Zachary Stockill's obsessive thoughts about his partner's past sexual experiences led to the failure of his first serious relationship. It took a while to discover that his problem had a name and that thousands of people also suffered from it.
He was in his early 20s and in love for the first time.
One night my girlfriend and I did what many new couples do when they start a relationship: we started talking about our past. The conversation turned to past relationships we both had.
A switch flipped in my brain.
He said absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, no details that were particularly unusual, shocking or even exciting. But something has changed.
Suddenly their romantic history was all she could think about.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario, Canada. My parents had a great marriage and I had a great relationship with them most of the time. I didn't grow up with mental health issues: no depression, no anxiety, no obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
He loved women.
In third grade (age 8) he had two girlfriends! But that was probably one of the few times I've dated more than one person at a time. I liked typical high school relationships.
So I went to college and as a student I met and fell in love with a woman like I had never met before. She was beautiful, extremely smart, artistic, and curious.
But as he talked about his past life, I was overcome with a feeling I had never experienced before.
Most of us have an idea of what "normal" jealousy looks like. You might feel a twinge when you see your significant other attracting someone's attention at a bar, or you might get perked up when a colleague's name comes up a lot in conversation.
Most people don't like the idea of imagining their partner with someone else, like an ex, but what I felt was completely different.
My love story was, let's say, more "colorful" than hers, but the thought that she was intimate with someone other than me began to haunt me.
I didn't know what they called it at the time, but what I had is sometimes called "retroactive jealousy." I would learn a lot more about it in the years to come.
I started playing mental movies in my head of her in situations with her ex and imagining them happening in real time right in front of me. It was like he was cheating on me.
Your past suddenly became my present.
I would take a trivial detail and paint an extremely vivid picture around it. I would add details and turn insignificant events into complete scenarios in my mind.
If we went out to eat, I would wonder if she and her ex-partner were at the same restaurant. We passed a hotel and I suddenly wondered if they had made love there.
Her past relationships were the first thing on her mind morning and night.
Social networks are a great magnifying glass for this problem. You have a list of posts, comments and photos from your partner's past. And I dove into it.
I became an online detective.
I scrolled through old photos before I met them, reading comments, trying to figure out who certain people were, how they fit into their lives, if there was an untold adventure from their past.
Those were the things I did privately, so there was the real toll on our relationship.
I'm ashamed of how I acted back then.
I would ask my girlfriend endlessly. He would try to make her feel guilty about having relationships in the past. I was incredibly hypocritical considering my own past life was similar to hers. And, in stark contrast to me, she rarely seemed to think twice about my past relationships.
It was very difficult for her. Try to imagine her lover constantly struggling with her past and judging you. And then try feeling guilty, obsessing over things that don't matter anymore... stupid things, little things. Events you don't need to be ashamed of or regret.
Still, for the most part, my ex was very calm and loving, trying to put me at ease and making it clear that I held a special place in his heart. And that would help for a while, until the same recurring thoughts and questions came back, often with new intensity.
It became a vicious circle of unwanted thoughts and curiosity, followed by my girlfriend's comfort, followed by some relief. And then back to the starting point.
Our relationship lasted a few years, but it ended. My jealousy was a key factor.
After we broke up, I felt guilty and ashamed for a long time. I would replay certain scenes from our relationship in my head and shudder. Stupid fights, unnecessary fights, that kind of thing. He carried enormous guilt for behaving like an idiot. This person didn't feel like "me". I knew it was me, but it almost felt like I'd been kidnapped by an annoying little demon. This might sound melodramatic, but I really felt like I lost control.
Relying on friends and family, even therapists and counselors, has not been helpful. No one really seemed to understand. The general advice was usually, "Just get over it."
I started Googling phrases like "obsessed with my girlfriend's past" and ended up coming across the phrase "retroactive jealousy" on internet forums. People search Google from left to right, but they don't know the name of this condition. It was not and is not a common term.
People suffering from retroactive jealousy become trapped in a cycle of obsessive thoughts, painful emotions, thoughtless and irrational actions, and resulting self-loathing. From what I've read, many psychologists seem to think this falls on the OCD spectrum.
I found some sympathetic voices on these Internet forums, but the vast majority of the rhetoric sounded toxic: there are plenty of men online who really don't like women. There were several who justified their jealous behavior and used the forums to put women down. And that was confusing. This was the first place where people understood a little bit of what he was going through, but there was a tremendous amount of misogyny and negativity.
Other people on these forums would go to the opposite extreme. To her, anyone who had problems with any aspect of a lover's past relationships was a bad person who acted irrationally. I do not agree with this.
I couldn't find a ready made community and wanted to fix this.
Amanda Major, Relationship Counseling Service
We see cases in the counseling room where a person becomes obsessed with their partner's past sexual relationships. Jealousy is something that most people recognize, but this type of jealousy is very different. A person sometimes has flashbacks to events that he did not see, in which he was never involved. This often leads to an obsessive thought cycle and an insatiable desire to get to the "truth" of what "really happened" between a couple and their previous lovers. They can end up tormenting themselves and their partner, and in some cases, the relationship can become abusive. Regardless of whether you are the person haunted by the past or the person receiving it, I would encourage you to seek professional help and support.
First, I needed some spiritual balance, so I went on meditation retreats and started to learn more about Buddhism. This was a significant step in reducing my ego. So I started doing my own extensive research.
After that, I started blogging and then wrote a book, originally published under a pseudonym because I was still embarrassed. The response was overwhelming, so I created an online course.
Today there is an online community that people can turn to for help and advice on overcoming the condition.
it surprised methe large number of people visiting my website- more than 120,000 people last year from almost every country in the world. And about half of them were women.
I used to think that retroactive jealousy was an ingrained condition of men and the heterosexual male ego, but this is not the case. I am contacted by straight women, lesbians, gay men and people of all ages from their teens to their late 70s.
I also get a lot of emails from people in Saudi Arabia and India, countries where people are generally not as open about sexuality. When I started making videos on YouTube, the response got even bigger.
Partners of people who suffer from retroactive jealousy have sent me heartbreaking emails asking what they can do to help their partner overcome this problem. But I always emphasize that ultimately it is your partner's problem that needs to be solved, not his. I know this very well from personal experience. My girlfriend couldn't cure my retroactive jealousy no matter how hard she tried.
More help and resources
If anyone is reading this and they recognize themselves, the first thing I would say is, "Don't assume you have to live with what you have forever. This isn't it."
It is entirely possible to overcome retroactive jealousy. I'm living proof of that, as is a small army of ex-boyfriends around the world.
As for my ex, it's a long story. We've had some difficult conversations, but overall we're good now. I consider her a friend and I think she feels the same way about me. Looking back, I can't imagine my life without this relationship, without having him in my life. She inspired me to grow in ways I never thought possible.
As Megha Mohan was told
A selection of your comments:
I also have the same problem. What's worse is that I even get jealous when he mentions a past crush. I wanted to know more so I asked him and researched online through his social media. Unfortunately, this only made things worse. I also secretly deleted the posts on his Facebook that he sent to the person he previously liked.Stefani, Jakarta, Indonesia
This whole story just gave me the creeps. Not because I empathize with the person, but because I have become their victim. I just didn't know it had a name. I had the signs long before I married her. He found a bank statement showing that he had paid for a hotel with a previous partner. It was supposed to be a nice, relaxing, kid-free weekend getaway. What happened to that was a constant stick, metaphorically hitting me with it. Constant questions about who she is, why I didn't take her to such beautiful places and what we were doing there. Each ex was killed over and over again until it was clear that she was the best he ever had. There was no right answer. Each question seemed carefully designed to cause maximum discomfort when answered. When I chose not to respond, she would respond (accept) on her own and proceeded to verbally abuse me based on that. Little did I know that this (post-jealousy) condition was actually something she suffered from.
I'm so glad I left all that behind. Trying to deal with being a victim of domestic violence is bad enough... trying to deal with it as a man is still stigmatized.Pedro, Manchester
I still can't believe I'm reading this, it's such a relief to know I'm not alone. Like the author, my past is very colorful, but I've always been obsessed with my partner's past. It made me keep the women I dated at a distance as it made the feelings unbearable if I let them get too close.
I'm now married to a wonderful woman, but I don't think I'm brave enough to seek advice on this. What if opening that box does more harm than good, or if our marriage falls apart? No, I think I'll keep it safe in bottles where it can only hurt me. He's my black dog and he doesn't visit me as much as he used to.Then
After telling my wife my past selections before our wedding, it haunted the wedding.
She was unsure the whole time and kept asking me about my whereabouts. During the discussions I kept mentioning my only previous special relationship. I told her with the intention of being close so she could get to know the real me. Their marriage ended earlier this year after nearly 23 years and three children (now aged 17-21).Ali, Manchester
Retroactive jealousy is exactly how my previous relationship ended. I became obsessed with knowing there were no rivals for my affections, even from previous relationships. This led me to look for evidence, check their messages, etc. As the author, I am ashamed of this, but unlike the author, I found that she had sent explicit photos to an ex-boyfriend. This only made the jealousy worse, which only led to the quicker end of the relationship.
Now I'm torn between wishing I never found out because of the possibility of unknown happiness and happy I found out since what she did was wrong. I have been single for over two years now and I know that every relationship I attempt will go through the lens of the last one.e Birmingham
Katie Horwich illustrations
Retroactive jealousy means you feel threatened by your partner's past relationships. Feeling jealous about your partner's past may manifest as information-seeking behaviors like social media searching, but may also come up as constant comparisons, sarcasm, or snooping.Why do I obsess over my partner's past? ›
We all get jealous sometimes—but worrying obsessively over your significant other's sexual and romantic history is known as retroactive jealousy, an unhealthy relationship habit. Retroactive jealousy can be triggered if you have an anxious attachment style, bad experiences with past partners, or even childhood trauma.What is retroactive jealousy obsessed with my partner's past? ›
Retroactive jealousy OCD is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that involves becoming overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts of a partner's past relationships, both romantic and sexual. It goes much further than just a fleeting pang of jealousy.How do I stop obsessing over my partner's past? ›
- Accept and validate your feelings. ...
- Put yourself in their place. ...
- Resist the urge to dig. ...
- Talk to your partner. ...
- Accept what they tell you. ...
- Ask yourself what you're really concerned about. ...
- Remind yourself of your own value. ...
- Reframe the situation.
You do not have to be jealous of your partner's past. It is their past, but they are no longer with the others that they used to have relationships with. Instead, you need to work on how to accept the past of your partner in a healthy way so you aren't jealous or bothered by the things that have happened previously.Should your partners past affect you? ›
As adults, we have to remember that it's pretty likely that whoever we're dating has dated at least one person before. The chances of being the one and only person someone has ever dated are slim. Ultimately, who someone has dated in the past shouldn't affect your future — unless you let it, which can be all too easy.Is retroactive jealousy part of BPD? ›
When someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) struggles with retroactive jealousy of their partner's past, it can end up in a serious BPD episode.How I cured my retroactive jealousy? ›
There are many ways to work through and overcome retroactive jealousy in counseling. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and other trauma informed psychotherapies can help you move beyond fixating on your partner's past.Is retroactive jealousy a mental disorder? ›
This type of jealousy usually occurs as the event happens. When you're feeling threatened by your partner's past, however, that's known as retroactive jealousy. Retroactive jealousy tends to be unfounded, and while it's not a formal mental health diagnosis, sometimes it can be a symptom of one.Why do I feel disgusted by my partners past? ›
If the disgust you feel about your partner's sexual past is keeping you up at night and making intimacy impossible, you may be struggling with obsessive thought patterns. Scientists have observed links between disgust and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The bottom line: If you feel confident that the number of past hookups they've had won't make waves in your relationship, feel free to ask; sharing the info can be a way to grow closer. But if you imagine a too high or too low number and both kind of wig you out, it's better to not go there.How do you not let your partners past affect your relationship? ›
- Acknowledge your contribution to failed relationships. Be curious about the past. ...
- Recognize triggers. Become an observer. ...
- Get to your core issues. Reflect on your trigger. ...
- Learn what a healthy relationship can look like. ...
- Communicate with your partner.
Although it's probably best to skip the intricate details (you don't want to know that much), you should have a good sense of your partner's sexual history and know things like whether or not they have ever had an STD or got someone pregnant (or had a pregnancy).How do I stop thinking about my girlfriends past? ›
Focus on making new memories together. Put your energy into making new memories with your girlfriend. As you work on moving on from both of your pasts, build your future together with new activities, photographs, and memories. This will help you focus more on your present and your future together than her past.How do I forgive my wife for her past? ›
- Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. ...
- God is really serious about forgiveness. ...
- Ask God to help you see your partner as He does. ...
- God is more concerned about the present than the past. ...
- Healing is different than forgiveness. ...
- God will help you forgive her because He's already forgiven her.
A study asked participants to rate their willingness to date someone based on their number of previous sexual partners. A total of two to three partners was ideal, with a decline thereafter and a preference for some experience over no experience. The study found little evidence of a sexual “double standard."Why you shouldn't bring up past relationships? ›
If you keep mentioning your previous relationships it may cause more damage to your current one than you think. Your partner may feel insecure and jealous. They may see themselves as an option or may misunderstand you for not being happy with them.What are emotional scars from past relationships? ›
According to James Tobin, Ph. D., “love scars” are the painful emotions, memories, regrets, and unresolved trauma left behind from ex-relationships. Typically, people who experience love scars find it difficult to move past old relationships and may feel hesitant to engage in emotional intimacy with new partners.What is a chameleon personality BPD? ›
An individual with BPD will often explain that they often feel like a chameleon- changing who they are to fit whatever is going on in their environment. Because being alone is so often intolerable to a Borderline person, they grasp at whatever straws they can to feel included.What does BPD jealousy look like? ›
When people with BPD feel jealous, they can react in a number of ways. Some people lash out at their loved one. Others give the cold shoulder or freeze out their loved one. Some turn the pain they feel inward and may struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
What Does Idealization and Devaluation Look Like? A person with BPD may shift from great admiration for a loved one (idealization) to intense anger toward or dislike of that person (devaluation).Why am I jealous of my partners past? ›
You're feeling insecure: Insecurity is the most common trigger for retroactive jealousy. Whether real or imagined, people tend to experience retroactive jealousy when they feel threatened in the relationship and don't feel fully secure with their partner.Is retroactive jealousy insecurity? ›
What does retroactive jealousy mean? In retroactive jealousy, at the beginning of a new relationship, one partner is jealous of their partner's past relationships and previous love affairs. Right from the start of a new relationship, there is an insecurity about the relationships the partner has previously had.Does your partner's past matter? ›
One of the keys to living a happy and healthy life is to leave the past where it belongs. It's a piece of advice you probably hear a lot, yet have a hard time actually following. But moving on from the past is especially important when you're starting a new relationship.Why does retroactive jealousy hurt so much? ›
Retroactive jealousy is associated with obsessive thoughts. These thoughts then lead to unhealthy, negative actions that affect your relationship. This type of jealousy is different. It's centered on a lack of self-worth.Should I tell my boyfriend everything about my past? ›
Our history is significant, but it is not the only factor that shapes who we are. It is critical to tell your partner everything about your background, so that they can gain a better understanding of you and what they're getting themselves into.Should I tell my partner every time I'm jealous? ›
Talk to your partner.
“It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to admit that you're jealous,” Dr. Skyler says. But it's important to do so—especially if you're feeling it regularly because jealousy can be a sign that trust has been broken in some way, and you're not feeling safe.
Othello syndrome is a psychotic disorder characterized by delusion of infidelity or jealousy; it often occurs in the context of medical, psychiatric or neurological disorders.What is the core fear of retroactive jealousy? ›
At the root of this assumption is the fear that the sufferer will lose the person they love. Getting mad at past actions: The Retroactive Jealousy OCD sufferer may find themselves angry at their partner's past actions, although those actions likely happened before they knew their partner.Was my past relationship toxic? ›
If a relationship stops bringing joy, and instead consistently makes you feel sad, angry, anxious or “resigned, like you've sold out,” it may be toxic, Glass says. You may also find yourself envious of happy couples. Fuller says negative shifts in your mental health, personality or self-esteem are all red flags, too.
Relationship trauma is often characterized by low self-esteem. A traumatized person may apologize excessively, have unwanted or obsessive thoughts, and may have trouble concentrating and focusing.Can a girl tell honestly about her past physical relationships to her future husband? ›
If you share the details of your past sex life and there's not even a hint of insecurity or disapproval on his or her face, be assured that you have found a partner who has a liberal attitude. It shows that your would-be-spouse respects your past and is willing to embrace you for the person you are.How many men has the average woman slept with by age 30? ›
If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details, here's some of the recent research: According to 2011 to 2015 CDC data1 , women between ages 25 and 44 had a median of 4.2 sexual partners, while men in that age group had a median of 6.1 sexual partners.Should I care how many people my partner has slept with? ›
Regardless of whether or how the conversation happens, Moore says that, when it comes down to it, it's important not to focus too heavily on your or your partner's body count. The number of people someone has slept with has nothing to do with their value as a person, and this message is important to share.Is it okay to hide your past from your partner? ›
"Often, people feel guilty of not being true to their partners if they are hiding anything from them. But the belief that your partner needs to know everything about you for a happy and long lasting relationship is a mere myth. Sharing your past can at times ruin your relationship and affect your future," adds Archana.How do I stop past trauma ruining my relationship? ›
- Step 1: Identify your personal traumas. You probably know which ex (or exes) were toxic, or which relationships made you feel terrible. ...
- Step 2: Reflect. ...
- Step 3: Don't accept the blame. ...
- Step 4: Learn a lesson — and take it with you into the next relationship.
What Is Real Event OCD and what are the symptoms? Real Events obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a subtype of OCD characterized by ongoing intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors around someone's past actions.Will retroactive jealousy go away? ›
There are many ways to work through and overcome retroactive jealousy in counseling. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and other trauma informed psychotherapies can help you move beyond fixating on your partner's past.What is retroactive jealousy disorder? ›
Retroactive jealousy¹ involves getting jealous about things that happened in the past. If you have this condition, you have an unhealthy interest in your partner's sexual and romantic life before you got together. Retroactive jealousy is typically mild-to-moderate at first but may progress to OCD.What are 3 symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder? ›
- Over-devotion to work.
- Not being able to throw things away, even when the objects have no value.
- Lack of flexibility.
- Lack of generosity.
- Not wanting to allow other people to do things.
- Not willing to show affection.
- Preoccupation with details, rules, and lists.
Real event OCD is a form of OCD in which a person becomes consumed by thoughts and feelings of guilt about a real event that happened sometime in the past. These thoughts cause them to question their own morality. Compulsive actions follow in an effort to manage the anxiety triggered by the obsessions.What is Erotomania disease? ›
Erotomania is a form of delusional disorder in which an individual believes that another person, usually of higher status, is in love with him. It is a relatively rare condition, and while the incidence is unknown, the lifetime prevalence of delusional disorder is 0.2% .How do you apologize for retroactive jealousy? ›
You can say something like, “I'm not trying to hide anything from you, but I know you're experiencing some retroactive jealousy right now and I don't want to feed into it by answering your questions. I'm sorry if that's stressful for you.”Is retroactive jealousy depression? ›
When retroactive jealousy is persistent and severe enough to negatively impact important areas of your life, it may be a symptom of an underlying mental health disorder, such as: bipolar disorder. depression.Why am I suddenly repulsed by my partner? ›
Sometimes a person starts to develop feelings for someone they are dating, and this can suddenly scare them off. This feeling of being turned off or revolted by the other person is just a defense mechanism.