Strategies to help a partner suffering from Retroactive Jealousy cope with their anxiety
In my last few blog posts, I wrote about the concept of Retroactive Jealousy, a type of romantic jealousy that involves feeling obsessively uneasy about your partner’s past. If you’re not familiar with the concept, you can read more about what it is here.
If you do know what it is and struggle with it yourself, go back and read my post on coping strategies.
Today, I’m going to be addressing the partner’s of people dealing with Retroactive Jealousy. Or, honestly, the partner’s of anyone dealing with some form of relational anxiety. (If this describes you, share this post with your bae so they can be a better bae to you.)
Anxiety sucks – plain and simple.
And if you have a partner that struggles with anxiety, it can be really hard to deal with. Especially if they’re dealing with anxiety in the form of Retroactive Jealousy. But there ARE ways that you can help them.
So, here are 5 ways that you can help a partner with Retroactive Jealousy:
1. Control your Frustration
When you have a partner with Retroactive Jealousy, chances are, they ask you a MILLION questions about certain things. And it’s frustrating and upsetting for you to answer them so many times, I get it. But try and recognize how your partner is feeling right now.
Imagine, too, that however many times your partner has asked you about your past, they’ve probably thought about it 5x MORE themselves. If you’re stressed by talking about something uncomfortable for an hour, imagine how stressed your partner feels thinking about it nonstop for five hours! ?
As difficult as it might be to understand why they’re torturing themselves with these jealous and irrational thoughts, that’s their reality. So, rather than getting irritated with them, try and empathize instead.
2. Don’t Point out How Irrational it is
Dear god, don’t tell your partner to calm down. ?♀️
Don’t point out that they’re being illogical or that their fears or irrational. They already know that and it doesn’t make them feel any better. In fact, it probably makes them feel worse.
Not only are they feeling anxious and insecure about your past, now they’re feeling anxious and insecure about the fact that they’re fixated on something so irrelevant! That’s only making them feel worse about themselves, driving the anxiety and insecurity further.
So don’t point out that they’re being irrational. Instead, you can recognize and point out that they’re experiencing a bout of Retroactive Jealousy.
Try saying something like: “I know this feels really upsetting to you, and I want to be supportive of you. I think you’re having some Retroactive Jealousy.”
As long as you’re NOT saying it in a patronizing tone, it’ll likely help diffuse the situation.
3. Don’t Answer their Questions
This one is hard to do – they’ll probably get mad and ask you over and over again. And not getting an answer will lead to more anger and frustration.
They might even say things like, “Well obviously you really did like her more because you’re not willing to tell me about it.” ?
I know! I’ve been the one saying such ridiculousness before! Because in the moment, when you’re feeling overwhelming anxiety, you’re not able to think rationally.
So, calmly tell them that you understand how frustrated they are and gently point out to them that they’re having some Retroactive Jealousy. And point out that the reason you’re NOT answering their questions is because of that, and not because the answers would be upsetting.
You can say something like, “I’m not trying to hide anything from you, but I know you’re experiencing some retroactive jealousy right now and I don’t want to feed into it by answering your questions. I’m sorry if that’s stressful for you.”
4. Find out what they’re Really upset about
It’s likely that what your partner is really afraid of is abandonment. Deep down, they’re worried about whether or not you really care about them.
They might feel insecure about a variety of things – maybe you did something sexually with an ex that they’re not willing to engage in. If you had a threesome, for example, they might feel angry at you and jealous about it, they might make you feel like you did something wrong by doing it.
And that is probably how they’re feeling! At least on the surface. ?
But the underlying insecurity is that they’re not willing to have a threesome, so they’re afraid of not being good enough for you.
They might not even be aware of this thought process, but in the back of their mind, they might be thinking “Eventually, he’ll leave to find someone who is willing to do that.”
5. Provide Reassurance the Right Way
In the moment, your partner thinks that they need a specific type of reassurance. The type they’re asking you for.
They don’t want to hear you say that you love them, they want to hear you answer their questions so that their thoughts can stop for a while.
But you know that doing that will only make things worse. Again, feeding into the obsessive thoughts will only perpetuate the cycle.
So instead, give them the right kind of reassurance. ?
Ask what it is that’s really bothering them. You don’t have to answer questions about the threesome you had, you don’t need to provide reassurance by telling them that it wasn’t even very good (even though that’s really what they want to hear), you just need to tell them that you’re happy with them and that they don’t need to worry about your commitment.
It could look something like: “I’m not going to answer those questions because I know it’s just your retroactive jealousy popping up again. But I want you to know that I love you, that I love our sex life, and that I’m not looking for anything else.”
Find out whats driving the insecurity and give reassurance for that.
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Do you have a partner who struggles with Retroactive Jealousy or anxiety? Or maybe you have your own personal experience with this type of anxiety.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other helpful tips.
Be sure to share this article with your nearest and dearest – or anyone else who you think might benefit from reading.And follow me on Instagram or Twitter for more insight into relationship issues – @deardatingb.
As always, loves, thanks for reading!
May I’m to late to comment on this post but what do you do if what exactly you described is what I’m going through with my partner. He’s have RJ about my past and asked me if I’ve engaged in a sexual act and I was open and honest and told him the truth. Since it’s been a uphill battle trying to understand him. I’ve reassured him and it doesn’t help. He’s asked me to look at it in his point of view and although I can put myself in his shoes at the same time it’s hard to understand where his anxious anxiety is coming from. I’ve done all steps without even being aware that it’s what was necessary. He feels I’m only thinking about myself. I’m lost for words and not sure if I should say anything.
Giving reassurance constantly is only exacerbating the problem – as you’ve found out. Instead, show him this article (or others like it) and explain that you:
A) want to give him reassurance, but are starting to feel like it’s creating a never-ending cycle of anxiety for him and frustration for you,
B) have tried to put yourself in his shoes but find that you can’t (and tell him why – is it that you don’t understand why he’s upset? is it that you have put yourself in his shoes and you don’t feel the way he does? etc.)
C) want him to understand how his RJ is making you feel and work together to fix it.
Hi Hannah, I’m in the same boat ☹️its been 9 months and i am so out of hope right now.
This article has been really helpful. I have been suffering with RJ for a few days now. It’s true that somewhere in the back of the mind I know it’s stupid and irrational but still can’t help thinking stuff. They just suddenly flash in front of the eyes. So the thing is I was in a relationship with a woman whom I loved a lot and due to long distance problems I broke up with her due to my own frustration. But we got back and tried to give our friendship a chance and everything was good until it wasn’t. We finally separated and stopped talking. Thing is I didn’t move on from her. Even though I didn’t talk to her I thought about her and finally reached out to her after almost an year hoping to rekindle things. And that’s about when she told me that in this time she have had flings with other men. All the kinds of sex that we once thought of having. I don’t know it triggered something in me and now it’s eating me up. All I can imagine is her with those guys even though I don’t know them. I know it’s not fault or something because it’s not like we were in a relationship or something and if she decided to do something in her life I don’t get to dictate if it was wrong or right since I feel hurt. That’s how I came across this article looking for a solution for this problem. I don’t wanna let her go since I really love her but most of the times with these obsessive thoughts I feel like maybe I should to spare both of us from hurtful moments.
Thank you so much for your article. It was really great. I have a question about having permanent relief. My boyfriend has been having RJ for over six months and it seems to keep getting worse. I made the mistake of answering his questions because I wanted to give him clarity but as you said it is only a temporary relief. My question is,
If we follow your steps, how can we get a permanent relief. And is there hope that he can overcome his RJ as it almost ended our relationship a few times. Thanks a lot.
Hi DB, thanks so much for this post. It’s given me perspective from the other side of the fence.
I found your post while googling ways to try and deal with my sudden onslaught of RJ (it’s on my mind almost constantly and I’m not sleeping well). I’m desperately avoiding asking her questions/bringing it up because I know it’s 100% about my own insecurities, and she shouldn’t be almost made to feel guilty for also enjoying sex in her past.
Strangely, I have no issue at all with her actual relationships, but she told me at a party last week that she’d slept with a friend of the guy I was chatting to (part of a group of younger guys in our village). It was before we were together, but I was confused as to why she told me – and she said “just in case it came up”. I just found that really weird so I did get a bit difficult about it and we had a very rare row that night (wondered if she was hiding something etc).
Since then I’ve not brought it up again (we made up – I acknowledged that her past is none of my business) but it’s eating me up for some reason – mainly because the group in question would have all been about 21 at the time, and my SO would have been probably 28. I know what groups of guys that age are like, and my stupid childish brain can’t stop picturing the discussions they’ll have undoubtedly have had, and thoughts they likely have every time they see her (it’s a small community here). Also I think I know who the guy is, and he’s much taller than me and jacked (much more than me!).
Regardless, she’s engaged to me, she loves me, we live together, we both have a past (I was married!) and everyone deserves to enjoy sex. I think it’s just because he’s so much younger than her and better built than me… and we have to see them regularly at village parties and gatherings etc.
Anyway sorry for the essay – I just wanted to add my perspective from a current RJ flare up. I’m aware it’s down to my insecurity and if I let this be an issue I risk losing everything (primarily the most amazing, caring, beautiful, intelligent and incredible woman I’ve ever met). I’m going to just keep doing my best to fight it, because this will only get worse otherwise.
Hopefully this might help others understand how crazy and difficult this mindset can be. Thanks again for your considerate and understanding post!
Thanks so much for sharing all of that. I always appreciate when people want to share their stories.
Also, I know how hard dealing with RJ can be – I’ve struggled with it in relationships for years. Learning to break that cycle is a process. But what helped me a lot was trying to look at the rationality of a situation. For the one you described with your girlfriend, I think she probably told you as a preemptive way to help soothe your anxiety.
I’m assuming that she knows about your RJ to begin with. She may have thought someone might have told you about the guy, or maybe it could come up in conversation with that friend group, if someone made a joke or reference to it. And, she probably knew if that did happen, it would really upset you. So, even though for you, it seems like “why did she tell me? Now I’m just bothered/obsessing over it?” In her mind, it was more like, “If I’m upfront and honest about this, he’ll know that it’s not a big deal so he won’t need to worry.”
I know it’s easier said than done, but try to imagine what you might do in her shoes. Also, imagine your own past relationships/hook-ups. If your girlfriend came to you worried or anxious about one of them, what would you think? Would you think, “Oh no, she’s right, Jane was really good looking and she definitely should be worried about that”? Or would you think, “Why is she worried about Jane? I haven’t thought about her for years and don’t have any desire to be with anyone other than GF”? Probably the latter, right? That’s exactly how your gf is feeling right now about you and the guy she was with previously.
I hope that helps!
Thanks for this! I think controlling your frustration is really helpful.
Yes, exactly! It can be so hard but you have to remember that they’re not doing it to frustrate you. They’re just anxious and not sure how to handle it.
It’s an impactful post, Katie! I think this Retroactive Jealousy is not only present in between the partners but have noticed this within friends and family too! All the five possible solutions which you’ve listed down are very much impactful who’s going through such anxiety! The most significant I noticed here is 4th and 5th one, since it’s always good to know the reason behind such feelings so that things can be work out and if after knowing the reason, if we feel that it may take some time them we can definitely provide the reassurance with a open heart! I think, it can help the partner or person to cope up with such anxiety bit better! It’s a great post, I really enjoyed it! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!
Thank you so much! I’m always happy to hear when someone finds my advice meaningful so thank you for your feedback and, of course, for reading!