How to Overcome Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships

Let go of retroactive jealousy in relationships and be more present in the connection you have with your partner


Ever have a great connection with someone, but can't shake those nagging feelings in the back of your mind about their former partner, wondering how you compare?

If so, you probably know retroactive jealousy all too well.

Retroactive jealousy in relationships can really drive a wedge between you and your partner over time. Learning more about retroactive jealousy, where it comes from, and how to overcome it can help you move forward in your relationship with a healthier mindset.

What is Retroactive Jealousy?

Let's start with the basics. What is "retroactive jealousy"?

Everyone is familiar with jealousy in relationships. Chances are, you or someone you know has felt jealous of a partner's friends or other relationships.

Retroactive jealousy is extreme jealousy specifically about your partner's relationships in the past.

Rather than worrying about what your partner may do in the present or future, you obsess over your partner's past.

No matter what you do, you can't help but wonder: Did they used to do this together too? How do I compare?

Retroactive jealousy can look like:

  • Internet stalking their past partners
  • Obsessive, intrusive thoughts about your partner's past
  • Comparing your relationship to their past ones
  • Difficulty trusting your partner's feelings

Over time, this retroactive jealousy can seriously damage the relationship. You may constantly seek reassurance from your partner about the relationship but refuse to believe their word.

Why Do I Have Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships?

The first step to dealing with retroactive jealousy in relationships is understanding where it comes from.

Common reasons for experiencing retroactive jealousy in relationships include...

Fears of Abandonment

Retroactive jealousy in relationships is more common for those who experience fears of abandonment. You may have been burned by loved ones in the past in some way, such as cheating or being left for someone else. This causes you to project these fears onto your current relationship and see their past partners as a threat.

Learn more about anxious attachment styles and fears of abandonment in relationships ->

OCD Tendencies

Retroactive jealousy is characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts similar to that of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.

You may have trouble stopping intrusive thoughts imagining your partner with someone else because the thought pattern becomes a compulsion, or irrational automatic impulse.

How to Overcome Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships

Now that you understand what retroactive jealousy in relationships is, you can take steps to work through it in your relationship.

1. Reframe Thoughts

The first step to overcoming retroactive jealousy in relationships is learning to reframe the negative thoughts you're having about yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

For instance, when you're tempted to think "they liked their past partner more than me", you can stop, check the facts, and reframe the situation differently with a more rational thought like "We have a unique connection with our own unique experiences".

Journaling in a CBT-based journaling app like Jour can help you overcome cognitive distortions. Every day, we give you personalized journal prompts that help you work through reframing negative thoughts.

Learn more about the benefits of CBT and how it can change your life ->

2. Break the Behaviors

Once you've learned to talk back to your intrusive thoughts, it's time to focus on eradicating behaviors associated with retroactive jealousy.

This may mean unfollowing your partner's past partners on social media and setting limits on screen time, or resisting the urge to quiz your partner on past relationships.

3. Build Self-Esteem

Fears of abandonment associated with retroactive jealousy often stem from low self-esteem. Taking the time to build up your relationship with yourself can strengthen your relationship with your partner and help you maintain a healthier mindset.

Journaling is a great way to get to know yourself better and practice self-care by encouraging healthy reflection and introspection.

Learn more about the proven mental and physical health benefits of journaling ->

4. Communicate

Communicating effectively with your partner is essential to overcoming retroactive jealousy in your relationship.

Be candid with them about how you are feeling and where your insecurity comes from. Make an effort to understand how the retroactive jealousy affects them, and be sure to listen and accept what they say when they address your concerns.

5. Practice Empathy

Make sure to approach issues with retroactive jealousy in your relationship with empathy on both sides.

Retroactive jealousy can hurt your partner. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see things from their perspective, and at the same time validate your own feelings - chances are, there are reasons from your past that you struggle with retroactive jealousy.

Learn more about empathy and how to show yourself empathy ->

Forgive to Feel Your Best

Retroactive jealousy describes jealousy of a partner's past relationships.

It's normal to have passing feelings of jealousy in relationships. But obsessing over your partner's past and feeling jealous of their previous partners can damage the relationship.

You may have retroactive jealousy because of deeper fears of abandonment, anxious attachment style, or OCD-like tendencies.

To overcome retroactive jealousy, reframe the situation, break harmful behaviors, communicate, and practice empathy with your partner.

Try journaling with Jour to reframe negative intrusive thoughts, build healthy self esteem, and release the fears you're experiencing. Your mind will thank you!