Retroactive Jealousy & How to Overcome It

Do you often find yourself feeling jealous of your partner’s past relationships? Here’s what it means and how to cope with it.

By Jenny Dsouza ~

Retroactive jealousy

What is Retroactive Jealousy or Reactive Jealousy?

Retroactive jealousy is a situation where a person experiences jealousy over an event that has already occurred. This can include anything from a partner telling them about an ex with whom they had an affair, to the partner having sexual relations with someone else while they were in a relationship.

The term "retroactive jealousy" was first coined by psychologist John Money in 1968. He later went on to say that retroactive jealousy is common, especially among men who have been cheated on by their partners. Retroactive jealousy tends to take a huge toll on the mental health of both partners.

Is jealousy a symptom of OCD?

Psychologists describe pathologic jealousy and depression within relationships as relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder / Retroactive Jealousy OCD which can be classified as the main form of OCD. However, jealousy does not always mean OCD, especially if jealousy is experienced over a short period of time.

Can you have retroactive jealousy without OCD?

OCD in general is a medical condition however, retroactive jealousy isn't. Retroactive jealousy is not diagnosed as an underlying mental disorder. Nevertheless, intense retroactive jealousy OCD may mimic OCD as a behavioral disorder. It is possible to experience retroactive jealousy without OCD.

When Does Retroactive Jealousy Occur?

Retroactive jealousy can also occur if you assume your partner has cheated on you, but have no proof of this happening yet. This can happen if your partner comes home late from work and smells like perfume or cologne that isn't yours.

If this happens often enough without providing an explanation for it when asked, then it could lead to retroactive jealousy later down the line when you assume they must have been cheating on you at work today (and probably every other day).

Retroactive jealousy is usually caused by an anxious attachment, traumatic childhood trauma, or poor relationships. Generally, retroactive jealousy is difficult to trust, sniffing around personal belongings or electronics, and comparing one's self-esteem to that of a friend's ex.

Retroactive jealousy is also possible when you're experiencing sexual problems, resentful attachment styles, and even childhood trauma. Some examples of retroactive judgment include difficulty trusting people and spying on personal objects or electronic gadgets comparing themselves to their spouse.

Retroactive Jealousy and Your Partner's Past

Needless to say, your partner's past relationships, his behavior in your relationship, and your levels of self-confidence play a huge role when it comes to retroactive jealousy.

If your partner has a history of cheating (that's probably how you started dating them) and is behaving in a way that raises suspicion, you are more likely to become jealous of his past relationships as well. This is especially true if your partner's ex is still in their life.

On the other hand, retroactive jealousy is also a sign of low self-confidence, insecurity, and deep past traumas that are still unresolved. If your partner has done nothing to arouse suspicion, and you are still experiencing retroactive jealousy, then it is likely that there is an emotional issue that you need to address with a therapist.

Retroactive jealousy is common among people who have experienced infidelity or betrayal in their relationships. The person who's experiencing it may have been in denial about the possibility of infidelity before it happened, but once it does happen, they start obsessing over what could have been or what might have been different if they'd known about their partner's indiscretions earlier on.

They may also face negative thoughts, and feel guilty for not having been able to prevent whatever happened—and this can cause them to feel like they are being punished for something they did wrong (even though they didn't).

Retroactive Jealousy

How Do You Know If You're Experiencing Retroactive Jealousy?

It's important to remember that everyone feels jealous sometimes—it's part of being human. But if your feelings of jealousy are interfering with day-to-day life or causing serious tension in your relationship, then it might be time for some professional help.

Retroactive jealousies are a feeling in which one has been threatened by his/her romantic past. Feeling jealous of your partner could be manifested as a social media search behavior or even an ongoing comparison or spoof.

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing retroactive jealousy:

The Signs of Retroactive Jealousy

A feeling of betrayal (especially if your partner was unfaithful)

If you are experiencing retroactive jealousy, you are likely feeling betrayed by your partner. Either because they did not tell you about a past relationship sooner, or because there were aspects of the relationship (perhaps your partner's sexual relationship or prior engagement) you were not aware of. This feeling of betrayal breaks your trust in your partner and you are likely to treat them with caution.

Anger or resentment toward your partner

When we feel that someone very close to us betrayed our trust and hurt us, we are likely to develop a deep resentment towards them. While you may still love your partner, you may not be able to show the same care and concern that you once did.

And since the relationship in question is in the past, there is a lot of pent anger that you are holding on to. It is also possible that you are evaluating your partner's behavior towards you during the time they were in the relationship you are jealous of.

Anxiety or fear about your relationship/future

All of this adds to the stress and fear you are experiencing lately. While you are unhappy in your relationship at present, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the relationship. This is especially true when you have an extended family to care for or have children you need to think about.

Retroactive jealousy tends to steal precious moments from your present and fills you with fear and uncertainty about the future.

What to do if your partner is experiencing retroactive jealousy?

First of all, it's important to remember that retroactive jealousy isn't something that can be cured or fixed overnight—it will take time for them to get used to their new feelings and adjust their behavior accordingly.

You should also remind yourself that there are no quick fixes for retroactive jealousy: It's not something you can simply talk about or "fix" with a few words or actions. Instead, accept that this is going to be an ongoing process and make sure you take care of yourself during this time by doing things like taking breaks from your partner or getting extra sleep when needed (if possible).

You may also want to consider getting professional help if things start getting too stressful at home while they're dealing with their retroactive jealousy—this could mean seeing a therapist together as a couple or separately if one of you feels uncomfortable talking about this issue in front of the other person.

So you've got a partner who's experiencing retroactive jealousy. It's not the first time this has happened and it probably won't be the last. But what do you do when your partner is having another bout of retroactive jealousy? We've got some tips for you.

Try to understand their perspective

First, stay calm. It can feel like your world is crashing down around you when your partner gets jealous of something that happened in the past, but taking a deep breath and remembering that this is a temporary feeling will help you stay steady in the storm.

Talk about it

Second, talk to them about it. As weird as it may sound, I promise this is not an easy step to take. You may feel like they're overreacting or being unreasonable, but if there's anything that can help them get out of their own headspace and into yours, it's talking about how they feel without making them feel bad about it (which will just make things worse).

Remember this is likely temporary

Third, remember that they're not themselves right now. The fact that they're experiencing retroactive jealousy means that something else is going on with them—maybe they're having a hard day at work or maybe a family member has been sick lately or maybe they're just feeling lonely and unhappy.

Is retroactive jealousy a mental illness?

Retroactive jealousy is an obsessive-compulsive disorder where one gets overwhelmed with intrusive memories of past relationships, sexual and romantic. It's far beyond just the occasional nagging of envy.

Can retroactive jealousy be cured?

The answer is yes—but it takes work.

Retroactive jealousy is a form of jealousy that affects people much later in life, and it can be caused by a variety of things. Retroactive jealousy can feel overwhelming and hard to deal with because it's not something that happens overnight. It creeps up on us slowly over time until one day we wake up to find ourselves consumed by envy for someone else's life or situation

The therapist is able to deal with retroactive jealousy in several ways. Embryonic neuro-syndromic therapy is a therapy for people with a history of trauma to get beyond focusing on one another.

What to do if you are experiencing retroactive jealousy?

There are several things you can do if you are experiencing retroactive jealousy.

Talk to your partner about it

If these feelings have been bothering you for a while, it might be time for a conversation with your partner about how they feel about their past relationships.

Be honest with yourself and with your partner about how much this is affecting you. Look at the facts of what happened and try not to let anger or resentment cloud your judgment and perspective.

Make sure that when talking about retroactive jealousy, both parties are calm and rational. This means avoiding arguments as much as possible and trying not to be defensive or accusatory (even if you feel justified).

Remember: talking about retroactive jealousy isn't just about resolving any problems that exist between the two of you; it's also about making sure that neither party feels attacked or blamed for things that have happened in the past.

Consider Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is a great way to work through problems that have been building up in your relationship. It can help you identify the root of an issue, and then work together to find solutions.

Couples Therapy is especially effective for retroactive jealousy. It can provide a neutral and non-judgemental space for you and your partner to talk about what you are experiencing.

Get another perspective

We often tend to judge our partner's behavior when we are experiencing jealousy. It is important to look at the situation from your partner's perspective as well to truly understand why they did something.

Many times, we assign our own meaning to a situation when there isn't one at all. Put down the glasses of your perspective and see it from your partner's. You may just pick up on some nuances that you missed.

Work on yourself

While retroactive jealousy can have roots in your partner's past and behavior in the present, it is important to understand that jealousy generally stems from the self. You will experience the most benefit from working on yourself than blaming your partner.

Your work on yourself can fuel your trust in your partner over time or your self-reliance and confidence will help you in making the decision that you deserve better. Either way, working on yourself, avoiding obsessive thoughts, and practicing self-development can be a great way to deal with retroactive jealousy.

Don't go looking for it

When you go snooping looking for some dirt on your partner, you are likely to look at the seemingly innocent actions of your partner as suspicious. If your partner is being honest with you and sharing something from the past, your behavior can make him apprehensive about sharing their true feelings in the future.

In addition, snooping can make your partner feel invalidated and distrustful. Although it might feel there is nothing wrong with it, it can impact your relationship in a negative way and put unnecessary pressure on your partner.

Accept your feelings

This is literally the first step when you are experiencing any problem. Accept that you are feeling jealous of your partner's past relationships. There is no shame in this. It is the only healthy way to deal with your feelings of retroactive jealousy.

Once you accept your feelings, try to pinpoint exactly what is troubling you. What aspect of your partner's past is causing jealousy? Once you've identified that, talk to your partner about it. Their support and patience can go a long way in calming your feelings of retroactive jealousy.

Focus on building the relationship

When we are jealous, we are actively damaging our relationships. Instead, try to build them. Create special moments in your relationship that are deep and meaningful to you. Work on making your current relationship stronger. Focus on yourself instead of focusing on your partner's past.

Read on for 7 ways to rekindle your relationship

If you or your partner are experiencing retroactive jealousy ocd then be patient and take the time your relationship needs to heal. Remember, nothing that happened in the past is worth ruining the good in the present.


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