Have you ever suffered from what’s known as “retroactive jealousy” in a relationship? It’s just like normal jealousy except, rather than thinking about people your wife or girlfriend may sleep with in the present, it’s characterized by over-thinking about people she actually slept with in the past.
These thoughts invariably come accompanied with a whole host of overwhelming emotions. As well as feelings of jealousy, the sufferer may experience a number of different sensations, ranging from fear to judgment, anger to disgust, and other negative emotions.
All of this is made doubly hard to shake because intellectually it obviously makes little sense to be worried about the past. “It’s been and gone” as friends and online forum users are keen to point out, along with other cliches such as “the past has made her who she is today”. Unfortunately, as well-meaning as these words are, they’re of little comfort to someone hung up on their wife or girlfriend’s past.
As a broad generalization, men tend to feel threatened by the people their partner once had casual sex with — the one-night-stands, threesomes, “friends with benefits” and so on. Women on the other hand, tend to feel threatened by the people their partner was once in love with during a relationship. There are evolutionary reasons for this but, suffice it to say, neither form of retroactive jealousy is much fun.
I used to be constantly plagued by repetitive thoughts and emotions involving my girlfriend and the four guys she had no-strings sex with during the six months before we met. This lasted for months until I was able to finally beat retroactive jealousy by myself and without resorting to therapy, pills or breaking off the relationship, and in this post I’d like to share some of the techniques I used to do it.
1. Learn About The Evolutionary Root Causes Of Retroactive Jealousy
All negative emotions like jealousy, anger, fear, etc. have a common root cause that’s been implanted in all of us since the very beginning of humankind — the ego. Our egos have evolved to protect us from harm, and so when it’s confronted by the fact that a partner was once physically close to someone else, it feels threatened and overreacts.
In essence, when we feel jealous about our wife or girlfriend’s past, it’s just our ego saying “Whoa, hold on… are you sure you want to be with someone who might suddenly have random sex with another man?” Even though these guys in the past probably pose no threat whatsoever to your current relationship, your ego can’t tell the difference between the past and present and so is seeing them as a threat anyway.
The single best way to calm the anxiety generated by the ego is to shine a light on it by learning as much about how it works as possible. Start by reading everything you can by Eckhart Tolle and Alan Watts — the two best teachers I’ve come across on the nature of the ego.
Look into meditation and how it calm the mind and separate you from your judgmental egoic self, and your “true self” that witnesses thoughts without becoming emotionally attached to them. To suffer from retroactive jealousy is, after all, merely a state of anxiety generated by thoughts which actually can’t harm you.
In short, the more you understand about where your fear and judgment about your wife or girlfriend’s sexual history is coming from, the better. Granted, this can be difficult as society has things engineered in such a way as to suggest that it’s okay for a guy to sleep with as many women as he pleases but a woman is called a “slut” if she’s been with more than ten guys.
However, start looking into the root causes of retroactive jealousy — how the brain works, the amygdala gland, free will, the “Madonna-whore complex” and so on — and it should offer some relief.
2. Go Cold Turkey On Three Activities
If you’re doing any of the following three activities, then it’d be a good idea to cut them out straight away. Doing this will help tremendously in your fight against retroactive jealousy as it will mean you’ve broken the cycle that’s keeping it in the forefront of your mind.
Perhaps the most common activity sufferers of retroactive jealousy indulge in is to constantly quiz their partners about the past. However, this is not a good idea. By asking questions we want to hear something that’s going to make the anxiety go away. The trouble is, the more we hear about a partner’s past (even if it’s negative) the worse our anxiety becomes, because more information simply leads to the past feeling more present.
Also, all quizzing does is make us appear insecure and unattractive, and this can actually destabilize a relationship because invariably it leads to arguments.
Another activity to cut out straight away is snooping through a partner’s personal space. Going through their phone, email, Facebook account and so on, is really something that is just a signal that you’re still being controlled by your ego. You may find the urge to delve irresistible; you may feel like knowing all there is to know about some dude she once “had a thing with”, but do so at your own peril.
The chances are you’ll end up discovering things you wish you hadn’t and will end up being hurled back into a chasm of anxiety and jealousy. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” as Dante once said. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but you get the picture.
Finally, quit trawling the internet looking for the answer as to how to beat retroactive jealousy. Spending hours on online forums, reading story after story about people’s experiences with retroactive jealousy is really not doing you any good at all. Mostly the comments and advice offered is below par, and again all it’s doing is keeping you fixed in a state of anxiety.
Go cold turkey on all three activities, starting today. Or if this is too difficult, make a commitment to yourself that you’re not going to do any of them for the next week, or next month. Every time you feel like quizzing your partner, bite your tongue and just let it go. Every time you feel like snooping through her photo collection, remember that you won’t be able to get any “bad” images out your head for a long time. Every time you want to indulge in another research session on Google, put away your laptop and go do something you actually enjoy.
Simply put, whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by the desire to do one of these three things, make a conscious effort to direct your mind onto something else that interests or excites you. Watch a funny movie, go shopping, play the drums, dance around the room to your favorite song — whatever it takes to get your mind off your wife or girlfriend’s past will do the trick.
3. Work On Your Self Confidence
I’m yet to come across a single person who suffers from retroactive jealousy who’s not insecure in some way or another. This is because a lack of self-confidence and retroactive jealousy are basically two peas in a pod. It’s more or less impossible for a guy who’s super-confident in himself to become consumed by events in his partner’s sexual past. However, when we lack a certain sense of self-worth and maybe deep down wonder why our partner is with us in the first place, then unfortunately we’re far more likely to suffer from these kind of negative thoughts and emotions.
To be jealous, fearful and anxious about guys from the past means you’re comparing yourself to them and coming off second best. If you look at a guy from the past and think they’re better looking than you, smarter than you, sexier than you, or “better” in some way, then it’s no wonder you’re suffering from retroactive jealousy.
This is because you (or should I say, your ego) fears your partner may leave you for someone like them, or want to sleep with someone like them again. (Like I said, the ego has a hard time differentiating past from present.) So have a think about what you could do to work on your self-confidence and how you could change your perception of yourself from someone who’s lucky to be with your partner, to someone who your partner is lucky to be with.
After some time working on your self-esteem, you’ll find that if you compare yourself to your partner’s ex-lovers they’ll no longer appear as threatening and your retroactive jealousy will begin to fade.