Coping Strategies for Sufferers of Retroactive Jealousy

In my last blog post, I wrote about the concept of Retroactive Jealousy, a fairly common, yet widely misunderstood type of jealousy in romantic relationships. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you read that article first, but in short, Retroactive Jealousy is when you feel jealous of your partner’s past.

Retroactive Jealousy Summarized

Most people have fleeting feelings of envy with regards to their lover’s exes, but sometimes it can become an unhealthy sort of obsession. There’s even a specific subset of OCD regarding this type of jealousy, known as Retroactive Jealousy OCD (RJ).

With RJ, the sufferer might feel overly anxious or preoccupied by thoughts of their partner’s previous relationships.

They might ask their partner about their exes obsessively or engage in social-media stalking to find out more information. They might feel an overwhelming desire to know the details, but then feel irrationally angry or upset about it. They might feel disgust when imagining their partner being with people from their past – and they might also be unable to stop imagining it (this is known as an intrusive thought.)

But, whether it’s a legitimate OCD type of obsession or just normal Retroactive Jealousy, the feelings experienced by the those suffering from RJ are generally highly distressing or uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, this type of jealousy can also cause a lot of friction within the relationship, so it’s a good idea to develop coping strategies to handle it.

As a fellow RJ sufferer, I know this feeling all too well.

So, here are 5 ways to handle your Retroactive Jealousy:

1. Acknowledge Your Emotions

When you’re dealing with Retroactive Jealousy, your feelings might come on randomly or out of the blue. You might think you’re fine and then BOOM – an intrusive thought hits. All of a sudden you’re feeling anxious, jealous, upset.

The first thing you want to do, then, is find a way to get rid of these unpleasant emotions. People with RJ tend to think that the way to do that is to seek out information – either by asking their partner questions, by looking the person up on social media, or by mentally reviewing what they already know.

This is the absolute WRONG way of handling it, though. Instead, take a deep breath and acknowledge the fact that you’re experiencing anxiety at the moment.

2. Recognize the Emotion for What it Really is

After acknowledging the fact that you’re experiencing anxiety and discomfort, recognize the emotion for what it really is.

This might seem confusing – didn’t we already do that? – but when you’re in the midst of Retroactive Jealousy (or any extremely emotional state for that matter), it’s often hard to accurately determine what or how you’re feeling.

You might think that what you’re feeling is anger or disgust or anxiety – and all of those are true to a certain extent. But, there’s almost certainly something going on beneath those surface emotions.

So, when difficult feelings and thoughts do come up, try and figure out what it is that you’re really upset about.

Are you insecure about the way you look? About your partner’s feelings towards you? About your willingness to be sexually adventurous? Are you afraid that your partner loved his ex more than he loves you? Are you worried about not being good enough for your partner?

Figure out what you’re insecure about and stop the train of thought.

Most of the time, people suffering from RJ have a deep-rooted fear of being abandoned or unlovable. So, you’re likely feeling a sense of inadequacy when it comes to your partner’s ex.

Maybe you think she was prettier or more outgoing or better in bed – and, hell, maybe she was – but your partner is with you for a reason. Let that be enough to stop comparing yourself.

3. Resist the Urge to Ask Questions

This is probably the hardest one, but also the most important.

When in the midst of a Retroactive Jealousy train of thought, you think that if you can just get one more answer, or find out one more piece of information, or get some reassurance one more time, the feelings will go away.

And the problem is that it will – for a very brief period of time. That’s how the OCD cycle works – when you give in to the compulsion (in this case, asking questions), the obsession will momentarily cease.

But then it’ll inevitably come back again. Whatever information you get will get lodged into your mind and fuel the cycle. So resist the temptation to ask for more.

4. Think About Your Own Past

It’s easy to hate the people your partner once loved. But try and remember that you, too, have a past.

You have exes that you once found attractive, that you once loved, that you once experienced physical and emotional intimacy with. Do those people from your past make your feelings for your partner any less relevant? Of course not!

Recognize that your partner likely feels the exact same way about the people from his or her past.

5. Distract Yourself

All of these probably seem like fairly easy things to do. And chances are, you’re reading this when you’re feeling calm. But, when you’re in the heat of the moment, your emotions might take over and make it really really difficult to actually do these things.

So, the next time you find yourself overcome by jealous thoughts or anxiety, look for a distraction.

Do something physical – go for a walk, workout, clean the house. Anything that gets you up and moving and focused on something else so that you’re not tempted to ask your partner a million questions or scroll through social media in search of answers.

Taking time away from the situation will help you calm down enough to where you can start to think more rationally.

If you’re having too hard a time pulling yourself away from your thoughts, though, give yourself a distraction by leaning into them.

Write down how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking in a journal. Simply seeing it in black and white might even be enough to help you realize just how irrational your thoughts really are.

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Retroactive Jealousy sucks – no question about it. But, hopefully, with these top 5 tips, it’ll be a little easier to handle.

Next time, I’ll offer tips on how to handle it if your partner is experiencing retroactive jealousy.

Do you have tips on how to handle Retroactive Jealousy? Let me know in the comments down below.

And make sure to pin this so that the next time you feel anxious thoughts creeping in, you can reference this list.

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  1. avatar
    Erin C says:

    Thank you for posting this…this is an issue in my life, practically controlling my life. Always has. My mind is so damaged, I think from so many traumas, this is just how my brain works now…its happening to me in my new (incredible) relationship, I have no reason to be so upset, but I am…I stumbled here an am so thankful that someone in the world understands me. But as aware as I am of it, I don’t know how to talk to him about it. We’re so new. I don’t want to give him one more “thing” to deal with. Like why can’t I just be happy…so idk how to even talk to him. I have to fix it myself :/ back to therapy lol. 🤦‍♀️

  2. avatar

    Your #4 point is so true! It’s easy to forget that we also have a past, a past that our partners may feel similarly about. Look through the lens of the other person.

    1. avatar

      Exactly! It’s so easy to overlook that sometimes.

  3. avatar
    Marie Hugley says:

    This is an interesting concept, retroactive jealousy. I know this has been in some of my past relationships. I recently experienced a partner like this so it really put things in perspective for me!

    1. avatar

      I’m so glad it was helpful and interesting for you! Especially if you’re not the one experiencing it but your partner is – it can be baffling to people, so understanding it goes a long way to improving relationships.

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30ish Lifestyle blogger, relationship "expert," and modern-day agony aunt.
Sometimes humorous, always honest.