Last Updated 25.05.2022
16 min read

What Is Retroactive Jealousy And How It Can Affect Your Relationships

Alan Schin (he/him/his) is the Chief Editor at Taimi. He wears several hats daily as a writer, editor, blogger, and content contributor. He began his university studies as a Psychology student but found his passion in Advanced Communication Studies. Alan loves having the opportunity to write and help our content team shine. According to Alan, his education helps him to understand the dynamics behind dating and socialization better. When he isn’t busy with Taimi, Alan works on his first novel, a sci-fi thriller, and creates works of art in his ceramics studio.

Retroactive jealousy can pose many different problems between a couple and being with someone who is overly jealous can be draining. Everyone will feel jealous over something at some point in their life, but retroactive jealousy takes things a step too far.

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    While jealousy to a certain extent might show true interest, it can easily become overbearing and even toxic. This situation can cause a lot of stress to a partner and make the relationship very difficult for both parties. If you believe you or your partner might be showing signs of retroactive jealousy, here are some important things to know about it.

    What Exactly is Retroactive Jealousy?

    Retroactive jealousy is essentially an unhealthy obsession with who your partner used to date or be intimate with. This goes way beyond the interest on their part and starts to become way more intense and can create problems in your everyday lives together.

    The biggest problem retroactive jealousy creates though is that the sufferer usually doesn't understand why they feel this way. It's often as if they have no control over their feelings and actions and finding out what this actually is can take some people months or even years.

    Retroactive jealousy is actually a lot more common than you think, just like normal, ordinary jealousy, but less people know about this term. Sometimes it doesn't create problems for a couple, but other times it can be detrimental to the relationship.

    Types of Retroactive Jealousy

    Retroactive jealousy can appear in many different ways and have different effects as a result. Deoending on the different type you are experiencing, you might have different symptoms which lead you to act a different way. Here are the 3 types of retroactive jealousy and how they appear for every person.

    • Mild or moderate retroactive jealousy

    This is the type of retroactive jealousy that is easier to deal with, especially when it stays stable and doesn't evolve to a more serious obsession. A person with mild or moderate retroactive jealousy will probably start thinking about their partner's past relationships but not in an obsessive way.

    They probably don't love the thought of their partners having been with other people before them and this is something a lot of people deal with. In this initial stage, you might start to want to learn more about their past relationships and this can happen at any point in your current relationship.

    The difference with the other types is that, while you start wanting to learn more about your partner's past and you are actively looking for information, you have not yet reached the point where this is all you think about or you start questioning your partner's values or morals.

    • Value questioning retroactive jealousy

    The next type of retroactive jealousy one person might experience is in regards to their partner's past and how their values were shaped through these relationships. One one hand, it is normal to look at how your partner's exes view them or how their past relationships finished and think about what led to that situation.

    This is something a lot of people will think of, especially if their current partners have a history of relationships which were short-lived and ended badly. The key difference here is that someone who is not suffering from retroactive jealousy is probably going to ask their partner about it and discuss these concerns with them.

    The value of questioning retroactive jealousy might lead you to think about whether you share the same values with your partner and if you see things the same way. Each relationship is different though and just because you know about your partner's past doesn't mean you should expect your relationship to end the same way.

    The previous partners of your significant other and their past relationships, should not become a reason why you question the values of the person you are with. Everybody makes mistakes and can choose sexual partners or affairs which end in bad situations.

    You cannot expect your partner to share the exact same values as you do and if this becomes a problem between you, it might be that you are suffering from retroactive jealousy. If you feel like these thoughts are leading you to understand that you might just not be compatible with one another, discussing it with them is important.

    • Retroactive jealousy OCD

    While scientists are not certain about what exactly causes OCD, it can heavily rely on genetic factors. Retroactive jealousy OCD is linked to the sufferers not being able to dismiss the thoughts that cause them to obsess over their partner's history.

    These intrusive thoughts will become impossible to overlook and the person ends up acting on them by looking for clues their partners are doing something wrong, even when there are none. These repeated and obsessive behaviors can cause many issues in the relationship and ocd sufferers can have a very hard time coping with these unwanted thoughts and feelings.

    Past trauma or even childhood trauma, traumatic experiences in affairs with past partners and even a very religious background can all be triggers that lead to a person developing retroactive jealousy. Jealous feelings are normal and most people will experience them at some point in their lives.

    The problem starts when this becomes all you think about and you create thought patterns which lead you to a vicious cycle or hypotheses and obsessive thoughts about your partner's past relationships and how these can affect your future together.

    “To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self.” - Joan Didion

    Common Signs of Retroactive Jealousy

    As mentioned previously, there are many different ways through which retroactive jealousy manifests. From the more mild version to sufferers of more serious symptoms, this obsessive compulsive disorder can cause them to act in a delirious way which can make their partners very uncomfortable.

    Here are some signs of retroactive jealousy to look out for, which mainly affect retroactive jealousy OCD sufferers:

    • Difficulty trusting their partner

    One of the most common signs is showing difficulty trusting their partner, due to their past relationships. If they know their partner has had many romantic relationships in the past, this can lead to ideas of infidelity and they might have a hard time believing their partner is loyal to them.

    • Checking their browser history

    Another way retroactive jealousy can manifest is through checking your partner's browser history to see what they searched on social media and if they are keeping anything from you. These behavior patterns can be very difficult to overcome and the sufferers find it very difficult to stop themselves even if they know it's wrong.

    • Snooping through phones and other personal belongings

    Along with the previous point, it is very frequent for people who experience retroactive jealousy to search through their partner's belongings and read their messages. The negative thoughts that come with jealousy make it very difficult not to look through their social media accounts and see if they have sent any messages to someone you might not recognize.

    • Starting fights very frequently

    When you are feeling jealous and can't get rid of those feelings, it is much easier to start fights. Whether you are feeling insecure or your jealous thoughts have gotten the better of you, you might seek to find ways to make your partner admit to having done something wrong.

    • Following them when they're going out

    Another extreme behavior that individuals experiencing retroactive jealousy might exhibit is following their partners when they go to work or when they leave the house. They might not trust that they are saying where they are going or they might be suspecting that you are seeing a previous partner and those thoughts can lead them to act like this.

    • Constantly comparing their current relationship

    Lastly, one more behavior ocd sufferers find frequent is comparing their current relationship to the past relationships of their exes. This is directly tied to the person's self esteem and self worth and these negative feelings manifest in a very toxic way. Your partner's past and who they chose to be with has nothing to do with the two of you in the present.

    How can Retroactive Jealousy Affect Your Relationship?

    Retroactive jealousy can have a detrimental impact in the future of your relationship. Whether you are the sufferer yourself or if you are with a partner who shows these symptoms, both of you must be having a very hard time being positive in the relationship.

    The truth is that these recurring thoughts that manifest through mental health disorders can make a person overlook all the positive traits that exist in their relationship. No matter how good things are, this retrospective jealousy can destroy a new relationship as fast as it started.

    No one likes to feel like their partner doesn't trust them, or that their past plays such an important role in their current relationship. People want to go about their daily lives and be supported by the person they are dating.

    If they feel like their romantic past, as well as their sexual past is such an important issue to their partner, they will probably not want to continue the relationship. Making a big deal of your partner's past relationships can feel very intrusive and even insulting.

    The truth is that it can be draining being with someone who you know will feel jealous over everything you do or say, even if there is no reason to be like that. Retrospective jealousy can affect the mentality of both parties involved and can create issues of trust which the couple might never be able to overcome.

    Dealing with Retroactive Jealousy

    After going through a few signs that a retroactive jealousy sufferer might display, it is time to look at what can be done in order to help them and help save your relationship.

    Overcoming retroactive jealousy can be tough, but it is not always a lost case. Here are some things you can do in order to stop worrying over your partner's previous relationships and focus on the future instead.

    Accept Your Feelings of Retroactive Jealousy

    If you are the one who struggles with these feelings, you need to start by coming to terms with them. Understand they are something you don't have control over and no matter how happy you might feel, you will probably continue having these thoughts.

    Remind yourself that your partner has not actually done anything to deserve your mistrust and you should not expose them to your thoughts as much as you can. Your jealousy can harm their mental health as well as the trust between you.

    If you need to talk about these thoughts, do so in a way that won't make your partner feel like you are accusing them of anything related to their previous partners. Let them know you are struggling with certain feelings and you just need to share them, without this actually having to do anything with their past romantic relationships.

    The more you focus on establishing a system where you are able to talk about these things without taking them seriously, the easier it will be for you to dismiss them and focus on creating a strategy to help you overcome retroactive jealousy.

    Put Yourself in Your Partner's Shoes

    One more way to deal with this issue is to always think about how you would feel if your partner presented you with certain accusations you might be thinking of. Would you enjoy them following you around or snooping through your things? The lack of trust can be a very big problem and even if you are struggling to think otherwise, you need to put yourself in your partner's shoes.

    Your partner's sexual experiences or past partners should stay in your partner's past. How would you feel if they started poking into your past and previous relationships, trying to find issues and reasons to make you feel uncomfortable?

    Even when you feel like doing something you know you shouldn't think about how this will affect them. Do you want to lose this person? If not, then put a hold on your feelings and find a way to distract yourself or talk about this with someone you trust and you know won't judge you.

    Find out What Really Bothers You

    Previously, we mentioned how a person can experience retroactive jealousy after certain traumatic experiences in their past or even by a very religious background. For example, if you had a partner who was abusive, constantly accused you of cheating or put you through any other form of emotional or even physical abuse, this can lead to you showcasing such behaviors to your current partner as well.

    Trauma and mental health issues can create more difficulties than you can imagine in a person's life. Try going back into your past and seeing where this whole situation began. Have you been like this with people you dated in the past or is this the first time this started happening?

    Is this maybe caused by envy due to the fact that your current partner has more sexual experience than you do? There can be many reasons why you might have started to obsess over your partner's previous experiences and finding what triggered this behavior can truly help you overcome jealousy and obsessions tied to this situation.

    Take a Step Back and Assess the Situation

    When you feel like you are not able to overcome jealousy and your thoughts are holding you captive, you should always take a step back and assess the situation. This is similar to the previous step and you should find what triggered this behavior.

    They might have to go somewhere with a lot of people or maybe you came across a past partner on the street or on social media. No matter the reason, take a step back before you say or do something you will later regret. What caused you to feel this way? There usually is always a trigger you can tie to certain behaviors.

    Your partner's past has nothing to do with your current relationship. Your partner's exes are not you and your partner's sexual experiences should not be an issue in your love for them. What they chose to do in the past and who they chose to be with is entirely their matter. Keep thinking about these things and leave the past in the past.

    Redirect Your Energy and Thoughts

    Instead of focusing on all those negative thoughts about your partner's history and how it might affect your relationship now, try to see just how good things are between you now. Don't look at other couples on social media or snoop around trying to see if their exes have any pictures of the two of them together.

    How happy they were with other people has nothing to do with you. They chose to be with you, they care for you and as their partner, and you need to pay attention to their feelings now. Your partner's past is in the past for a reason.

    Instead, think about all the things you love about them. Think about the little things they do that make them gain your trust and how they still care for you even through the difficulties of experiencing retroactive jealousy. Redirecting your thoughts is a very helpful coping mechanism that can help you build a new system of thought.

    Seek Professional Help or Couples Therapy

    Last but not least, the most effective way to overcome retroactive jealousy is to follow a stable therapy plan. This can be done on your own or even through couples therapy with your partner. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an amazing option for finding balance between your thoughts, feelings and unreal perceptions.

    The point is for you to be able to feel secure again and reassure yourself that whatever happened in your partner's past belongs in the past. This might seem like such a simple thing to say, but if you are dealing with this type of jealousy in your daily life you know how difficult it can be to convince yourself to accept these feelings and stop trying to find out more about your partner's previous relationships.

    Always keep in mind that your partner deserves the best version of you, especially when they are helping you deal with your own experience and mental health difficulties without leaving your side. Overcoming retroactive jealousy might not be easy, but having someone you love on your side will make things easier.

    “Jealousy in romance is like salt in food._ A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.” - Maya Angelou

    Finding Balance in Your Relationship Despite the Difficulties

    Intense jealousy can create problems for both partners and tear the relationship apart. Working together to overcome this issue and strengthen your bond is the only way to leave these issues in the past and move forward. Both parties are struggling just as much from this issue and finding the right help can be so important.

    Avoid social media and stay focused on the present instead of looking for clues on your partner's past. The more you focus on making your current relationship a healthy one, the easier you will find overcoming the jealousy and struggles it comes with.

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