Retroactive Jealousy Definition & How To Stop Being Jealous

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by Jeff Billings in Retroactive Jealousy Blog
March 10, 2017
retroactive jealousy definition

Have you been searching for a retroactive jealousy definition for months on end and not getting very far? 

Are you fed up with continually thinking about your partner’s romantic or sexual history, but don’t know how to stop? 

Are you sick and tired of feeling confused and frustrated because you’re a rational person who “shouldn’t be feeling this way”?

You can officially breathe a sigh of relief — you’re in the right place.

In this post, I’m going to give you the ultimate retroactive jealousy definition so you’ll know just what exactly is going on inside your mind and body.

I’m going to take a look at the nuts and bolts of retrograde jealousy and break it down step by step, showing you how and why it arose in the first place.

No more confusion. No more doubt.

Here’s the 5-part program I’ll be covering in this post:

  • Retroactive jealousy definition Pt. 1: the three key components of retroactive jealousy
  • Retroactive jealousy definition Pt. 2: RJ sufferer vs. a non-sufferer
  • Retroactive jealousy definition Pt. 3: what’s really going on inside you?
  • Retroactive jealousy definition Pt. 4: why is this happening to you?
  • Retroactive jealousy definition Pt. 5: how to start overcoming retroactive jealousy

Once you know the answer to questions like, What is retroactive jealousy? and Why am I hung up on my partner’s past? you’ll be in a much better position to fight it.

As you may or not know, I used to suffer terribly from a pretty severe retroactive jealousy myself.

But having beaten it (by myself) I set up this website in order to help fellow sufferers get over it much quicker than I did.

Many people now write to me saying they’ve only just discovered what retroactive jealousy is after reading my book or taking my course.

Here’s some typical feedback I receive from people on a regular basis:

“Hi Jeff,

After 10+ years of suffering with what I just discovered was reactive jealousy, I just finished reading your book. Wow! It was just what I was searching for.”

So, without further ado, let’s dive on in.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition Pt. 1: The 3 Components Of Retroactive Jealousy

retroactive jealousy definition

In its simplest terms:

Retroactive jealousy is a negative emotional reaction to a loved one’s past romantic or sexual history, that results in obsessive thoughts and repetitive negative actions.

Here are the three retroactive jealousy symptoms associated with the condition — negative thoughts, emotions and actions — in more detail:

Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts, of course, vary from person to person and are dependent on the situation, but can generally be broken down into four categories:

  • images of a partner having sex with someone else in the past
  • images of a partner enjoying someone else’s company in the past
  • images of a specific ex or former sexual partner
  • internal “monkey chatter” about a partner’s past sexual exploits
  • internal “monkey chatter” about a partner’s past romantic experiences

These obsessive negative thoughts can arise in the mind in two ways:

  • involuntarily pop into the head
  • be “triggered” by something: a name, place, event, etc.

A retroactive jealousy sufferer will usually have negative thoughts about their partner’s past enter the mind through both means.

Negative Emotions

Negative emotions come as a direct result of these negative thoughts.

It’s important to understand that without first having a negative thought it’s impossible to have a negative emotion.

Again, these are generalizations, but most retroactive jealousy sufferers will experience most of these symptoms at some point:

  • jealousy
  • envy
  • fear
  • judgment
  • betrayal
  • doubt
  • confusion
  • self-hatred
  • resentment
  • anger
  • disgust
  • helplessness
  • anxiety
  • nausea

It’s this mix of various emotions that makes retrospective jealousy so hard to beat because it leaves the sufferer feeling confused and disorientated.

The rational mind knows it’s silly to have a negative emotional reaction to events that happened in the past and have no bearing on the present.

But nevertheless the emotions are still there, and it’s this confusion over why that’s a big part of the reason why retroactive jealousy can go on for so long.

Negative Actions

The result of these repetitive, negative thoughts and emotions are often (but not always) negative actions.

Retroactive jealousy sufferers sometimes find themselves doing one or all of the following:

  • spending hours trawling websites and books searching for help
  • snooping through a partner’s personal belongings looking for information
  • sniping at a partner, making sarcastic comments, and starting arguments
  • setting up Gestapo-style interrogation sessions, asking questions about their past

So, these are the three key components of a retroactive jealousy disorder.

The first two — obsessive negative thoughts and emotions — are essential for retroactive jealousy to exist.

Negative actions, however, are not essential as some people suffer in silence without “acting out” at all.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition Pt. 2: What Separates A Sufferer From A Non-Sufferer?

The key word associated with the three retroactive jealousy symptoms detailed above is “obsessive”.

The truth is, NO ONE likes hearing about those fantastic years they spent with an ex who “taught them so much about life”.

Or the amazing sex life they had during their college years, sleeping with random people every week. “Those years really opened me up sexually!”

But while a non-sufferer may only think about their partner’s past very occasionally, like when it comes up in conversation, a sufferer will dwell on it constantly — to the point of obsession.

It’s this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) element to these negative thoughts, emotions and actions that separates a retroactive jealousy sufferer from a non-sufferer.

In fact, retroactive jealousy is also sometimes known as retroactive jealousy OCD.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition

Retroactive Jealousy Definition Pt. 3: What’s Really Going On Inside You?

This OCD quality to retroactive jealousy manifests itself in a vicious cycle of thoughts, emotions and actions.

Here’s the specific process that’s occurring every time you become overwhelmed with retroactive jealousy:

  • a negative thought is triggered or involuntarily pops into the mind
  • a negative emotion arises in the body
  • a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and emotions begins
  • a negative action is sometimes, but not always, taken

The gap between each stage may be a micro-second, but it’s impossible to feel upset, angry, anxious, or any emotion at all without first thinking about it.

All emotions can be physically felt in the body — usually in the chest or stomach — and from here it’s all too easy to spiral down into a vicious circle of overthinking and actions.

You can test how this is working in your mind and body right now:

Have a think about something you regret or that annoys from the past.

You can pick your partner’s past but you don’t have to. Choose anything that bugs you whenever you think about it:

That thing you should’ve said, or shouldn’t have done. That situation from three weeks ago or three years ago that still brings you down whenever you think about it.

Notice this time how, once you think about it, your emotion changes from a positive to a negative.

You may feel an actual physical tension in the body at this point — in your head, chest or stomach.

This is exactly what’s happening when a thought pops in your mind about your partner’s past.

The difference is, with retroactive jealousy it then overcomes your thoughts and emotions and may cause you to take action — lash out at your partner, snoop through their belongings, and so on.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition Pt. 4: Why Is This Happening To You?

retroactive jealousy definition

Kyle has been with his new girlfriend, Jane, for a month and they’re very much in love.

A couple of weeks ago he found out she had a pretty active sex life before they met: friends-with-benefits, one-night-stands, and about thirty sexual partners in total.

Kyle sometimes teases Jane about her “crazy” past, but doesn’t really care about what happened or dwell on it.

The other day, they ran into one of her sex buddies in a bar, and Kyle shook his hand and promptly forgot about him.

Let’s take a look at another couple: Steve and Violet. They too have been dating for about a month and are totally in love.

Steve recently found out that Violet also had an active sex life before meeting him: various one-night and two-night-stands, sex buddies, and that she’s slept with around thirty guys.

He wishes he’d never asked about her past as now it seems to occupy his every waking hour.

Last week, Steve noticed she had become friends on Facebook with an ex f*** buddy and completely freaked out. They had another massive row and she threatened to leave him.

The question is: why do two guys in comparatively similar situations, react to their girlfriend’s sexual past in completely opposite ways?

The answer to this question may tell you quite a bit about why you’re suffering from retroactive jealousy.

Society and Evolution

The obvious reason why we as human beings get jealous about our partner’s past is because we’ve been biologically programed to do so.

There’s nothing any of us can do about this. Our brains have been hardwired to be wary of the opposite sex in order to make sure our genes get successfully passed on.

This is why men tend to get jealous about their wife or girlfriend’s sexual past.

It’s a throwback to our male ancestors not wanting to be stuck raising another man’s child, which is suggested by sexually “loose” behavior.

This is also why women tend to instead get jealous about their husband or boyfriend’s romantic history.

It’s a throwback to our female ancestors not wanting to be stuck raising a child alone while their man falls in love and takes off with another woman.

Bringing things up to the present day, modern society also plays a role in propagating retroactive jealousy.

This is especially true with male-centric sexual jealousy in a society that condones men having multiple partners but shames women.

And, particularly since the female sexual revolution in the 1960s, women have been having many more partners than they used to, which leads to many a Madonna-whore complex.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition

Personal Internal and External Factors

Someone who suffers from retroactive jealousy is almost always not really upset about their partner’s past, but about what it represents.

There’s something inside you, in other words, that’s causing you to react to your partner’s past in such a negative way.

This is why Kyle in the earlier example, isn’t bothered by his girlfriend’s sexual past, while Steve is crushed by it.

They both have girlfriend’s with roughly the same sexual experiences, but their personal life experiences are causing them to react in totally different ways.

Take a look at the list of personal factors below that are common with retroactive jealousy sufferers and see if any ring true with you.

  • lack of self-confidence
  • parent’s divorced while young
  • being judgmental generally of people
  • feelings of sexual inadequacy
  • lack of sexual experience
  • abandoned as a child
  • history of depression
  • sexually experienced but tendency to dwell on it
  • a creative, sensitive, imaginative, overactive mind
  • have been cheated on in the past by a partner

One or two, or many of these factors may be underlying reasons for why you have a retroactive jealousy disorder.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition Pt. 5: How To Start Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy

retroactive jealousy definition

Is there a retroactive jealousy cure for all this? Thankfully, yes.

While overcoming retroactive jealousy may appear impossible to you right now, it’s not actually that hard to beat.

Basically, it involves:

  • altering the way you think about the past
  • quitting certain behaviors
  • implementing new behaviors

Once this has started, getting over retroactive jealousy can be achieved quite quickly.

If you suffer from jealous thoughts about the past, I have some retroactive jealousy therapy options:

A course:Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy 101”. This course tells you EVERYTHING about how to get over retroactive jealousy in twelve video modules.

A book: The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure: How To Stop Being Jealous Of Your Partner’s Past in 12 Steps“. My first book has now been helping people overcome retroactive jealousy for over three years.

A coaching program:Personal Retroactive Jealousy Coaching”. I also coach clients via Skype or email on a one-on-one basis.

Now you have a retroactive jealousy definition, you have no excuses.

You now know the answers to, What is retroactive jealousy? Why am I suffering from retroactive jealousy? and so on.

And so from here all you need to do is implement the exercises that will cure your retroactive jealousy for good.

Don’t let these mental hallucinations drag you down for a day longer than necessary.

Join these customers who’ve overcome retroactive jealousy today.


So, I hope that’s gone some way to giving you a retroactive jealousy definition and answering the question of what is retroactive jealousy.

Does my retroactive jealousy definition resonate with you? How long have you been struggling trying to work out what you’re feeling and why?

Do you have your own theories? I’d love to hear them. Or maybe you’ve found your own retroactive jealousy cure?

Let me know in the comments section below.

And for a step-by-step action plan for dealing with retroactive jealousy, check out my best-selling e-Book: How To Stop Being Jealous Of Your Partner’s Past In 12 Steps: 

Retroactive Jealousy Definition



  1. Trisha says:

    Jeff, you’re a star! Thanks for helping me get over my husband’s past.

  2. Eli says:

    This post has cleared up a lot for me. I feel strangely better just from knowing more about rj. Thank you Jeff.

  3. Wang says:

    Very informative article, thank you Jeff for sharing.

  4. JP says:

    Mainly, I play the “mental movies” of my gf being intimate and wonder what he thinks about it and how he and her remember it. Does he judge her? Does he think about having sex with her in various intimate positions? Almost certainly not, but my mind goes there. I can get to a healthy state when I remember that everyone has a past and that I wish nothing but the best for the people with whom I’ve had sex, but as you know, this isn’t always easy! I want to feel free and happy. I often do, but not as much as I’d like. Any thoughts or specifics for me? Some days I feel really good and close to shedding this tiresome skin, but other days are tough.

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