We've all been there — you meet someone new, start dating and everything's going great, but before long, you end up finding out about his or her romantic and/or sexual history.
Some people are able to just brush off revelations their partners once enjoyed threesomes or recently broke up with the love of their life.
Others fall into a vicious cycle of anxious overthinking about their partners' pasts, something known as “retroactive jealousy." Unfortunately for me, I fell into the latter camp.
After many months battling my own head and trying out different practical exercises, however, I was able to beat the condition. So now, I want to share what I've learned with others.
Below are some of the most important tools in your fight against retroactive jealousy.
Jealousy is all in the mind.
If you constantly obsess over your partner's romantic or sexual past with other people, then one of the best things you can do to stop it is learn to train your mind to not dwell on the subject when it arises in your mind.
The only reason you're suffering from this condition is because you're choosing to give a disproportionate amount of mind space to it.
Think about it: If you never allowed yourself to become embroiled in endless ruminations about your partner's past, would you technically still suffer from retroactive jealousy?
When all is said and done, the only thing that sets you apart from non-sufferers is the fact you think about this stuff and they don't. From an outsider's perspective, there's nothing to tell a sufferer's relationship apart from a non-sufferer's relationship. They both appear happy. The only difference is in the sufferer's head.
The truth is you can't control the random thoughts that pop in and out of your head -- whether they're jealous ones or not -- but you can control whether you choose to dwell on these thoughts.
Learn to stop dwelling in your head.
You can choose to stop yourself from ruminating on your partner's past if you wish. Granted this can be hard, but it's not impossible.
You just need to become aware of when you've drifted off into a wormhole of thoughts about the past and force yourself to climb out of it and focus on something else.
I suggest tackling this problem by first isolating exactly what it is you're thinking. Write down on a piece of paper as much as you can about your jealous thoughts: the kinds of things you think about, how often, where, when, etc.
You could try a free association exercise for this, i.e. writing whatever comes into your head without thinking or editing. Try to pinpoint the exact nature of your thoughts and divide them into different types.
For example, my thinking about my girlfriend's past fell into three distinct camps:
- Mini-movies about her being with other guys.
- Near constant, repetitive images of photos I'd seen of them together.
- Trying to work out in my head how to stop both of the above.
This exercise helps you get clear in your mind exactly what thought patterns need eradicating. Then, it's literally just a question of learning how to re-focus your mind's attention on the present moment whenever one of these patterns arise.
Say you find yourself drifting off into a series of thoughts about your partner and an ex-lover — how they met, got to know one another, had sex for the first time, etc. Well… just stop! You can do it if you really want to.
Force yourself to focus on something else. Put on a movie. Dance to an uplifting song. Play a computer game. Call a friend. Anything to wrench your mind away from the past and back into the present.
A great way of training the mind to live more in the present moment is to practice meditation.
I suggest seeking out a few “guided meditations” first, as the practice can be easier to grasp with someone talking you through it. Then progress to meditating unaided and you'll soon begin to gain more “control” over your mind.
Retroactive jealousy can't survive an active mind.
Often, to suffer from retroactive jealousy means you're probably not being productive enough in your day-to-day life, and so you're feeling unchallenged or unfulfilled in some way. Remember, the mind loves to be kept occupied by challenges, and so if you don't provide any, it'll just go ahead and make up imaginary ones instead.
Being stuck in a boring job, unemployment or just feeling lost are all perfect breeding grounds for negative, meaningless thoughts to fester.
If you're fully engaged in life, have a hobby or job that interests and excites you, have a great set of friends or family and are generally engaged in regular activities that give you a sense of purpose, you'll be way less likely to suffer from retroactive jealousy.
Your mind simply won't have time to think about useless stuff if it's fully engaged in a meaningful environment.
The condition of retroactive jealousy is not as powerful as you think. All it consists of is thoughts in your own head about the past, and there's nothing that can take away what you have with your partner in the present.