Retrograde Jealousy: What Is It And Why Do You Have It?

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by Jeff Billings in Retroactive Jealousy Blog
April 18, 2017

Do you suffer from retrograde jealousy? You could well do if you incessantly mull over details surrounding who your partner slept with or had a relationship with in the past. 

If you’ve never heard of retrograde jealousy before, don’t worry, all will soon be revealed.

Retrograde jealousy is simply a fixation on a partner’s sexual or dating history, and is possibly one of the most puzzling conditions out there.

At least for the person going through it.

If you suffer from retrograde jealousy, there’s a good chance you don’t know why you’re feeling these feelings.

Understanding retrograde jealousy and learning how to beat it, can take some people decades.

However, there’s no reason why it should take you that long.

All you need is some guidance, and this is what I’m going to give you in this post.

I’m going to set out a few bare facts that will help you overcome retrograde jealousy by examining these areas:

  • What is retrograde jealousy?
  • Why are you suffering from retrograde jealousy?
  • How can you get over retrograde jealousy?

So, let’s jump on in…

What Is Retrograde Jealousy?

Retrograde Jealousy

Retrograde jealousy is also known by the terms “retroactive jealousy”, “retrospective jealousy” and “retroactive jealousy OCD”.

However, they all relate to the same thing:

A baffling collection of incessant thoughts and emotions concerning a partner’s past sexual and/or romantic history, which leads to actions and possible destabilization or destruction of the relationship.

Retrograde Jealousy Symptom #1: Negative Thoughts

A large proportion of people with retrograde jealousy become fixated on their partner’s previous sex life before they met.

They are often men, and in most cases casual sex, rather than “ordinary sex” in a relationship is the problem.

Thoughts and emotions around the subject get stuck in a never-ending loop.

“I can’t believe she’s had sex with twenty-five guys… And she’s only twenty-four…

What a slut… No, I can’t call her that… What about me? I’m hardly a choir boy…

But it’s different for women… She should’ve shown more respect for her body…

Do I really want to be with a girl who behaves like that?

God, I wonder if she’s ever had a threesome… I need to find out asap…”

Others (mainly women) become obsessed with relationships and who their partner once loved.

“He wants to go to France this year… Why? Didn’t he take her there?

That’s right, it was Marseilles wasn’t it?

Oh god, I can picture them now… Enjoying a drink outside on a summer evening…

Going back to the hotel and… God, why am I getting all worked up over this again?

She’s gone. Done. In the past. Stay logical, dammit.

So why do I feel like he loved her more than he loves me?”

The truth is, there’s only one single factor that differentiates you from someone who doesn’t suffer from retrograde jealousy:

You think about it and they don’t.

Repetitive over-thinking of this kind puts retrograde jealousy into the category of OCD.

I have more information on Retroactive Jealousy OCD here if you follow the link.

Retrograde Jealousy Symptom #2: Negative Emotions

Constantly replaying the past over and over, while at the same time getting more and more confused over why, can result in a startling variety of negative emotions:

  • judgment
  • anxiety
  • betrayal
  • doubt
  • disgust
  • anger
  • jealousy
  • envy
  • self-hatred
  • fear

And so on.

This results in a sufferer of retrograde jealousy not knowing what they’re feeling or why they’re feeling it.

And this is the reason why many find dealing with retrograde jealousy so hard.

Retrograde Jealousy

Retrograde Jealousy Symptom #3: Negative Actions

Incessant negative thoughts and emotions surrounding a partner’s past, usually results in negative actions.

Here are some common negative actions that you may recognize:

  • Exploring the past situation in your mind: the process of keep returning to a particular phase in your partner’s past is a negative action in itself. A retrograde jealousy sufferer can lose many hours a day to constantly dwelling on what happened, why it happened and what it all means.
  • Learning more about retrograde jealousy: it’s very common for people with retrograde jealousy to spend as much time thinking about the past as trying to figure out what retrograde jealousy is. This means spending hours reading forums, blog posts, books and so on, trying to work out what the heck’s going on.
  • Quizzing a partner about their past: asking questions about the past is often done in an attempt to find out more information and in doing so alleviate the pain. The theory is, if you know more, you’ll have a better understanding, more control, and may hear what you want to hear.
  • Invading a partner’s personal space: this means rummaging through a partner’s cell phone, social media accounts, emails, photos, and so on. Again, these actions are intended to make oneself feel better by feeling more in control and getting a handle on the situation.
  • Lashing out at a partner: this involves making snide and sarcastic comments about a partner’s past in an effort to put them down and make them feel bad about their actions in the past. Needless to say it often leads to arguments and can lead to an undermining of the relationship.

What Causes Retrograde Jealousy?

Retrograde Jealousy

In the first instance, retrograde jealousy is caused by knowledge.

As it’s a condition obsessed with something that isn’t real, as the past no longer exists, retrograde jealousy is simply the mind’s reaction to information it doesn’t like.

It has to be triggered by a knowledge of past intimate details in order for it to grow.

Without this knowledge of your partner’s past activities, it cannot exist.

We all have a different story of how our retrograde jealousy was triggered. And we all have different pieces of information that was inserted into the brain to set it all off.

But we all have the same (or similar) responses to this knowledge: an overreaction and descent into a hell of overthinking and overanalyzing.

Once retrograde jealousy takes hold, it can then be triggered by almost anything that reminds the brain of the past.

Often it doesn’t even need reminding — the past is simply always there in the present — like a background hum to everything you do.

It’s fairly common for a partner’s past to be the first thing someone thinks about upon waking up in the morning, and the last thing before falling asleep at night.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic reason why you suffer from a retrograde jealousy while someone else, who maybe has a partner with a similar past to yours, doesn’t.

Overall, retrograde jealousy can affect people for any number of reasons, including:

  • Genetics: on a fundamental level, some people are more prone to fall victim to negative emotions such as jealousy, anger, fear, and so on than others, due to their genetic make-up.
  • Evolution: millions of years ago, a desire to stop our partner’s from straying so we could pass on our genes, resulted in us developing negative emotions concerning them, such as jealousy, envy, and judgment. The fact that you “hate” your partner’s past is a direct throwback to this period in the dawn of human history.
  • Society: not all cultures suffer from retrograde jealousy. Certain cultures and tribes around the world share their partners openly and experience no jealousy whatsoever, which means it’s partly a product of society and dependent on where you were raised.
  • Upbringing: the influences you had as a child growing up can greatly impact on whether you end up suffering from retrograde jealousy or not. Parents, school, religion, society, etc. can all help determine your attitudes toward marriage, love, casual sex, idealism, the opposite sex, and so on.
  • Dating history: people who’ve been cheated on tend on average to be more likely to suffer from retrograde jealousy than those who haven’t. A lack of trust plays a big part in the condition, and so naturally, if you’ve had it broken by someone in the past, you’re more likely to fear it happening again.
  • Physical and mental health: what we eat, how much we exercise, and our mental state in general, can all play a part in exacerbating retrograde jealousy. Both our body and our brains need the right kind of fuel and if you’re not giving it to them, they can act out by becoming obsessed with trivialities.
  • Lack of self-confidence: the majority of retrograde jealousy sufferers have, in some form or another, a lower opinion of themselves than they should. This results in comparing themselves to their partner’s ex-lovers and invariably coming off second best.

Some, or all, of these factors may be playing a part in why you’re plagued by retrograde jealousy.

However, when we get down to brass tacks, the two biggest single reasons are fear and judgment.

Fear And Retrograde Jealousy

You may think you’re quite a confident person, but if you look deeply within yourself are you in some way afraid that your partner may leave you for someone better?

This is why your mind keeps throwing up these images of them with an ex-lover — it’s a representation of your fear of them being with someone else.

Yes, it may have happened years ago, but that visceral fear of losing them is manifesting itself in these repeated thoughts and emotions about their past.

This person or people you’re so hung up about in your partner’s past are just ghostly representations of your present fear of losing them.

Judgment And Retrograde Jealousy

Judgment also plays a huge part in distinguishing those who suffer from retrograde jealousy from those who don’t.

If you didn’t look down your nose at the amount of people your girlfriend has slept with, or who your husband dated, it’s highly likely you wouldn’t feel as bad as you do.

Judgment is simply our mind’s way of keeping us separate from what is.

Rather than accept what is, we create problems, issues and judgments because things aren’t how they should be.

And this is what helps make getting over our boyfriend or getting over girlfriend’s past lovers so hard.

How Can You Get Over Retrograde Jealousy?

retrograde jealousy

There are several retroactive jealousy cure options available to you and so let’s take a look at each now in turn.

Retrograde Jealousy Cure #1: Get Counseling

Seeking professional help from a therapist works for some, if you can afford it.

Personally, I believe it’s not really the best solution as 99% of therapists have zero experience with retrograde jealousy.

Not only that, but it takes ages to find someone suitable and costs a small fortune. Check out this post for more info: Should You Pay For Retroactive Jealousy Therapy.

If you do decide to go for it, choose Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) rather than traditional “Tell me about your childhood” counseling.

Retrograde Jealousy Cure #2: Leave Your Partner

You’d be surprised the amount of people email me asking if they should just break up with their partner because they can’t take the jealousy about their past anymore.

This is what’s known as a band-aid remedy.

If you decide to throw in the towel on the relationship, all that will probably happen is you’ll end up feeling the exact same way about your next partner’s past.

This is because the problem lies in your own head, not in your partner’s past behavior.

And your fears, insecurities, judgments and so on will simply follow you into the next relationship.

Therefore, this option is not recommended. It’s better to knuckle down and do the work required to “fix” yourself.

Retrograde Jealousy

Retrograde Jealousy Cure #3: Do The Work Needed To Cure Yourself

As daunting as it may seem at first, getting over retrograde jealousy by yourself is not as hard as you may think.

In fact, it can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever accomplish in your life.

The truth is, you’re only feeling the way you do right now because your mind has become trapped by a certain way of thinking.

And, as I’ve already mentioned, these thoughts are leading to negative emotions, which in turn are making you act out and do things you know you shouldn’t:

Pick fights with your partner, invade their personal space, and spend hours Googling “how do I stop being jealous of my partner’s past”, etc.

And so the vicious cycle of negative thoughts, emotions and actions continues…

The problem is, it won’t go away by itself. If this was the case, it probably would have done so already.

(Trust me, I know this because I get emails from people who’ve been plagued by retrograde jealousy for fifteen years or more.)

Likewise, it won’t go away simply by reading a blog post, watching a video, or being reassured by your partner just how much they love you.

While these activities may help in the short term, they are passive and therefore unlikely to magically make your retrospective jealousy disappear overnight.

In short, you can’t think your way out of it by going over and over in your head what happened in the past, why you’re jealous, or what to do about it all.

You need a plan.

The three steps to this plan to getting over retrograde jealousy go like this:

  • Understanding retrograde jealousy: this involves learning about the reasons why we as human beings fall victim to conditions like this, and why you personally may be feeling the way you do.
  • Rewiring the mind: the second phase involves changing the way you think about your partner’s past and seeing it in a positive rather than a negative light. It means breaking the negative habit loop that’s already in place in your mind and replacing it with positive thoughts and emotions not only about your partner’s past, but about yourself.
  • Take action: once you’ve retrained the mind it’s time to take practical action as it’s only by doing that you can really break the so-called power retrograde jealousy currently has over you. This means doing a number of practical exercises daily, until they become part of your routine, gradually reducing the effects of retrograde jealousy.

You can access all three parts to the plan right now in a few different ways.


To learn how to quit your retroactive jealousy disorder, click on the button below to purchase my book The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure: How To Stop Being Jealous Of Your Partner’s Past in 12 Steps.

Retrograde Jealousy


— Jeff

  1. Kathleen says:

    Hi Jeff!

    I happen to stumble upon your blog via Pinterest of all places. I’ve struggled with ruminations about my partner’s past for so long, it’s hard to know exactly when it became a *thing* for me. I, too, had a similar experience of multiple past women, one in particular, coming back into my partner’s life. I scoured the internet, I stalked Facebook, I have done some crazy behaviors I am embarrassed to admit all because of this jealousy. I get it. Even know, almost three years after we began dating and engaged, I still feel it creep in now and again. I look forward to checking out your work and hope it provides greater insight for me.

    1. Hey Kathleen, thanks for your comment, greatly appreciated!

      Sorry to hear that it’s still creeping in now and again, but at least it sounds like you’re over the worst of it.

      It is something however that may never truly “disappear” for good (I still have images pop into my head now and again) but this is okay. It’s perfectly natural, and maybe even beneficial, to have a small degree of jealousy in a relationship.

      The problem arises when it gets out of hand like with you and I and we end up obsessed with the subject. But as I said, it sounds like you’re over that now, so well done.

      I am working on some new bonus material to go in blog posts and with the book and so I hope this helps you out further.

      All the best,

      — Jeff

  2. Dan H. says:

    My story is very similar to yours. At the beginning of my relationship with my girlfriend she kept getting these messages from random guys. After a lot of digging, I found out that she was seeing several guys for casual sex before we met, which really upset me. The thing that annoyed me the most was that they kept contacting her although she told them that she’s with me now!

  3. Kelly says:

    Agree with this post 100%. I tried councelling to get over my retroactive jealousy and all it did was burn a huge hole in my purse. Will be buying your book soon. Thanks x

  4. Hernanes says:

    This is just what Ive been looking for. These thoughts have been going round and round my head for so long it’s almost like they’re a part of me haha. I think I can see what i need to do now though so thanks Jeff.

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