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Retroactive Jealousy: Why Is Your Lover’s Past Making Your Jealous?

We have all felt the emotion of jealousy, but is your partner experiencing retroactive jealousy? Here’s what it is, why people get jealous, and what to do.

Retroactive Jealousy

Is there anything worse than your significant other being jealous? Perhaps only retroactive jealousy.

What is retroactive jealousy? It is jealousy of a significant other that came before, a crush that continues to pop up, or someone in your partner’s past that neither they nor you, can get past.

What is retroactive jealousy?

Retroactive jealousy means you are jealous of things that the person you are with did before you were even in the picture. Like living up to an older brother who was the varsity quarterback or valedictorian, retroactive jealousy leaves you feeling like you can’t ever live up to some ideal.

When you’re in a romantic relationship, retroactive jealousy might relate to things like how many sexual partners you had. If you have had more than your partner, then they may feel jealous. [Read: How to recognize the signs of jealousy in someone and guide them out]

Another way your partner might feel retroactive jealousy is if they think your past partners are better looking than they are. Or, if they had a better career – or “better” anything.

If you have been married and have children with your ex, but your current partner has not, that also might bring up a lot of retroactive jealousy. They think that they will never be your first spouse or give you your first child, and that makes them jealous of your ex that did.

Why do people get jealous in the first place? 

We have all felt this negative emotion at some point in our lives. That little green monster rears its ugly head and we get jealous.

While you know how it feels, you might not have ever thought about why people get jealous. Let’s look at some of the core reasons behind jealousy that trigger retroactive jealousy in someone.

Also, let’s take a look at how jealousy works and why it almost always finds a way into a happy relationship and tears it apart.

1. Comparison

It’s normal to look around in life and compare our lives to other people’s lives. But this is a huge problem when it comes to jealousy. When we compare ourselves to people that we think are “better” than us, we get jealous.

For example, if you are looking in the mirror and you don’t like what you see, you might look at a supermodel and feel like a big fat pig. But you’re not. You’re just comparing yourself to someone who makes you feel bad about yourself – even though you shouldn’t.

You see, being “better” than you is all just in your head. There is no objective “better” or “worse” in the world – only what we THINK is “better” or “worse.” But when people are constantly comparing themselves to others, then they will usually be jealous. [Read: How to stop feeling sorry for yourself and end the pity party]

2. Assumptions

An assumption is something that we think is true or factual, but it might not be. For example, if you see two people you know out having dinner together, you might think they are dating each other. But it could be that they are just good friends. So, your assumption is wrong, even though you think it’s right in your head.

So, let’s say that your partner is still Facebook friends with their ex. You might think the reason that they are is that your partner still loves their ex and wants to cyberstalk them or so they can stay in contact.

But the reality might be that your partner has completely forgotten that they are still friends on Facebook. Or maybe they think it’s petty and immature to unfriend them. So as you can see, your assumption might not actually be the truth even if it triggers your retroactive jealousy. [Read: Why am I so jealous? The real reasons why we feel it and how to fix it]

3. Pessimism

A huge problem with most human beings is that they never appreciate what they have and count their blessings. Instead, a lot of people just look at what they don’t have, what is going wrong, and how their life sucks.

But maybe your partner has never given you any reason to think that they want anyone but you. If your pessimistic attitude still thinks that they want to be with someone else, then that will be your reality. And that reality causes more reasons to create retroactive jealousy. Because perception is reality. [Read: Is your negative thinking ruing your life? 20 signs and tips to cope]

4. Low self-esteem and insecurity

This is probably the most common source of jealousy. People who have an “inferiority complex” have thoughts that they are not good enough for anyone.

They always think other people are better than they are. And because of this, they think that they are not good or valuable enough to keep their partner interested over a period of time.

Maybe your partner seems pretty confident because they have a great career and a lot of friends. But not everyone shows their insecurity to the outside world. They might even overcompensate for it by acting like they are confident. And for some reason, their insecurity manifests itself in romantic relationships as retroactive jealousy. [Read: Dating someone with low self-esteem – what it’s like for both of you]

5. Obsessive thinking

Some people tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive, even if no doctor has actually diagnosed them with that condition. So, if someone’s brain tends to work overtime with obsessive thinking, then they are always generating new anxieties and worries – whether they are real or imagined.

Because of this general thinking style, people like this have the tendency to overthink, overanalyze, and obsess about all things related to romantic relationships. [Read: Relationship OCD and all the signs of a partner with it]

These kinds of people have a really difficult time managing feelings of uncertainty. For example, if their partner comes home from work late one day, their brain will automatically fill in the details with why he’s late and what he’s been doing. And usually, these are all negative thoughts, including a lot of jealousy.

How to deal with a partner’s retroactive jealousy

If you have a jealous lover, it can be difficult to calm their fears or suppress their retroactive jealousy. If you don’t, you are going to end up going round and round.

Just like when a policeman pulls up behind you, and you automatically feel like you’d do something wrong *whether you are or not*, a jealous lover makes you anxious, guilty, and on edge all the time.

It might not be your problem to cure their angst, but if you don’t, their problem will become yours. There might or might not be things you do to foster their feelings. Either way, doing these things, or not doing them, helps create some peace for you both. [Read: How to deal with jealousy in a relationship and learn to overcome it]

1. Don’t keep secrets

Okay, now we’re not talking about all your really, really big dark secrets from your childhood, we mean the little ones. It is those things that you keep to yourself for fear you are going to set their jealousy off that sets them off the most.

Did some guy you met once at a friend’s party send you a text asking if you’d like to hook up? Did some girl who works at your office ask you to hang out for coffee after work? It doesn’t matter that you turned them down, what matters is – did you tell your partner about it?

You may hide these little details to prevent your partner from feeling insecure or rousing their retroactive jealousy. But hiding these kinds of secrets only makes things worse.

When someone loves you, they know if you hold things back. By not having open communication or keeping things from them, you create an atmosphere of secrecy that might inadvertently drive their retroactive jealousy. [Read: 15 mature ways to grow up and behave like an adult]

2. Don’t hide your social media

If your relationships are over and out, then don’t dip back into your pool or keep things on your social media private. You would be surprised at what people find out through social media sites, even if you don’t want them to.

If you don’t tell someone and they find out on their own, it only furthers their feelings that something is going on or that you haven’t gotten over your past love/loves.

3. Don’t put a passcode on your phone unless necessary

If you want to have an honest and open relationship with someone you love, then let them know you trust them by not putting your shit under lock and key.

Obviously, if you work for the government, then you should keep things under code. But, if it is just you and your lover, placing a block on all your stuff, just makes their retroactive jealousy churn more. [Read: How to build trust in a relationship and learn to be more loyal and loving]

4. Fill in the blanks

Instead of saying “I’m going out” say “I’m going out with David.” It literally takes 10 seconds more to fill in the words in the details, and help your partner trust you more!

Sometimes it is in the small details left unsaid where your lover fills in the blanks, and their version is full of maliciousness, not what you are probably up to.

Be as honest and open as you can. Sure, it might feel like they want to put a GPS on you, but once they find you can be trusted, it might calm their fears and get you off the hook so you can have a trusting and non-jealous relationship. [Read: How to recognize the signs of jealousy in someone and guide them out]

5. Stop talking to your exes

Okay, so you were friends before you started dating. But, if you started dating and you moved on, then you can’t be besties anymore. In fact, you can’t be friends at all if it upsets your current relationship.

We can hear what you are saying right now. “I can be friends with anyone I want,” and you are totally right. But, if you don’t put your new partner first, then you are going to be left with a bestie and no significant other. 

Make a decision about who is more important or the retroactive jealousy isn’t going to stop. [Read: 10 signs your past relationship is holding you back from a better future]

6. If you are cushioning, cut it out

The best way to make someone retro jealous is by cushioning. What is cushioning? It is when you keep people on the side just in case things don’t work out with your current partner. If you have a barrage of other people in your life that you had or may have had feelings for, you can’t keep them hanging on waiting for you.

Cushioning doesn’t work all the way around, it just makes everyone anxious but you, and that is just selfish. [Read: Cushioning – Why using this dating tactic makes you a jerk]

7. Tell them how you feel

Perhaps you aren’t telling them often enough or in the way that they hear best, how you feel about them. Imagine this: they knew you and your ex were all sunshine and flowers and couldn’t keep your hands off each other. But, when it comes to you guys, you barely hold hands.

That could leave them wondering what on earth is different between you two or if you had something much greater before and now only have what is left with them. See what we mean? Tell them how you feel so they aren’t left guessing if you feel for them at all or not. [Read: How to make your girlfriend feel special – 35 special gestures that show real love]

8. Quit telling stories

Of course, you can’t erase people, nor should you. If someone was a big part of your history, then you have to tell a story or two. But, if all you do is talk about the “good old days” when you and your ex were together and so in love, it would probably drive your current partner’s retroactive jealousy.

Your current relationship should have enough of its own stories to fill the time. Maybe, save the old ones for a time when they aren’t sitting next to you wishing they were in your inside experience. [Read: How to talk about past relationships with a current lover]

9. Take down the pictures

Again, you don’t have to erase your ex, but you also don’t have to have a mausoleum resurrected to them sitting on your nightstand. You might want to wake up remembering the good times, but trust us, your new love doesn’t.

At some point, you put your pictures and your ex behind you, or you deal with retro jealousy in all of your proceeding relationships.

10. Let go of the anger

If the mere sight or talk of your ex sets off a tirade of anger, then you have to stop. The reason your new lover might be feeling retroactive jealousy even if you express rage towards your partner is that they know if you were completely over your ex, you would not have so much emotion, you would have let it go.

Hate is the closest feeling to love, so you have to let go of the hate, or your current partner would assume you still love your ex. [Read: Letting go of your ex – 15 ways to make it easier]

11. Tell your family to quit it too

If your ex is “the one that got away” to your family or friends, that isn’t helping. People know how important a family’s opinion is. If your close friends or family continue to talk about your ex and how much they liked them, that brings out the green-eyed monster in your current lover and makes them wonder why your exes were so awesome and they aren’t.

Tell your friends and family to be more thoughtful and keep their opinions to themselves.

Retroactive jealousy and what you should know

Here”s what you need to remember more than anything else – Jealousy doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Sure, there are definitely people who are more jealous than others for their own reasons and past. But, if you love the person you are with and can’t seem to get past retroactive jealousy, you might be inadvertently driving it and making your partner feel miserable and unloved.

[Read: 28 revealing truths about feeling alone in a relationship and how to fix it ASAP]

Be more sensitive to the retroactive jealousy your partner feels, let go of the past, and tell them how much you love them, more sometimes than you want to.

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