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Retroactive Jealousy: What It Is and How You Can Overcome It


A man suffers from retroactive jealousy.

Everyone has experienced jealousy before, but usually its jealousy in the moment. It might be over the mocha your best friend had at lunch while you suffered through a salad. Or, maybe it’s over your boss’s shiny new Ferrari. However, retroactive jealousy occurs when person gets jealous about something that happened in the past. Like a past partner of their current lover.

In the moment types of jealousy aren’t fun, but they tend to be fleeting and usually pass pretty quickly. Retroactive jealousy is a different experience. Read on to learn more about what causes it and why it’s so destructive to relationships.

The Basics of Retroactive Jealousy

So, what exactly is retroactive jealousy? Retroactive jealousy is a pattern of jealousy. It relates exclusively to your partner’s sexual or romantic past.

Now, that doesn’t mean all jealousy of your partner’s exes is retroactive jealousy.

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. Often, it includes a comparison to your partner’s previous relationships or sexual partners.

Retroactive Jealousy OCD

Retroactive jealousy is sometimes referred to as retroactive jealousy OCD.

That’s because people suffering from retroactive jealousy share a lot with OCD sufferers. They exhibit many of the same thought and behavioral patterns.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, like retroactive jealousy, is characterized by obsessive and intrusive thoughts. Repeated and obsessive behaviors and replaying mental movies of imagined events are also common.

Both these mental health disorders lead to repetitive and persistent behavior. Ultimately that behavior damages relationships and causes disruptions in daily life.

Common Signs of Retroactive Jealousy

Like we said before, it’s normal to feel jealous from time to time. You might struggle with feeling jealous of your partner’s past relationships. However, that doesn’t automatically mean you have retroactive jealousy issues.

Retroactive jealousy is characterized by much more serious symptoms. In turn, these lead to a vicious cycle of negative behaviors that damage your relationship.

Emotional Patterns

In retroactive jealousy, there are several emotional patterns of unwanted thoughts.

One of the primary feelings is fear. These people often have a fear of losing their partner to their past romantic or sexual partners.

Typically, the fear of losing your partner to a previous partner of theirs goes hand in hand with the doubt that they truly love you.

Another common behavior is quizzing your partner on their past. This can lead to arguments. Why? Because your partner doesn’t feel that they’ve done anything to deserve this treatment.

Many people suffering from this condition also struggle with envy. They may feel that they’ve missed out on opportunities because their partner has more sexual experience than they do.

Finally, the judgment of your partner’s romantic history can also be a common factor. This occurs when you begin to see your partner as being easy for having had past sexual partners.

Behavioral Patterns

Thought patterns aren’t the only symptom of retroactive jealousy. Behavioral patterns are another key sign that you’re suffering from this.

People suffering from retroactive jealousy often engage in browsing the internet. They look for information on what they’re feeling. And, they look for validation and advice on the emotions and thoughts they’re dealing with.

Typically, they also struggle with snooping on their partner’s social media profiles. They may even break into emails or social profiles, to learn about their partner’s past.

Another common behavior is quizzing your partner on their past. This can lead to arguments because your partner doesn’t feel that they’ve done anything to deserve being interviewed in this manner.

Similarly, if you’re struggling with this type of jealousy you may make sarcastic, snide, or pointed comments to your partner about their romantic past.

Many sufferers of retroactive jealous dwell on their thoughts as well. The bottom line is that brooding can perpetuate the problem and worsen the cycle that they are already trapped in.

Strategies for Breaking the Cycle

Overcoming retroactive jealousy is certainly difficult, but it’s definitely not impossible.

The first step to getting past this type of jealousy is to accept that you have a problem. By acknowledging that your thoughts and behaviors aren’t healthy, you are opening up the door for receiving the help you need.

Once you’re able to accept that you’re struggling with a serious issue, it’s time to try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes.

Understanding how you are affecting your partner negatively can help you to stop unhealthy patterns. It can help you to start trying to love and support your partner the way you want to.

The next step is probably the hardest but is also key to breaking the patterns that you’ve set up for yourself.

You’ll need to resist the urge to snoop, argue, or probe into your partner’s past. While it may be hard at first, resisting these urges is what puts a stop to the negative behavioral patterns that you’ve established.

Talking to your partner is also an important part of overcoming this form of jealousy. When you talk things out with your partner, you can more clearly see how your actions are affecting your relationship and your partner.

Another strategy for overcoming feelings of retroactive jealousy is to remind yourself of your own self-worth. Repeating affirmations can help you put jealousy behind you and focus on what you bring to the relationship.

Eliminate Retroactive Jealousy from Your Relationship

If you’re experiencing retroactive jealousy in your relationship, it’s time to put a stop to it. This type of jealousy is doing nothing but hurting you, hurting your partner, and ultimately destroy your relationship.

At Modern Intimacy, you can get the tools you need to overcome retroactive jealousy. We help you to start creating a loving and understanding space between you and your partner.

Give us a call today and let’s talk through your problems with retroactive jealousy, or enroll in our upcoming workshop:

To learn more, or register, click here.


Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist (CA, FL, IL + NY), Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, and PACT III trained Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Modern Intimacy. Follow her on TikTok and IG @drkatebalestrieri and the Modern Intimacy team on IG @themodernintimacy.



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1 Comment

  1. james

    I need help with retroactive jealousy. I have dreams a lot and it happened a year ago. I can’t trust her and we’re married now.

    I would like to do counceling online. I don’t have a bof money to invest


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