“Help! My boyfriend hates my past!”

Today’s reader question comes from Michelle, who writes “my boyfriend hates my past.” She continues:

My boyfriend really wants to break up with me because he can not get over my past. How can I make him understand me?

Transcript below

Zachary Stockill: Thanks for your email, Michelle.

This is a little heartbreaking, and I get these kinds of emails way too often from the partners of retroactive jealousy sufferers who are often trying desperately to hold on the relationship and they’re looking to me for answers in terms of what they can do to support their partner as they work to overcome retroactive jealousy and how they can keep their relationship.

So, first off, I’ve written in-depth articles on this topic. You can have a look at that. If you’re the partner of someone struggling with retroactive jealousy, I think you’ll find that valuable.

But other than that, I would say you should never have to convince someone to stay with you.

If someone wants to leave, they’re going to find an excuse to leave. There’s a rock song that I like. I think it’s by a band called 38 Special. It’s called “Hold On Loosely” (if you want to have a long relationship). There’s something kind of beautiful about that sentiment, I think. Hold on, but don’t hold on too tight. Hold on loosely.

Basically, you shouldn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you.

I think that I’m an example of someone who’s handled rejection fairly well because I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me. So if someone walks away from me, it’s like, “God bless and be on your way.”

It might hurt, and there might be a real sense of pain and loss there, but ultimately, choose someone who chooses you. That’s been the philosophy that I’ve lived by and it has served me very well.

That said, if your partner is struggling with retroactive jealousy, one thing you can do is to stay present. Try not to entertain too many questions about your past, especially if he’s really poking and prodding and really being invasive and abusive. Don’t put up with any kind of that behavior, but really try to emphasize the fact that you want to live in the present.

You’re not interested in talking about your past. You’re not interested in reliving your past. Your past is your past. It’s over now. You want to be present with your partner. You want to build something in the present with your partner that’s meaningful and that’s better than what you had in the past.

If you’re telling me “my boyfriend hates my past,” I would also say give your boyfriend the necessary space and time to heal.

So if they’re serious about wanting to overcome retroactive jealousy, and they’re serious about wanting to take back the power, take control, and really move on with their life, they’re going to need some space and some time apart from you.

I don’t mean a break up or anything like that, but they’re going to need literal space, physical space, and time alone, or time away from you so they can do the exercises they need to do.

They need to a series of personal development activities and exercises, which will help them overcome retroactive jealousy. I think it’s important as the partner of someone struggling with retroactive jealousy that you allow them that space and time that they need to heal.

But bottom line, you can never really make someone change.

Another example of an email that I often get from the partners of retroactive jealousy sufferers is these partners write to me and they basically say, like, “My boyfriend hates my past. How can I make my boyfriend read your book?” Or, “How can I make my husband take your course?” Or, “How can I make my wife do this?”

It doesn’t work like that.

I always tell these people, “if your partner wants to find my work and really wants to change and do take the necessary steps, they need to do that on their own.” They can’t feel like someone’s putting a gun to their head or someone’s trying to force them to do something they don’t want to do.

You can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. You can’t force people to change.

So it’s really up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with and how patient you are with your partner as they hopefully work to overcome retroactive jealousy.

But, unfortunately, if you’re with someone who’s just really stubborn and they’re just not going to change and they’re punishing you for their past, and they’re berating you, and they’re really just not owning the problem, unfortunately, there’s very little you can do in that situation.

I always tell people that retroactive jealousy is the sufferer’s problem to solve.

As the partner of someone who suffers from this issue, you can’t solve this problem for them.

It’s up to them taking ownership; it’s up to them taking action; and it’s up to them to take the necessary steps, to really put this issue to bed so you can go back to having a normal, healthy, happy, functioning relationship.

Thanks again, Michelle.

Click here to learn more about overcoming retroactive jealousy.


Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of RetroactiveJealousy.com, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.