Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretense of keeping it alive.
- Havelock Ellis
RETROACTIVE JEALOUSY USUALLY INVOLVES obsessive and unpleasant thoughts and emotions regarding a partner’s past relationships and sexual history. Some people are troubled by the fact that their partner went through a “promiscuous phase” involving multiple lovers. Some people are troubled by the fact that their partner engaged in different types of sexual behaviour, or had more sexual partners than themselves. Some people are troubled by the fact that their partner was once deeply in love and committed to another person. Some people are troubled by the fact that their partner once kissed another boy in the seventh grade (I’m not kidding). Wherever you fall on the spectrum, retroactive jealousy usually involves intrusive and unwanted thoughts and mental images, and highly-charged emotional responses concerning a partner’s past.
Where retroactive jealousy tends to differ from fairly standard, run-of-the-mill jealousy in relationships is its often compulsive, obsessive nature: sufferers of retroactive jealousy tend to get caught in a self-perpetuating loop of obsessive thoughts, painful emotions, inconsiderate and irrational actions, and subsequent self-loathing. Some people describe it as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD is defined as “an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry; by repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing the associated anxiety; or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.” As I can attest to, it’s not fun.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to define your retroactive jealousy as a mental disorder matters little for purposes of my guidebook — our task is to develop techniques for dealing with retroactive jealousy, clinically-defined disorder or not. Still, I should take this opportunity to tell you that you may want to consider professional therapy and/or medical treatment if you genuinely feel out of control, or a threat to yourself or others. If you feel capable of dealing with your problem without medical intervention, please read on.
For men and women, retroactive jealousy could be linked to a host of factors, including hormonal imbalances in the brain, memories of past betrayal, simple fear of the unknown, or jealousy’s infamous conjoined twin, insecurity. I argue that all sufferers of retroactive jealousy can trace the root cause of their jealousy to insecurity, and this is a theme I return to repeatedly throughout the book.
For men, jealousy in relationships is also linked to our biological compulsion to procreate and ensure the survival of our genes. A partner who is a threat to mate with another man (and thus, carry his genes instead) arouses unease and suspicion. The genetic “cost” for a man of raising a child not his own is huge. I could expand on this, but there are many writers on human sexuality and evolutionary biology to whom you could refer who could provide a much better explanation than I. And regardless, in this book I am more concerned with offering strategies for dealing with retroactive jealousy, rather than a comprehensive scientific account of the disorder. Suffice it to say, however, that men are biologically programmed to be jealous of other men.
Therefore, you could take your retroactive jealousy as a trustworthy message from your biological core that your partner is unworthy of your love and trust. However, in my own experience and that of countless others, retroactive jealousy is usually based on relatively innocent, relatable, and understandable behaviour. If you care enough about your partner to buy this book and commit to dealing with your problem, chances are good that the relationship is worth fighting for. Unless it isn’t.
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