Fighting Retroactive Jealousy

Written by
Michael Wells

Fighting Retroactive Jealousy

Being OK with your Partner's Sexual Past

Written by
Michael Wells

Fighting Retroactive Jealousy

Being OK with your Partner's Sexual Past

Written by
Michael Wells

This article is part of the series 


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This series is under development and further articles will be added soon.

“I keep having thoughts of my girlfriend’s sexual past, and they create huge anxiety for me. It’s killing my relationship. How do I overcome this?”

Retroactive Jealousy is an intensely difficult experience for many men and women.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it describes a situation in which a person is in a romantic relationship, and feels intense jealousy about their partner’s sexual past - sexual encounters that occurred before they even met.

You might think this is an unusual and rare problem - but it has become so increasingly common that it now has its own acronym- “RJ.”

What do I mean by “increasingly common”?  Well... in the past 10 years, searches for the term “retroactive jealousy” on Google have increased as much as 800%.

If you’re one of the people suffering, understand that you’re not alone.

How does Retroactive Jealousy cause Suffering?

Retroactive Jealousy creates huge problems for the person suffering.

Here are a few-

  • Constant anxiety, which is attached directly to their partner, the person they love most.
  • Sexual anxiety, a feeling that maybe, just maybe, they’re not “good enough” in the sack.
  • Imagined scenarios, where the partner might leave them.
  • Often, vividly imagined mental videos of all kinds of crazy pornographic experiences that they imagine their partner must have had.

But when someone is suffering from RJ, they’re not the only one in pain. It creates just as serious problems for their partner...

  • Having a moody partner, who is sullen and touchy, and perhaps even depressed at times
  • Feeling resentment and anger from their partner at times
  • Difficulties connecting emotionally with their partner
  • General lack of trust, and unwarranted suspicion, in the relationship
  • New intimacy challenges in the bedroom, including erectile dysfunction (ED) for men, and female sexual arousal disorders (FASD) for women.
  • Feelings of shame about their past
  • Feeling shamed by their partner, about their past

If you are suffering from RJ, then your partner is too - because Retroactive Jealousy hits right at the center of the relationship.

Imagine... When your partner is the source of your anxiety, and intimacy only amplifies that anxiety... where do you go from there?

Sufferers of Retroactive Jealousy feel absolutely trapped. 

They cannot leave the relationship, without feeling huge pain and heartbreak. They cannot go deeper into intimacy, without feeling more jealousy.

There’s no enemy to fight.

Moving to a new country, or even a new planet wouldn’t fix things.

And you can’t solve it by setting boundaries- because there is no behavior your partner can change to make things better.

If you’re experiencing these things right now, I feel for you.

Read on.

How does Retroactive Jealousy harm Relationships?

With these intense emotions existing between the partners in a relationship, RJ tends to destroy relationships from within.

The emotional pressure is so intense that these warped perceptions and unresolved emotions end up warping the behavior of both partners.

Why?  Because over time, people who suffer from RJ tend to feel resentment towards their partner. Any time we feel pain, our brain immediately looks outside of us for the cause of that pain, first

With RJ, your brain says “she’s causing my pain,” or “he’s causing my pain.”

The result of this is that you’ll feel anger towards your partner for their past, even though they couldn’t have known they would ever meet you.

The result of this thinking is that men suffering from RJ often shame their partner. 

“You having sex in your past relationship was wrong.”

( ... even though of course I want you to have sex with me, and I haven’t decided whether we’ll be getting married someday. )

Shaming your partner might make you feel better momentarily, as though you’ve taken some sort of revenge for the pain you’ve been caused... but your partner did not intend to cause you pain- and what can they do about their past?

Nothing at all.

But wait, there’s more.

And you’d better sit down for this one, because it's a doozy.

When you shame your partner about sex, you shame her about all sex...
Including sex with you.

If you want an intimate, special relationship with your partner, full of love and connection, this is pretty much the worst possible thing you can do.

Are you banging your head against your monitor right now?

I’m fully aware that some of you are experiencing RJ, and haven’t considered these things - which is exactly why I’ve pointed them out.

Retroactive Jealousy is not something you can ignore, or pretend that it will go away.

So let’s kill it.

How to Fight Retroactive Jealousy

Wow, where do you even start?

It sounds like “mission impossible” doesn’t it? A landslide or horror and mayhem. A black hole of darkness from which nothing can escape, not even light.

A nuclear bomb ticking away, ready to blow your whole world to bits at any moment.

But it will all be OK... just breathe...

Fortunately, you can conquer RJ, and it’s not as hard as you think.

It comes down to three basic parts-

  1. Understanding what your brain is doing, and why these emotions are so ^!#%# intense
  2. Getting a solid perspective on YOUR situation, and what the Truth is
  3. Taking action to solve the right problems, rather than the imagined ones.

Let’s walk through each of these and break them down.

Understanding Your Brain

What is jealousy, and why do we feel it?

Jealousy is best described as the fear of losing something or someone that you care about.

Consider this carefully...

  1. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t feel jealousy.
  2. If you didn’t have that thing in your life, you wouldn’t feel jealousy.
  3. If you felt safe and secure in your ability to keep that thing in your life - so that others cannot take it away - you wouldn’t feel jealousy.

Jealousy is not a bad emotion. Like all emotions, Jealousy is important!

It’s telling you that there is something important to protect, and that maybe you could be doing better at that.

Hold on to this thought, we’ll come back to this. 

How is Retroactive Jealousy different?

If you’re suffering from Retroactive Jealousy, stop and think about your relationship right now. 

In the context of RJ, you’d probably say that #1 and #2 above make perfect sense... but that #3 is a little bit confusing.  After all, there’s no obvious threat... it’s not like there’s someone knocking on your door, trying to steal your girlfriend, right?  

And yet this is probably the exact feeling you are experiencing.

The reason is simple...

At the root of all jealousy - current and retroactive - is a feeling of insecurity.

Somewhere at the center of your RJ is the feeling that just maybe...

  1. You’re not good enough
  2. That her past lover, or sexual experiences might somehow have been “better”
  3. That you cannot compete with that past, or give her more happiness than that
  4. That you cannot improve, as a lover
  5. That somehow, sex is the most important thing in your relationship - more important than love, security, personality, emotional connection, or anything else

But... is any of this true?  Where did you get these ideas?

What are you comparing yourself to, exactly? And where did that comparison come from? Is it even remotely realistic?

Do you have even a single piece of REAL evidence to support all of these negative thoughts?

If you are honest with yourself, I’m very confident that you’ll discover that at least 99% of what you’re imagining above is complete BS, without a shred of evidence...

And yet all of your RJ is based on these beliefs. Without them, you’d feel secure, and experience no retroactive jealousy at all.

Imagination is powerful ... but what you’re imagining is False

Both men and women who suffer from RJ often have an incredibly vivid and unrealistic imagination of what happened between their partner and their partner’s past lovers.

Somehow that ex boyfriend or girlfriend we imagine was the best lover in the world, and we can’t possibly compete, right?

Question: Where does this idea come from?

I also notice that in recent years, RJ seems to be increasing most dramatically among men.

Question: Why is RJ increasing, and why do men seem to be more susceptible?

I have a theory that answers both questions, and I’ll give you a clue...

What’s your idea of “great sex”, and where did it come from?

For most male suffers of RJ, I imagine that the predominant idea of “great sex” comes from watching porn.

I have zero doubt that - for men especially - when you imagine “great sex”, you are visualizing scenes that you’ve seen in porn videos. For women, “great sex” also includes strong psychological and emotional components, so it may just as easily be romantic movies, daytime dramas or romance novels that fuel their imagination.

Understanding the impact of porn and fantasy in RJ is essential, because porn isn’t real

For men in particular, watching porn creates a very warped idea of “normal”, and a very warped standard to compare themselves against.

And this is a very sad situation, because ...

  1. This isn’t what love and connection look like. 
  2. This almost certainly isn’t what your girlfriend expects or wants from you.
  3. The women you see in porn films are actresses, and are vastly exaggerating their enjoyment of the different sex acts they’re performing.
  4. The actresses you see in porn are representing the male ideal of how women should behave and respond in sexual situations. 
  5. The physical characteristics of both the men and the women are chosen for exaggerated, abnormal qualities. 
  6. And, it’s film! An average 60 minute shoot can take 15 hours to film - yet we imagine that that male actor is supposed to maintain that level of vigor and turgidity for that hour effortlessly.

If that’s your standard of “normal”... good luck, my man.

What you’re seeing isn’t real, and here’s the clincher...

If "porn" is what you’re picturing when you imagine how other people have sex... than this is how you’re imagining your girlfriend was with her past lovers too.

And psychologically, you’re killing yourself, for absolutely no reason.

Getting perspective on your own Retroactive Jealousy

Now let’s make this personal, and dig into the Truth of your own relationship.

The past is NOT that important, and it cannot hurt you now

All of us- you and me included, are the sum of our life experiences. Our past experiences influenced us in important ways, and are part of who we are today.

But those memories of the past are far, FAR less important than the experiences we’re having in our lives right now.

If I think of my own past lovers, I have memories, but I’d have to think very, very hard to remember anything specific about those experiences, and I can no longer “feel” them.

Those relationships are history. 

They are a distant memory, rather like something I saw in a movie, or read in a book.

Most importantly, if I have a relationship with a woman who I care for, I am not thinking at all about some other woman that I knew 3 years ago. Why the heck would I do that when the person I care about most is already in my arms?

She’s all I want.

Other experiences work the same way. If you are eating a nice slice of pizza right now, do you enjoy it?  Or are you thinking about every other slice of pizza you’ve ever eaten, and comparing them critically?  

I hope you're answering... "I enjoy the pizza, and it's freakin' awesome."

The same is true of how you feel about your partner, and how she feels about you.

Don’t waste your energy thinking about an imaginary past. All of the joy in your life is here and now

This moment is where you make your life, her life, and your relationship better.

Your Partner Chose YOU, for a Reason

Your girlfriend chose YOU, remember that. 

She’s with you, right now, because YOU make her life better than anyone else ever has.

That past relationship ended for a reason. No matter who ended it, or why, it did not work- and it’s long over.  She’s learned from that, and guess who she picked as a better choice?

That’s right, YOU.

Are you getting this?

Focus your attention on that truth, and keep being you, because you are the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

And as long as you can appreciate that, keep appreciating her and growing with her, you have a great future together.

Taking Action

Emotions are fantastic tools, and they are surprisingly simple once you get to understand them. 

Jealousy demands Action...

All pain emotions are a motivation to take action.

When you touch a hot stove, you feel extreme pain. It makes you want to pull your hand away, doesn’t it?  When you pull your hand away, the pain subsides. The same is true of a sharp nail, or a cold shower.

All pain works similarly, including emotional pain.

With emotional pain, you are confronted with a choice, known as a threat response, and you get three options.

  1. Fight.
  2. Flight.
  3. Freeze.

Jealousy is a pain emotion too, and just like the others, it also demands action. 

So what are you doing about it?

Most RJ sufferers either “Freeze” up and do nothing, feeling paralyzed, confused and helpless. Or, they choose “Flight” and run away. I’ve seen people push their partner away, end their relationships, or have affairs out of an inability to deal with their own jealousy.

But if you choose either Flight or Freeze, you’re stuck with RJ forever, because you will never solve the problem, and therefore the emotions will never go away.

Once you begin taking effective action, the pain will go away...
That means that the only effective option with RJ is to Fight.

How do I Fight?

"Fighting" simply means to go towards the problem, finding constructive ways to resolve it, to improve yourself and your relationship.

Jealousy hurts, for a reason. It’s telling you, 

“Take care of the things that are important to you, or you just might lose them.”  

When you feel it, you should immediately as yourself...

"How can I take care of my partner better, and reduce the chance that they’re unhappy and will want to leave?"

The best place to start is by examining your jealous thoughts directly.

Where are you uncomfortable? Where is your jealousy telling you that you’re weak? 

Go towards that and conquer it.

Here are a few examples of what I hear from clients, and some ideas on what you can do...

"I don't feel like I'm a good enough lover"

  • Talk to your partner, find out what they like, be open minded and willing to experiment. Let them trust you and guide you.
  • Ask your partner, with their permission, if they would be willing to show you how they pleasure themselves. Men are pretty simple- our sensitive parts are pretty much in one place. For women, her whole body is sensitive, and there is a much broader range of sensation, motion, rhythm, and pressure that will excite her most- and this will change depending on how excited she is. Let her show you, no one knows her mind and body better than she does.
  • Learn sensual massage.
  • Consider exploring Kama Sutra, or tantrix sex together, if you are both interested.
  • Consider exploring “yoni massage”
  • Discuss your curiosities and interests together, get playful, and experiment.
  • Sex is a conversation, and your goal is to make it fun and interesting together.
  • If porn is in your life, kill it. It's doing you zero favors, and costing you way more than you know.
  • If masturbation is in your life, kill that too. Save sex for your partner, you'll be amazed how much more aware, connected, and appreciative you are when your energy and all of your senses are at 100%.

"I want to be a better partner, and to feel more emotionally connected"

  • Learn your partner’s love languages and practice them daily.
  • Make time for deep conversations every day before bed. No TV, no distractions, just you two connecting.
  • Learn to lead honest, vulnerable conversations, where you share things that scare you, and invite your partner to as well.  
  • Play the “question game” to learn more about each other, in fun and interesting ways.

"I feel like my body is not sexy enough"

  • Go to the gym.
  • Eat right.
  • Hire a fitness coach, or a nutritionist.
  • Make a morning run, or bike ride to work part of your daily routine.
  • Exercise with your partner, swimming, tennis, or something like acroyoga.

"I don't feel confident"

  • Challenge and improve yourself- at the gym, in your learning, and socially with friends.
  • Give yourself self-esteem by going towards your fears- for example if public speaking makes you feel nervous, join Toastmasters.
  • Improve yourself in ways that make you respect and appreciate yourself more. I'm going to recommend gym here again, it does wonders.
  • Invest time in listening and talking to your partner, to figure out what makes them feel amazing. When you learn how to create absolute ecstasy for her, you'll feel far more confident sexually with her.

These simple changes will change your life.

Most importantly, always remember this- the key to killing Retroactive Jealousy is to go towards the problem, not away from it.

As my favorite tenet from Stoicism says-

The Obstacle is the Way.

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This article is part of the series 


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First published on 
. Last updated on 
August 12, 2020

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