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Retroactive Jealousy: Partner Past Obsession

Retroactive Jealousy: Partner Past Obsession

What is retroactive jealousy?

When it comes to jealousy, it has become such a common topic that most of us understand a thing or two when the issue emerges.

Being jealous has become common since many life factors may once a while be triggers to these emotions. The good thing, if we don’t get to damage our relationships in the jealousy spree, then we have nothing to worry about.

But when we get obsessed with our partner’s past love relationships, then it becomes serious. Retroactive jealousy happens when someone obsesses and gets jealous of their partner’s past love and romantic relationships with other people.

This feeling makes such people constantly think about their partner’s previous lovers and develop dangerous and negative acts. According to Emily Cook, a family therapist practicing in Maryland, retroactive jealousy may range from curious to obsessive to avoidant in most people.

Most people with retroactive jealousy don’t get to the dangerous stages, and the feeling may subside within a few days or weeks. But if it gets obsessive, then the condition may show up in unhealthy and destructive manners. This way, the situation leads to a damaged romantic relationship between lovers.

Psychology of retroactive jealousy

Retroactive jealousy involves a psychological condition whereby we get an unhealthy obsessive interest in the past romantic life of our romantic partners. People with this condition will overthink about sexual relationships other people had with their partners to the extent of threatening their romantic relationship.

The person will often think that their partner might still be cheating on them with their previous lovers. This obsession leads them to perform actions that may put their relationship at risk to satisfy their obsessive urge.

This mental fixation haunts the victim day and night, forming thoughts of unfaithfulness from their partners constantly. This condition will make you unfocused on anything and provide a constant worry about everything that your partner does.

The worst nightmare is to not think of anything else apart from what your partner might done with their previous lovers. When it gets here, it becomes intense and concerning. With time, a person gets paranoid and easily irritable. Everything your partner does become suspicious, and you don’t get to enjoy each other’s company. Some people may also get violent and non-trusting to their partners, resulting in ending the relationship.

Mostly, there may be no reason for us to get jealous of our partner’s past romantic relationships. But retroactive jealousy causes many relationships to end if not addressed as early as possible.

What are the types of retroactive jealousy?

This psychological condition manifests itself in the following three ways.

Mild to moderate form

With this type of retroactive jealousy, the jealousy emotions get no different from the typical jealousy feelings experienced by partners in a healthy romantic relationship. Although some relationships don’t manifest jealousy tendencies, these forms will give you the extent of retroactive jealousy in relationships.

Anybody will develop protective emotions towards their partners, especially when faced with a situation where they might lose them to past lovers. These low-rated jealousy emotions found in almost all couples represent mild retroactive jealousy emotions.

This level never goes past the extent of questioning who your partner may be texting or calling. The relation may still be termed as safe and romantic at this stage.

Value determining retroactive jealousy

As the name suggests, you may start questioning your partner’s values in your relationship in this second stage. Here, things start to get out of control. The jealous partner takes the “innocent” title and terms their partners as “Immoral.”

The psychological state of such a person starts shifting to the blaming game and constantly accuses their partners of cheating even with no proof. The person may start calling their partners names as a result of imagined cheating acts which don’t exist.

In this stage, the person gets jealous of romantic experiences their partners enjoyed with their past lovers. They start wishing they did so instead of their past lovers.

If you get to this stage, more often, you start thinking that your partner wasn’t the one meant for you. In this stage, the romantic affair hangs on a balance, ready to topple and end at any time.

Retroactive jealousy OCD

This type forms the last stage of retroactive jealousy. At this stage, things take the serious nature of this condition. In most instances, violence begins at this stage. The moves that a person with retroactive jealousy obsessive-compulsive disorder exhibits include:

Behavioral characteristics

  • Snooping into their partner’s texts and call logs

  • Searching on the internet about their feelings, trying to find a solution

  • Hacking into their browser history in search for past lover’s information

  • Following their partners secretly to work and other places with the hope of catching them with their lovers

  • Start unnecessary fights to get a confession from their partners

  • Develop harmful practices geared towards killing their partners to prevent them from dating their past lovers

  • Directing anger, doubt, and paranoia towards their partners

  • Questioning their partners about their past romantic life to try and get answers for their damaging thoughts

  • Often make rude, sarcastic, or snide comments about their partner

Emotional characteristics

  • Start fearing to lose their partners to previous romantic lovers

  • Doubting about the extent their partners love them

  • Getting envious of the sexual experience, they missed out on their partners with other lovers

  • Start judging their partners on previous romantic relationships. This situation results in name-calling since the person

  • builds a false perception over their partners regarding their past lovers

  • It may result in depression if the person constantly feels and thinks of being less by comparing themselves with the previous partner lovers

When the above thoughts dominate the person’s mind, it becomes hard to focus on other important aspects of the relationship. This condition, just like other OCD conditions, may cause withdrawal effects to the people suffering from it, making it difficult to stop on their own.

Since no one needs such toxicity from a romantic relationship, the victims of such people may decide to quit the relationship. At this stage, the condition causes those suffering from it to shift blame over their irritability and cause of their abnormal behavior resulting in more chaos and ending their relationships.

Retroactive jealousy and OCD

retroactive jealousy ocd
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In most cases, retroactive jealousy gets associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The association occurs because the characteristics and symptoms show similarities. The similar symptoms portrayed by a person suffering from any of the conditions include:

  • Obsessive and intrusive thoughts

  • Repeated obsessive behaviors

  • The person Forms and replays mental movies by imagining events involving the partner and their former romantic partners

  • Repetitive and persistent behaviors involving stalking

  • Disruption in daily life patterns

  • Damaging of romantic relationships at the end

  • Simultaneous distress due to the obsession caused by the conditions

  • May develop harm obsessions in extreme cases

What are the various ways of dealing with retroactive jealousy?

Dealing with a person with this condition may be tiring and draining. After going through this article, you may self-diagnose yourself with the condition too. And you might be wondering how to deal with it and avoid destroying your relationship. Read below the steps of dealing with retroactive jealousy.

Asses and accept that you have a problem that needs fixing

The key to solving any condition begins with self-acceptance. By accepting and acknowledging we need help, we unlock the healing potential. Although jealousy may not feel good, it’s an emotion we have to deal with in our lives constantly.

Address your feelings

A way to acknowledge that jealousy has become part of us starts by asking ourselves what the feelings of jealousy mean to us, as relayed by psychologist Patrick Cheatham. In most cases, retroactive jealousy may get meaning when we identify the root cause of such emotions. For instance, when we look at our previous partners of our lovers, we may create questions like:

  • Will our relationship end the same way as their previous relationships?

  • Are we good enough for them?

  • Is my partner good for me?

  • Does my partner love me?

  • Can I trust my partner?

Understanding the cause of your jealousy when determining the questions causing jealousy you may be feeling, will help you fight the fear that causes you this suffering.

By understanding our feelings, we may avoid the stress and anxiety we develop when pursuing the retroactive jealousy route. Addressing our feelings will prevent us from feeling anxious and stressed when with our partners.

Compare yourself with your partner

When we come to think of it, retroactive jealousy may be termed as selfish. Before you start questioning your partner’s past romantic experiences, think about yours too. How would you feel if they dug into yours?

If we have a past, so do them. We never choose our past lovers, but our partners should be a great example of kindness. They picked us too over their past lovers. This thought should help in diluting the negative energy about our partner’s past life and focus on our current relationship.

Making someone suffer because of their past choices makes retroactive jealousy a bad and mean act. Putting yourself in your partner’s shoes might help you avoid the urges that come with retroactive jealousy.

Talk to your partner

When I was 24 years and in my first relationship, I broke up with my partner due to a misunderstanding. Later on, after talking with them about my worries, I realized that it was not what I thought and overreacted.

I apologized, and we got back together and later got married. When I look back now, I realize that I could have lost my soul mate if I hadn’t opened up and talked about my issue.

It’s the same way with this jealousy condition. By overthinking about something that may not even exist, we may lose our partners and a good relationship along the way. If we open up and talk to our partners about our feelings, we give them a chance to clarify and affirm their emotions towards us. This affirmation will help in restoring trust and prevent catastrophic endings to the relationship.

A good reaction from your partner may help ease your concerns while you get away to easily manage your emotions by bringing them out for a discussion.

Voicing your concerns in question form while talking may help achieve clarifications. For instance, you may say:

  • I sometimes feel you might leave me and date other people. Can you do that?
  • What part of me would you wish I improved?

Such kinds of discussions may help in understanding your partner more and focus on self-improvement. In the end, the bad character portrayed in retroactive jealousy gets kept away.

Resist the digging urge

Every one of us may be a victim of this digging act, especially on social media. This widespread behavior, however, doesn’t make it right. The action goes beyond just pocking to digging into their lover’s past, but it could even get scarier in some scenarios.

This digging fuels retroactive jealousy more towards our partners when we come across their past lover comments. If you need to have a healthy relationship, resist the urge to dig up your partner’s social life. Rather focus on things that build more trust, like an open discussion about your fears.

Know your value

Study shows that when we focus too much on other people, we may lose sight of our self-worth. This scenario will also be the case when we concentrate on our partner’s previous lovers. If the earlier lovers have a better life, it will leave you damaged and feeling worthless.

To avoid the toxicity of focusing on other people, focus more on yourself and remember your worth. If you get your confidence high, it will not bother you that your partner’s previous lovers may bring them back.

Walk with professional help

Dealing with psychological problems alone in most cases leads to frustration. A therapist will be a good option, especially when you notice that:

  • The feelings that come with retroactive jealousy don’t go away

  • The condition gets you to experience anxiety or depression

  •  The condition starts to affect your quality of life

  • You begin experiencing trust issues towards your partner

  • The violent part of the condition begins showing

Focusing on inner dialogue rather than your partner’s past life will help drive away negativity from the relationship.

How can I help my partner with retroactive jealousy?


If you have a partner experiencing difficulty due to this condition, you might want to help them fight the destructive feeling to save your relationship. So how will you be of help?

Start by being compassionate and allow regular open discussions

To help your partner feel confident with you once you realize their worrying tendencies, being compassionate with them may work miracles. While maintaining communication and allowing them to ask questions about their concerns about your past love life, always keep your integrity and answer the questions briefly but truthfully. You may consider visiting a marriage or relationship therapist if you notice that:

  • Their questions seem repetitive and fixed

  • Answering the questions may live them depressed and stressed

  • Your talking seems to go in circles

Support and encourage them to enroll in individual counseling or group therapies

By initiating counseling sessions for your partner, you will help them receive professional help that may be beyond your assistance.

Final thought

As we get into relationships, retroactive jealousy condition forms a major concern in most people. We should thrive on getting rid of this condition to enjoy a healthy relationship.

If you happen to suffer from this condition, finding psychological help and opening up discussion about your condition with your partner proves to be a trusted solution. Feel free to find help if you feel that you may be having retroactive jealousy. 

If you wanna take a deep dive into the jealousy world, you may want to check the other articles that we made about the signs of jealousy and how to deal with jealous people.

What is retroactive jealousy?

Retroactive jealousy happens when we get jealous of our partner’s past lovers and relationships.

What triggers retroactive jealousy?

This condition gets triggered by many factors, as discussed in this article. Majorly, it results from the fear of losing your partner to past lovers.

What is retroactive jealousy OCD?

This condition refers to a type of retroactive jealousy that bears similarity to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How can I deal with retroactive disorder condition?

There exist various solutions to this condition, including having therapy to learn how to handle its effects. Talking to your partner about your fears and worries about their past love relationships helps build trust in your relationship.

Is retroactive jealousy a mental disorder?

The retroactive disorder may be defined as a psychological condition where one gets obsessed over their partner’s previous love and sexual relationship with other people before them.

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