Retroactive Jealousy: What It Is And Why You Can’t Get Over It

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by Jeff Billings in Retroactive Jealousy Blog
March 12, 2017
Retroactive Jealousy

If you constantly dwell on the details of who your partner once dated and/or had sex with, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from what’s known “retroactive jealousy”. There’s also a good chance you may not even have heard of retroactive jealousy before, or have any idea there was actually a name for your condition. This post may include affiliate links. 

This is because retroactive jealousy an unhealthy obsession with a partner’s romantic and/or sexual past — is probably one of the most confusing conditions out there.

If you have retroactive jealousy, a further twist of the knife comes with the fact that you probably don’t know why you’re feeling the way you do.

Understanding what retroactive jealousy is and how to overcome it, takes some sufferers months, years or even decades.

But don’t panic. There’s absolutely no reason why it should take that long at all.

And as you’re on this page, I’m guessing you want to learn exactly what is retroactive jealousy and how to get over it ASAP.

And that’s what I’m going to do in this post.

As retroactive jealousy is such a confusing condition for the sufferer, I want to lay out some bare facts and help you get over it by tackling the following areas:

  • What is retroactive jealousy?
  • What causes retroactive jealousy?
  • What can you do about retroactive jealousy?

So, let’s dive on in…

What Is Retroactive Jealousy?

retroactive jealousy

Retroactive jealousy is known by a variety of names — retrograde jealousy, retrospective jealousy, retroactive jealousy OCD, and so on — but they all describe the same thing:

An intense mix of repetitive negative thoughts and emotions about a partner’s past romantic and/or sexual activities, that lead to negative actions that can destabilize the relationship.

Let’s take a look at the negative thoughts and emotions first.

Retroactive Jealousy Symptom #1: Negative Thoughts

Many sufferers of retroactive jealousy become obsessed exclusively with their partner’s sex life before they met them. Usually, but not always, casual sex is the problem.

Getting over girlfriend’s past lovers can be pretty hard when thoughts and emotions go round and round in circles, maybe something like this:

“Why did she have to sleep with him so quickly? We dated for six weeks before going to bed.

Wasn’t she attracted to me in the same way?

I bet it was amazing.

I can picture her now, groaning with pleasure as he… Oh god why am I thinking about this?

Okay, just block it out. Don’t go there… I wonder what’s on TV tonight… That’s it…

But what a slut!

They did it everywhere. In his car… at a party… in a field…

And he looks such a jerk… Why did she do that? Doesn’t she have any morals?”

Other people get hung up on who their partner once dated, was married to, or in a long-term relationship with.

These people tend to spiral into a similar wormhole of over-thinking that goes something like this:

“He wants to go to Italy on holiday… I wonder why he wants to go back there?

I’m not going to Rome where he took her, if that’s what he’s thinking.

God I hate that bitch. With her perfect teeth and amazing hair…

Why am I getting upset over her again?

She left him… They obviously weren’t suited… And then he kind of wandered into a relationship with me…

Why didn’t he leave her if he wasn’t happy?

God I hate her.”

Whether you’re hung up on your husband/boyfriend’s, wife/girlfriend’s sexual past or romantic history, there’s only one thing that sets you apart from a non-sufferer of retroactive jealousy:

You’re thinking about your partner’s past constantly and consistently over many weeks, months or years, while they are not.

This form of repetitive over-thinking about the past means retroactive jealousy can be considered a form of OCD.

Indeed, it is often called What Is Retroactive Jealousy OCD? and I have more information on this if you follow the link.

Retroactive Jealousy Symptom #2: Negative Emotions

This constant replaying of the past, and confusion over why it’s happening, results in a bewildering array of negative emotions:

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

And so on.

The trouble is, this often results in the retroactive jealousy sufferer not knowing what exactly it is they’re feeling. Or why.

This confusion is the root of much of the problem with dealing with retroactive jealousy.

As the old saying goes, it’s vital to know your enemy if you want to defeat it, but more on this later.


Retroactive Jealousy Symptom #3: Negative Actions

This combination of repetitive negative thoughts and emotions, usually results in a variety of negative actions.

Here are some of the most common actions associated with retroactive jealousy that you may find yourself indulging in:

  • Playing scenarios over and over in your mind: the very process of getting stuck like a broken record on a particular moment in your partner’s past is an action in itself. Constantly mulling over what happened, and why you feel the way you do, can take up many hours of a retroactive jealousy sufferer’s day.
  • Digging to find out more about retroactive jealousy: as a sufferer of retroactive jealousy, it’s likely that you’re spending as much time trying to figure out why you’re feeling the way you do, as you do actually feeling it. And this means constantly Googling terms like “girlfriend’s sexual past” “boyfriend’s past lovers” and so on trying to figure out what’s going on in your head.
  • Digging to find out more about the past: you may also find yourself wanting to know more about your partner’s past in an effort to gain some sort of control over the situation. This often means going through their phone, Facebook account, photos, etc. Needless to say, this is very risky business.
  • Deliberately trying to make a partner feel bad: another symptom of retroactive jealousy can be a desire to lash out at a partner, endlessly quiz them, make snide remarks and generally make them feel bad about what they did in the past.

What Causes Retroactive Jealousy?

retroactive jealousy

In a word, knowledge.

Retroactive jealousy is always triggered by knowledge of a partner’s past — personal information and intimate details that get lodged in the brain and spiral out of all control.

Without knowledge of a partner’s past romantic and/or sexual activities, retroactive jealousy cannot exist.

Everyone has their own story of how retroactive jealousy got triggered: whether it’s having “the talk”, hearing a story, or having a f*** buddy call your partner at 2 a.m. for a late night hook-up. (The last one is mine by the way.)

Once retroactive jealousy has taken hold, it can be triggered by anything:

A song on the radio, seeing a name that’s the same as an ex, a location where you know they used to go, and so on.

In particularly severe cases of retrograde jealousy, it can forgo these triggers altogether and become an ever-present sensation at the forefront of the mind.

It’s not unusual in my clients for a partner’s past to be the first thing they think about when they wake up and the last thing before they go to sleep.

However, there is no single, magic reason why one person may end up suffering from a retroactive jealousy disorder, while another with a partner with comparable experiences, doesn’t.

You feel the way you do for a variety of reasons but, overall, retroactive jealousy can be caused by:

  • 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 retroactive 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 retroactive 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 retroactive 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 retroactive 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 retroactive 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.

Your retroactive jealousy may be being caused by one, two or more of these factors, but the two main emotions associated with it are fear and judgment.

Retroactive Jealousy and Fear

That feeling of being threatened by these people in your partner’s past, is due to fear.

On some level, you’re worried that you could lose them. But not to these ex-lovers from the past, but to someone new in the present.

In actual fact, you don’t really care about your partner’s former lovers — they’re just representations your mind has created of your worst fear: to lose your partner to somebody else.

The reason why you have this fear is probably down to a lack of self-belief.

If you were 100 percent super-confident in yourself and your relationship, would you still be consumed by incessant mulling over your partner’s romantic and/or sexual past?

Tom Bower, Tony Blair’s biographer, writes “He has this unstoppable self-belief and never ever thinks about the past.”

Fear and self-confidence are truly interlinked, and this is something you should work on if you want to overcome retroactive jealousy.

Retroactive Jealousy and Judgment

Another huge reason why you’re afflicted currently by retroactive jealousy could well be because you’re judging your partner’s past actions.

Without judgment it’s highly likely that much of your suffering would stop.

But right now you can’t help feeling that they shouldn’t have done certain things that don’t chime with your worldview.

This explains how people who are full of confidence in themselves and their relationship can still suffer from retroactive jealousy.

And why it doesn’t matter how many times your partner tells you they love you.

You know they love you. You know they don’t care about their ex-lover any more.

And yet… you still hate their past. Why?

Because you’re judging them for it.


What Can You Do About Retroactive Jealousy?

retroactive jealousy

If you’re looking for a single, magic bullet retroactive jealousy cure — there isn’t one.

There’s hard work. Or giving up and ending the relationship, which I never advise because you’ll only be plagued by retroactive jealousy in your next relationship.

This isn’t about your partner’s past. Everything that’s bringing you down right now is a product of your mind.

And so it’s this that we need to change.

I often get clients who’ve had counseling or are thinking of having counseling to try and cure their retroactive jealousy.

Again, personally I wouldn’t advise it and you can read why here:

My strategy for dealing with retroactive jealousy involves taking charge of your mind, behaviors and life.

As daunting as it possibly seems, overcoming retroactive jealousy is not as difficult as you think.

Right now you may feel trapped by your own mind, but this hold it seems to have over you isn’t as great as it appears.

In fact, it will melt away once you start taking action to defeat these negative thoughts and emotions.

Here are three simple things to get you started:

Stop Believing the Stories Created by Your Mind

The old cliche “the past is the past” is yet to help a single sufferer of retroactive jealousy.

But what does help is to reframe your partner’s past as a story.

A story created in your own head.

As human beings we love stories. Sapiens a book by Yuval Noah Hurari, lays out brilliantly how we’ve always created stories to make sense of the world.

Money, morality, gods, the past, the future — they’re all stories created by us to help us navigate the world.

And the same is true of your partner’s past.

Once you focus on the fact that not only does the past no longer exist, but what you’re hung up on is a fabricated story in the mind, it can help put things in perspective.

Stop Letting Your Ego Run Your Life

When you fall victim to petty emotions such as jealousy, you’re letting yourself be ruled by your ego.

Your ego creates jealously, anger, fear and judgment of your partner’s ex-lovers because it needs conflict to survive.

Your “conscious self” knows on an intellectual level that your partner’s past is irrelevant.

But your egoic “unconscious self” needs to create conflict in order to justify its existence.

And this where all your fears and insecurities are coming from.

Forgive me if this sounds all a little esoteric, but if you want to start getting over retroactive jealousy it’s important to gain control over your ego.

A great place to start is by reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

Sign Up to My Course, Coaching, or Buy the Book

I have a number of ways I can help you beat retroactive jealousy for good.

  • Read the book: The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure: How To Stop Being Jealous Of Your Partner’s Past in 12 Steps breaks shows you in twelve steps how to get over retroactive jealousy. Click here to get started.
  • Sign up for retroactive jealousy coaching: my personalized one-on-one coaching can be accessed via email, Skype or Facebook chat. Click here to get started.
  • Download the course: Overcoming Retrograde Jealousy 101 uses video, audio and other teaching methods to help you beat retroactive jealousy once and for all. Click here to get started.


To learn how to overcome a retroactive jealousy disorder, in twelve simple steps, click on the button below to grab a copy of The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure: How To Stop Being Jealous Of Your Partner’s Past in 12 Steps.



— Jeff

  1. Abby says:

    I love my boyfriend but I can’t move past his ex. I hate her so much and can’t stop. And him for loving her.

  2. Jane Doe says:

    I have really bad jealousy over my boyfriends ex who was a model. Can’t help comparing myself to her and wanting to punish him somehow.

  3. Drake says:

    I’ve been searching for info on RJ like this for ever, big thank you Jeff!

  4. Tony says:

    You seem to really know what you’re talking about. I will buy the course once I get paid.

  5. Bonni says:

    I cannot get pass him having sex with 2 others in our bed. I just can’t.

  6. STEVE says:

    we are having dinner we are 2 60 yr olds boyfriend and girlfriend of 19 months and a long distance relationship that has been wonderful and at dinner out shes telling me about a career she had on the road as a sales women and at the dinner table she starts telling me about how great this career she had and how good she had it , then she says out of the blue


  7. Eli Bishop says:

    I’m following your concept of Retro Jealously OCD and many things on the symptom/behavior areas is right on. I’m doing my best with my fiance, whom thinks she has Retro Jealousy OCD, so I’m researching, expanding my outlook and perspectives. One thing about this diagnosis of Retro Jealously OCD that absolutely scares the hell outta me is this could so easily be used by every person whom is guilty of cheating compulsively, to hide behind the banner of Retro Jealously OCD. People who obsess about a person’s sexual past, and here is the key…you say it’s the “casual sex” events of the past that is the sufferers problem…well, hang on a sec. Isn’t that what we call, guilty conscience? The person that constantly accuses someone of cheating and they accuse repetitively…well, real life has shown me that they are actually the cheating guilty party. Simple rule, yet never changing. Maybe there are people that truly suffer from this Retro Jealously OCD, but I think this is gonna have every cheater that would rather burn in fire alive than tell the truth, to hide behind this. All your symptoms and behavior traits and reactions of a sufferer of Retro Jealously OCD, are the exact mirror image of a person whom has the constitutional incapability to be honest with themselves about their infidelity. This really has me concerned and I’m very much now dedicated to great depths of validity and credibility for said sufferer. I pray to God whatever God that may be, that my research proves me wrong.

  8. Lyssa says:

    My boyfriend constantly verbally abuses me because of my past. He will call me names, tell me that I was a whore, ask me how he is supposed to feel special when I used to be so easy and if I’ve done everything then I’m comparable to a porn star and other similar insults. His stories that he yells at me about are often completely made up and he tells me that he knows I always think about them. I reassure him that I in fact don’t that I never have, that he is the only one who thinks about them but it doesn’t do anything. She continues to insult me and call me names. He says I have done so many terrible things by having boyfriends before I met him and having sex with said boyfriends, that doing those things makes me such a terrible person that I do not have the right to judge him for anything he is done. Not that I would ever judge him for his past, but if I were to ever bring up that he has also had other girlfriends and has had sex with them he would say something like it’s different for a guy or he didn’t care about them. A large part of his verbal abuse is based around him hating the fact that he doesn’t feel special being with me because my past disgusts him. I don’t know how to help him anymore and I’m sick of being hurt all the time and being judged for things that happened years ago.

  9. Unknown says:

    What do I do if I have retroreactive jealousy but never had a sexual past and my partner has

    1. Ghost gal says:

      Nobody knows me here … so here I start hello I am 19 and have been in 2 relationships one was when I was 15 years old I was with a girl way older she ended up being a narc and cheating on me … the thing about her cheating was because she was trying to rush me getting sexual with her and I refused so she cheated with someone who at the time was also fuckin and sucking her bestfriend … fast forwards to my new relationship got together at about a year ago she has a past partner who is obsessed with her etc and my partner is more experienced sexually than I am she has a past. I do not and may I add we she is a year younger than me.. anyways I have gotten sexual with her because I was ready anyways… a conversation came up where she was talking about how I performed sexually and her ex basically it was a terrible conversation!! She completely hurt me I understand criticizing but she was just being overly rude the same day she asked me to be her girlfriend because she was scared I was going to leave her … unfortunately I didn’t lol now I’m here. She constantly talked about her ex compared me to them and even in my face watched their explicit videos together just was being disrespectful even allowed her ex to disrespect me on the phone so fast forward we are now about to be 2 years and she doesn’t do any of the stuff she used to. BUT. she did so much that I Internlized and now I deal with it I’ve become obsessed with trying to figure out what was so great about this ex and their sex . She mentioned to me that she has a sex demon she names and it comes out when she really is turned on but told me I don’t bring that out of her! All the comparisons and slick comments she’s made the disrespectful shit she do I want to let go of and move forward but me being cheated on in the past to get into a new relationship where I wasn’t actually cheated on but betrayed and showed disloyal to is hard to shake off. So I started wondering why I had certain thoughts etc and I came across this post and it sounds like this might be what I’m experiencing but I did not choose this and never was insecure or mad about her past till. She brought it into our PRESENT! Like recently may 2023 recently smh . I hate that I’m this way because of mfs I choose to date smh but I love her and want to continue our relationship…. Idk how tho sorry for the vent I hold a lot in. Also it hurts that every time my sexuality is brought into why my partners do what they do smh. – ghost gal 🙁

  10. Sag says:

    You guys are all crazy nuts

  11. Spike says:

    Hello I suffer from it and knew something was wrong I’m a smart guy but didn’t know I suffer from it I’ve been working on it yes sometimes I think about it my wife a lot of times talk about her ex and felt insecure sence I knew it wasn’t right I’ve been working on it and it’s been 4 years she’s always talking about her past and she says she was a whore back in day and I still picture it but I treated her with love found the article and knew I had it I do try to figure out past but she knows I suffer from it I told her long time ago don’t let me know I’ll work it out she the best we are one it is hard but can be controlled we are still strong I might still visiolize past or ask her questions but most time under control it’s rough but if you keep working at it it helps she has it to we’ve both been hurt I try changing way I think it isn’t easy never goes away so it’s not the end and as time goes by it gets easier yes she cheated on me first week we was together but I forgave her I can’t say I’m best at control over illness but I can say change to positive let your partner know you have it work together and set some rules yes it will still bother you but keep working at it that’s my advise but like I said there might be better ways than my idea but it works for us

  12. ile says:

    I have a girlfriend, were young, idk I try not to think about her ex lovers and shes a virgin still but I once went on her phone and saw she called her old relationship partners in crime and tried doing the same thing to ours and I honestly dont know why the little things make me so mad… I want to bring this up to her but I dont want her to be mad at me i guess..

  13. 40yr old male says:

    I had it real bad but something changed when she told me that she slept with a lot of guys because she was lonely and insecure. From her days of casual sex not one guy stuck around or asked for more. As she is very attractive I realised that she wanted to feel loved and was afraid to be lonely. Her job wasn’t great at the time and inside she actually felt like a bit of a loser so she thought picking up guys would make her feel better. I didn’t know all this until she finally opened up about it but she was reluctant to share this information because its her deepest most private vulnerabilities. Most girls won’t admit this or they’ll blame it on being young and stupid but really they were mostly lonely, craving attention and just needing some form of physical touch or affection.

    Its different for everyone but also its your own up bringing. I would suggest getting this ocd under control then doing what u need to do in order to feel like you’ve lived your best life.

  14. Jannie says:

    As a women you should not throw yourself at guys immediately you will only be told your a slut, abused and treated like shit. For women out there wait especially when there is red flags. 90 percent of men won’t respect a women who jumps on their dick first night.

  15. Anonym says:

    Since my boyfriend and i started to talk about our past before we started dating, not a day passes wothout me thinking of his past. The thought of it is hard enough for me to try to process it but the main Problem is, that i still see all these girls because nearly all of them are living near my town. So at every Party, or any other gathering, they are there too and it makes me sick. Two of them even told me that they had something with my boyfriend before me…i cant get over the scenarios in my Head. My boyfriend always tells me to stop comparing myself and worrying because they all don‘t matter to him but somehow, no matter what he says, its Never enough for me to silence the thoughts my head. I am so overwhelmed with this situation

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