that your partner’s history is wrong. Your partner’s past has led them to you and where they are today. At a certain age it would be odd for us not to have engaged in prior relationships

Discover the underlying issues

There are many reasons that we experience anxiety in romantic relationships. They rarely have anything to do with our partner’s past relationships. It is more likely that these issues are rooted in your past relationships. Retroactive jealousy is likely to be rooted in your own personal history, not your partner’s past. Previous trauma related to prior romantic relationships and even the relationship you have with your parents can offer clues as to why you are experiencing retroactive jealousy.

Talk to Someone

Talking through jealousy with a trusted friend or therapist can help you reframe the meaning of jealousy and see the truth of what is underlying your insecurities. Retroactive jealousy could be an indicator that there is a prior trauma that needs to be addressed. Couples therapy can be an opportunity for you and your partner to explore underlying issues and use this obstacle as an avenue for a deeper understanding and connection with one another.

Reframe the meaning

What is the meaning you have made of your partner’s prior romantic history? If the narrative you have created in your mind is just a series of stories that you use to make yourself feel less than and jealous, change it. Identify the positive aspects of prior relationships and how you have both learned from your history. Work to find reasons why everything has happened exactly the way it should.

Identify the underlying Cause of your insecurities

Anxiety is often the result of untreated and unprocessed trauma. Sometimes we recognize these traumas and the effect that they have on our behavior and mindset. However, often times we are completely unaware of why we respond impulsively and in ways that are self-sabotaging. Retroactive jealousy could be showing you that you have anxiety that needs to be addressed and there is a very good chance it has little to nothing to do with your relationship. Therapies that address trauma such as trauma informed psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and EMDR therapy can all help you identify underlying issues and resolve them.

Cultivate Healthy Self-Esteem

Know your value! Focus on yourself and the reasons why your partner has chosen you and what you bring to the relationship. There is a reason relationships end and become part of our history. Trust that your partner has moved on for a reason and focus on the positive traits that you are both bringing to the relationship.

What Do You Do if Your Partner Has Retroactive Jealousy?

There are limitations to what you can do if your partner has retroactive jealousy and does not recognize that it is their own issue. However, there are a few things you can try that may be effective.

  1. Offer to go to Couples Therapy with them.
  2. Allow them to share their concerns about your history without getting defensive or shutting down.
  3. Know your boundaries and clearly communicate them to your partner.

Couples Therapy

Couples Therapy can help you and your partner discuss your concerns in a structured and productive way. Through this process you can learn more about your partners concerns and a therapist may be able to help you identify the root cause of the issue and work through it.

Do Not Get Defensive or Shut Down

When you create a non-judgmental and safe place for your partner to share their concerns without getting defensive or shutting down, your partner may feel truly heard. This may may make them more likely to accept your reassurance and begin to see that their concerns are unfounded. This can be challenging if you are feeling unfairly attacked by your partner. However, it’s important to note that a defensive or dismissive response will only serve to validate their fears and increase feeling of jealousy and insecurity.

Communicate your Boundaries

Tolerating unhealthy jealous behavior may lead to feelings of resentment and could sabotage your relationship. Do not engage in behaviors that violate your boundaries in order to reassure your partner (i.e. checking your texts, history, etc.). Explore other options for reassuring them that do not feel like a violation of your privacy.

Retroactive Jealousy & OCD

Relationships can be the focus of a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety and overthinking can manifest as jealousy retroactive or current. They may become fixated with their partner’s sexual history and focus on the idea that they need to prevent someone else from interfering in the relationship at all costs. OCD therapy can help those who become consumed with feelings of retroactive jealousy, which can take a serious toll on their mental health.

In its most extreme manifestation Retroactive Jealousy OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) can interfere with not only your relationships, but activities of daily living. Seeking help from a mental health professional if you are experiencing obsessive or unwanted thoughts related to your partner’s previous relationships can help. There are many ways to work through and overcome retroactive jealousy such as, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and other trauma informed psychotherapies to help you move beyond fixating on your partner’s past.

Retroactive jealousy OCD may also require medical attention. OCD that focuses on relationships could be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition such as an anxiety disorder, Bi-Polar disorder, or Schizophrenia. If jealousy is causing serious symptoms that cause paranoia or interfere with daily living seek the help of a professional.






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