Jealousy is a very common human emotion. We all experience it at one point or another, and in various forms. Most people are accustomed to normal jealousy, which is the most common type. This comes in various forms, such as romantic jealousy (which arises from the fear of losing one’s partner), workplace jealousy (due to a competitive nature and not feeling appreciated), sibling jealousy (rivalry amongst family members usually due to favoritism), and even platonic jealousy (feeling excluded by your friends or left out). It’s human nature to feel jealous and you’re not a bad person if you are. As long as you’re not allowing it to overcome you and you learn how to deal with it, you’ll be fine.
There is another type of jealousy known as retroactive jealousy, and while it is also extremely common, it is not spoken of too often. Many people are ashamed of experiencing it, and others don’t understand or recognize it at all. Basically, it has to do with feelings of jealousy that have to do with your partner’s past, and it can often lead to obsessive and self-destructive thoughts. I experienced this when I was much younger in my first few relationships, simply due to my lack of experience in the world. It can also stem from insecurity, wondering if the people your boyfriend or girlfriend dated before you were better looking, funnier, and so forth.
For a lot of people, retroactive jealousy occurs in the early stages of a new relationship. You’re still learning about your partner and their past, and then the subject of exes comes up. It doesn’t happen right in the beginning because you’re not emotionally attached yet, but it will typically happen right around the time when you develop feelings on a deeper level for that person and you move into the exclusive stage of dating (which is when people tend to assume a feeling of ownership or possession over their partner). Or it can even happen later in a relationship out of the blue – one day you’re just hanging out at your partner’s house and then accidentally come across an old picture of their ex or see a love letter or something, which can suddenly cause a stream of these unpleasant feelings to arise out of nowhere.
For a lot of people, these feelings are fleeting. But for others, they can turn into really troublesome thoughts that can affect your current relationship and interfere with its progress. I’d have to say that retroactive jealousy was the reason my first real relationship ended — that, and the fact that we were just too young and immature to understand what we were doing, not to mention that neither of us knew how to work through it. (It’s for the better, anyway; no way would we be right for each other all these years later!)
The extent of retroactive jealousy can range from moderate to extreme. Of course it’s natural to get upset when you think of your partner being intimate with other people aside from yourself, but then there are those who get angry over silly things – like the fact that your boyfriend/girlfriend kissed a member of the opposite sex in the 5th grade, or was in love with someone years ago. According to RetroactiveJealousy.com, some consider the condition to be along the lines of obsessive compulsive disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder that consists of intrusive thoughts that make one worried, upset or scared. OCD can also be characterized by repetitive behaviors that aim to lessen the anxiety that one feels, and is generally thought of as an overall combination of obsessions and the compulsive behaviors that they cause.
Gender plays a role in the issue as well; men and women both experience retroactive jealousy, but they experience it in different ways. A man tends to be more bothered by the number of sexual partners his girlfriend has had before him, whereas a woman is more likely to be selective and will typically single out an individual or two from her partner’s past and obsess over the emotional connection that he shared with them, as well as the quality of the relationship.
The good news is that there are numerous ways to deal with retroactive jealousy. The first step, like any condition or problem, is to be able to openly address it. If you can honestly admit that you’re experiencing it or have experienced it in the past, then you’re a step closer to improvement. Experience and time both play a huge part in dealing with it, as well. It’s quite simple: the more experience and relationships you have, the less likely you are to be jealous of your partner’s past. When you’re younger, inexperienced and fall in love for the first time, everything you’re feeling is brand-new. It all seems so intense and powerful, and you’re certain you’ll never feel this way about anyone again. But if your partner has been with people before you, it’s easy to get upset because you assume that they experienced the same feelings they have for you with their previous partners. In a sense, people who suffer from this kind of jealousy feel like their partner has been unfaithful to them, despite the fact that those other relationships and experiences occurred in the past before they even met their current partner.
But once you’ve been through several relationships, you’ll realize they’re not all the same. No two relationships are ever identical, and the intensity of emotion felt isn’t the same. Usually, it’s the later relationships that actually make you realize that you weren’t in love as deeply as you thought with your previous partner. You may have even had a relationship (or several) where you were never in love in the first place. Maybe it was lust. Or “like.” Or you were just dating someone because you didn’t want to be alone. Either way, it’s silly to be upset about your boyfriend’s life before he even knew you existed. Did you really expect him to hide in a box until you came along? Did you do the same thing? Of course not.
Time is another important factor. The longer you’re in a relationship with someone, the more time you have to spend together, the more memories you can create that will get rid of old ones, and the deeper your bond will be. Of course, it can be intimidating when you start dating someone and find out they were with an ex for two years, but then once you surpass the two-year mark with them, those feelings of competitive insecurity should disappear.
Being able to control your thoughts and not allow them to slip in a negative or dark place is useful, too. This isn’t easily done, but over time you’ll figure out what triggers those thoughts. I’ve learned that the less I know, the better. The mistake we often make is wanting to know everything about our partner, and telling them everything about ourselves in return. I totally agree that the more you know about a person, the closer you will feel to them, but there are certain things you simply don’t need to know — like where they went on dates with other people. Our imaginations can be extremely dangerous because we always imagine things to be better and more romantic than they actually were. While you’re upset that your boyfriend had a girlfriend for several years, those “blissful” years they shared together more than likely were also filled with arguments, stupid fights, and the myriad other problems that all couples have.
It’s important to remember that all of our past experiences led us to where we are today. Can you imagine if we all married the first person we ever kissed or dated? What a crazy world this would be (and not for the better!) We need these experiences in order to become better people so that we know what to do and what not to do in the future. I am so grateful that I dated other people before my boyfriend, because now I’ve had the chance to work out my little kinks and personal issues in order to be a great girlfriend to him. Dear first boyfriend, please forgive me for all of the nonsense I put you through!
At the end of the day, you have to remind yourself that your partner is with YOU now. Even if his last girlfriend was gorgeous or perfect in every single way that you think you’re not, they’re no longer together for a reason. He’s a better man now because of her, and you get to benefit from that. The fact that he’s had experiences before you makes him more aware of a good thing when it comes along, so he’ll really appreciate and cherish you — especially if he’s had some not-so-great exes in the past.
Enjoy now. Look ahead to the future. Life is short… and you don’t want to waste it worrying about something (or someone) that no longer exists in your partner’s life. Do you think about or dwell on that one guy you dated five years ago? If the answer is no, then you can be pretty sure your boyfriend feels the same way about that one girl he kissed in the 5th grade.
By: Kamala Kirk