Insecure in Love: Addressing Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships

Tara Blair Ball
A man's face in the rearview mirrorPhoto byPhinehas AdamsonUnsplash

The man who is now my husband has a type, one he’s rarely strayed from. Except for me.

When we first began dating and I heard about or happened to see one of his ex-partners, I found it maddening. How could he have been into those women, but now into me? I wondered.

I even interrogated him to try to understand.

“I have a Master’s degree, and many of your exes didn’t even go to college. Is that not weird?”

“No,” he said. “That’s wonderful.”

“I have short hair, and I’m not blonde.”

“But you look great, and I don’t care about your hair,” he said.

“I‘m not Southern!”

“Again, so?” he said.

I huffed in annoyance.

Like many of my attempts to interrogate him, I was left with more questions than answers.

This kind of obsession with our partner’s past partners can be called “past” or “retroactive” jealousy.

One of my readers reached out to me because he too was troubled by his girlfriend’s last partner before him.

He wrote,

“I have had a hard time accepting that she chose to date a really old, very unattractive man. I know this is my problem! I shouldn’t judge her for her past , but I simply have a hard time understanding how she could be with him and then me. I find it hard to think about her dating that old unattractive man.”

I’ve had other readers or clients reach out to me because they struggled with the fact that their partner’s last partner was significantly younger or older, more experienced, was in better shape, etc.

What ALL of these issues (including my own) stem from is insecurity. A concern that we’re missing something. How could our partner want to be with us if they had…before is what we wonder.

I obsessed over my husband’s exes because I couldn’t fathom why this educated, handsome, kind, well-off man wanted me. I didn’t feel like I deserved his attention.

All of us come into relationships with baggage, even if it’s just about who we may have had crushes on in the past. If we have concerns over our partner’s past, it’s normal.

Here are some ways to face those feelings:

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

Suppressing or denying that you’re feeling jealous and insecure about your partner’s past will just make the feelings worse. Your feelings are normal and okay. MANY people experience them in a new relationship, so call them out for what they are: jealousy or insecurity.

While no one wants to admit they’re jealous, in this case, you’re feeling this way because you care so much about your current partner and are worried about losing them because you may not “stack up” or are different from their other relationships.

2. Focus on how to feel more secure in your relationship.

Interrogating your partner, demanding reassurance, accusing, or withdrawing will push your partner away.

Your feelings of jealousy are your problem. It’s not your partner’s job to take care of them.

Quit comparing yourself to your partner’s exes, instead remind yourself continually that your partner is with you. Practice affirmations, repeating things like, “I deserve a loving and caring relationship. I am worthy and deserving of love.”

Talk about how you’re feeling with your partner too. Acknowledge that you’re feeling insecure, and let them know if there’s anything you’d like them to do to help you feel more secure (within reason because, hey, they can’t change their past for you).

3. Remember the past is the past for a reason.

All of us would like to believe that we’re improving in every romantic relationship, that our current one is infinitely better than our last one.

If a relationship ended, it did for a reason.

Remember that, and also know that resurrecting the past for your partner doesn’t help anyone move on.

4. Make your present amazing.

While I was busy thinking about or internet-stalking some of my partner’s exes, I wasn’t building a better relationship with my partner. I was actually neglecting him in the present while obsessing about his past. How ridiculous!

If you want your relationship with your partner to continue, re-direct that obsessive energy about their past to making sure that they know how much you care about them.

Plan fun ways the two of you can connect. Ask them how they’re doing and listen. Let the past be the past, but make the future look really bright.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought much about my husband’s exes. When I became more secure in our relationship, those feelings naturally subsided. Now, my husband’s exes stay in the rearview mirror while we drive off together. I hope this for you as well.

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Tara Blair Ball is a Certified Relationship Coach and author of Grateful in Love: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Couples, A Couples Goals Journal, and Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal. She has a Master's from the University of Memphis and is accredited by CTAA. You can find her on Tiktok, Instagram, or YouTube at @tara.relationshipcoach.

Memphis, TN

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