21 Insights In Retroactive Jealousy (2024) & How To Overcome It

We all get jealous sometimes. But if you’ve been obsessed over your partner’s past relationships lately, you must be suffering from something else known as retroactive jealousy.

Retroactive Jealousy
Photo by Leonardo Santos from Pexels

That’s why today I invite you to learn:

  • The meaning of retroactive jealousy
  • Its causes and how it feels like
  • Whether it’s a mental health disorder and its relation to the famous narcissism
  • Its effects and of course, how to end it

Let’s dive right in!

1. What is Retroactive Jealousy?

Also known as retrospective jealousy, retroactive jealousy is feeling jealous of a partner’s past relationships to obsessive extents. While we all get jealous sometimes, the retroactive type of jealousy involves repetitions of mental pictures of the partner’s past romantic and sexual encounters.

2. What Does Retroactive Jealousy Feel Like? 

If one is experiencing retroactive jealousy, they get caught up in a loop of negative thoughts about the partner’s past which bring up painful emotions that drive them to do irrational things like digging up their partner’s history. This vicious cycle leads them to self-loathing and furthers the painful experiences. 

3. What Is Retroactive Jealousy Caused By?

Retroactive jealousy is commonly triggered by your past plus low self-esteem, not your partner’s past. You might have had traumatic experiences as a child and formed an anxious attachment style around relationships or experienced painful experiences with previous partners, or are relating your relationship with other people’s problematic relationships. If low self-esteem is the issue, you probably fear you don’t stack up to certain standards your partner’s exes had.

Is Retroactive Jealousy a Mental Illness? Retroactive Jealousy OCD

Also known as retroactive jealousy OCD, retroactive jealousy is grouped with other obsessive-compulsive disorders and can therefore be addressed as a mental illness. Like OCD, RJ involves obsessive and intrusive thoughts in the form of mental movies of past sexual or romantic encounters of a partner with their exes. These lead to a vicious cycle of repetitive negative thoughts and matching irrational behaviors.

Let’s break Retroactive Jealousy OCD down:

4. Retroactive jealousy triggers

As mentioned earlier, retroactive jealousy can be triggered by:

  • An anxious attachment style
  • Painful experiences with past partners
  • Childhood trauma
  • Knowledge of similar relationships with negative outcomes
  • Low self-worth
  • Rivalry with the ex

It usually has little to do with the partner’s romantic history and more to do with the emotional/psychological maturity of a person.

5. Retroactive jealousy disorder signs – thoughts and behaviours

When someone is experiencing retroactive jealousy, they:

  • Either dig up their partner’s past or avoid knowing any details altogether (the former is more common)
  • Obsessively make up mental movies of their partner’s past sexual encounters
  • Constantly compare themselves to their partner’s exes to confirm their insecurities
  • Obsessively search for their partner’s romantic history to feed their assumptions
  • Cause arguments through their incessant nagging and passive aggressive comments about their partner’s past

6. Retroactive jealousy and narcissism

Since retroactive jealousy and narcissism have a common root (that is insecurity), if someone doesn’t work on their RJ OCD, they can end up becoming a narcissist when they use their partner’s past against them, trying to control the relationship by manipulating tactics to make them feel bad about their romantic history while brainwashing them to think no one would love them.

When RJ OCD becomes a crutch for the sufferer to feel superior in a relationship, they become a narcissist.

7. Retroactive jealousy test

If you’re still wondering whether you have retroactive jealousy obsessive compulsive disorder or RJ-OCD, you need to take this RJ Quiz. It not only shows you the verdict, but it also reveals the level of your jealousy to determine the kind of help you need to beat retroactive jealousy.

8. Retroactive jealousy treatment

To overcome RJ’s fixation on your partner’s past, you can use therapies for OCD sufferers like hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other trauma-informed therapies. In a later section below, we’ll discuss powerful, science-backed approaches you can use to overcome retroactive jealousy OCD.

9. The Effects of Retroactive Jealousy Ruining Relationship

Retroactive jealousy is never a good thing. In fact, it can wreak more havoc than any other current issues you may have with your partner.

I am not trying to make you feel worse here – just helping you see how important it is to overcome retroactive jealousy.

Here’s how retroactive jealousy ruins your relationship:

It worsens your insecurities

While we all strive to deal with insecurities as adults, retroactive jealousy pulls many sufferers back to more insecurity.

If you’ve been feeling like you’re not good enough like your partner’s exes, RJ makes it worse. You won’t help but imagine how much you lack in comparison with them.

It makes your partner feel rejected

When you accept someone as your partner, it means you accept them with all their great qualities, flaws as well as their past. That’s what makes love so beautiful.

But if you constantly judge your partner based on their past, what else would they think other than they’re not accepted and loved the way they are. Thus they’ll feel rejected.

It makes your partner feel you mistrust them

Just put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If they have to constantly explain themselves because you don’t feel secure in the relationship, they’ll feel mistrusted which breaks their heart.

They’ll feel constantly threatened which would make the relationship stale and even end it. After all, if the only person in the whole world who’s supposed to believe them doesn’t trust them, they’ll feel they can as well be alone.

Your relationship won’t grow

If you dwell on the past, you’ll have no time or energy to work on the present relationship. This means it won’t grow and therefore would eventually die.

However, you need to quit focusing on the past experiences they had and start focusing on the experiences you can have with them now. We’ll talk about these fixes later in this article.

Your mental and physical health suffers

Obsessive-compulsive disorders bring up negative thoughts and emotions that plague your health instead of enriching it. 

Instead of working on the present relationship to grow mentally and physically, you’ll feel like you’ve lost control of this anxiety disorder which ends up ruining your overall health. 

Will Retroactive Jealousy Go Away? How to Overcome RJ OCD

Retroactive jealousy OCD can go away as long as you follow the following strategies to beat it.

10. Accept that you’re jealous

The first step to overcoming retroactive jealousy OCD is to acknowledge that you indeed have a problem. This helps open your mind to solutions.

This can be especially difficult if you’re in denial stage and are blaming it on your partner’s behavior patterns. You might easily say 

  • “Her habit of talking to guys at parties is causing me to remember her sexual past.”
  • “It’s his fault I’m feeling jealous. He told me intimate details about his previous relationships.”
  • “I’m not obsessed with his past. It’s because he claims he doesn’t want to talk about it!”
  • “How can I not feel jealous? She doesn’t seem to like my sexual performance since she doesn’t ask for sex often.”
  • “I don’t have retroactive jealousy. It’s just she still talks to her ex-partner.”

The list of retroactive jealousy excuses is long. And maybe you relate to one of these statements. 

But the truth still remains, that if you don’t accept you have retroactive jealousy yet you show the common signs we talked about above, you won’t overcome it. Healing is impossible if you keep blaming your girlfriend or boyfriend for your retroactive jealousy.

So even if you have a good enough reason to be jealous, accept that you are suffering from jealous feelings, period. Let’s move on.

11. Quit engaging in Jealousy-enabling activities

These activities that keep promoting jealousy in you include:

  • Digging your boyfriend/girlfriend’s past
  • Following up on your partner’s past partner
  • Scourging through past and present social media accounts to get “evidence”
  • Tolerating jealous thoughts when they come up 
  • Tolerating obsessive behaviors like making up mental movies around your partner’s past sex life

Note the thoughts and behaviors that make you experience retroactive jealousy and keep them at bay.

12. Clarify your partner’s past with questions

This is only advisable if you keep hearing your partner’s past relationship details from people other than them. While rumor might be true, it keeps the real story a mystery that arouses curiosity.

Clarify your partner
Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

Therefore, kindly ask your partner all you need to know about their romantic past to end the retroactive jealousy issues once and for all.

13. Accept that like everyone – your partner has a past

It can be hard to believe your partner’s sexual history for whatever reason but if you want to overcome jealousy, you have to accept that about them. 

Their past is what molded them to be who they are today meaning without it, you might have been unable to connect with them at all. 

Maybe you find it hard to believe they can fall for such a girl or guy. Maybe you think the undesirable traits they had might replay while with you. You’ll find many complex reasons your partner behaved the way they did in the past but they choose to be with you today and that’s all that matters.

The past happened. There’s no other reality to substitute it. If you accept your partner, you have to accept their past. 

“You cannot achieve happiness without using your past, your flaws, insecurities, and imperfections in a positive way. It is about letting go and detaching from unhealthy people, ideas, and lifestyle choices, and replacing them with interdependent, pro-active ways of thinking and responding.” — Lucinda Basse

14. Identify your underlying insecurities

As mentioned earlier, your retrospective jealousy is more about your insecurities than about your partner’s romantic past. And it all boils down to one stubborn culprit: insecurities.

Identifying the insecurities beneath retroactive jealousy is the beginning stage for dealing with them. And the best part is, you not only overcome retroactive jealousy to better your relationships but also improve your overall mental health which translates to every aspect of your daily life.

Here are questions to help you discover your insecurities:

  • When do you feel most anxious?
  • Which flaws do you wish you never had?
  • What’s the one thing you wish people could just accept about you?
  • What thing do you wish you could get better at?
  • What do you do to prove you deserve love?
  • Which parts of your body do you wish could look better?
  • What made you feel most anxious as a kid?
  • What did your past partners complain most about you?

Remember, your insecurities would mostly stem from your childhood experiences, traumatic experiences, and past relationships.

15. Don’t use you’re partner’s past against them

One giant mistake you can make is to use your partner’s history against them. Do this and you’d turn from a retroactive jealousy sufferer to a narcissist using emotional blackmail to feel good about themselves.

No matter how unpleasant your partner’s past relationships were, they don’t deserve to be blamed for your jealousy/insecurity. Instead, their past needs to be treated as what it is – the past.

As for today, they’re a new person with new priorities. You should either focus on creating your own experience with them or leave them to live their life. 

16. Voice out your concerns to your partner

Honesty with your partner is a great thing especially if you’re looking to ensure trust in your relationship. So tell your partner openly about your fears. 

If you fear they might break our heart as they did others in past relationships, say so. If you think they’re still not over their ex, open up about that.

You need to use “I” statements to ensure you don’t come off as accusing but merely as one expressing their feelings to overcome the retroactive jealousy obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You can also consider couples therapy where you can deal with these mental health issues and use this opportunity to connect more and improve your sexual experience along with other aspects of your relationship.

17. Set boundaries together regarding contact with exes

“Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.” – Doreen Virtue

While your partner’s past relationships are their business, their current relationship with you is a mutual business for both of you. So if they’re keeping in contact with their exes and you don’t like it, talk about your concerns to them and set boundaries.

Let communication with their ex be non-existent unless they have necessary issues like child custody to deal with. This helps keep your partner’s previous relationships from intruding on your existing one.

Related: The Biggest Turn-Offs In A Relationship You Should Avoid

18. Talk it out with someone other than your partner

Perhaps you’re not ready to talk about your obsessive thoughts and feelings with your partner. Maybe you want the perspective of someone less involved. 

Either way, you can find a trusted friend, relationship coach or therapist to talk to. They’ll help you unpack your recurring thoughts and help you realize details that can help you in overcoming retroactive jealousy.

19. Come up with a healthy narrative of your partner’s past

If a story isn’t serving you, change it.

In this case, you need to reframe the stories about your partner’s past romantic relationships in your own mind that you can gain a new healthy perspective that helps ward off unwanted thoughts.

  • Instead of thinking about how “bad” your partner was, focus on how much they’ve grown now
  • Rather than envying the previous partner for having had your significant other, remember they’ve chosen you and no one else today
  • Rather than resenting your partner’s diverse sexual experiences, think of how much they’ll help you know how to please them
  • Instead of dwelling on the negative qualities of the past, think of the positive traits you loved your partner for now
  • Think of how your partner’s sexual partners have influenced positive change in your partner

Get creative. Spin the obsessive thoughts to create positive stories. It’s good for your mental health and ultimately, for overcoming retroactive jealousy.

20. Cultivate a healthy sense of self

A sense of self is the awareness of who you are namely your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, and the things that make you unique. However, for many OCD sufferers, this sense of self gets distorted by experiences that made them believe a false self.

Healthy Sense of Self
Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay

However, if you develop a sense of self, you get more secure in your own skin which helps end the suffering from retroactive jealousy.

But how do you develop a sense of self? Here are things you must ritualize:

  • Spend time alone every day to listen to yourself
  • Identify your priority values
  • Talk with yourself, becoming an avid observer of your own life
  • Establish your boundaries and stick to them
  • Treat yourself with self-understanding
  • Approach challenges as opportunities to know yourself
  • Know your personal hobbies and spend time doing them

21. Make transparency the centerpiece of your recovery journey

If you’re involving your partner on this journey of overcoming feelings of retroactive jealousy, you need to be completely transparent with them. 

Let them know the progress you’re having as well as setbacks like repeated and obsessive behaviors, intrusive thoughts, and so forth. 

This solidifies trust and what could have been a troublesome mental health disorder becomes a path for building a secure long term relationship.

Final Word

Retroactive jealousy is one of the most destructive mental health disorders  in romantic relationships. From unwanted thoughts to obsessive behaviors like social media stalking, RJ OCD sufferers find it difficult to rewind their negative actions and enjoy being loved by their significant other.

Yet all hope isn’t lost.

If you follow the above cognitive behavioral therapy-based tips, you can at last move past feeling insecure and enjoy your relationship with your partner.

Thanks for reading! And hey if you liked this piece, share it with your friends!

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.