Are you constantly comparing yourself to your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends? Do you feel inadequate compared to women in his past or worry that he still loves his ex?
Discover if your jealousy towards your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends is justified and learn how to let go of painful cycles of comparison.
Comparing yourself to others is almost always a waste of time.
It drags your self-esteem through the mud and can make you act out in petty and distrusting ways.
When we dwell on the lover that came before us in our partner’s life, insecurity and doubt can cause us to question our relationship and our value.
We can feel haunted by our partner’s exes, and dejected when we feel we don’t “stack-up” against them.
We start to question our partner constantly – seeking reassurance and validation.
It isn’t long before jealousy creeps back in and starts the cycle all over again.
I’ve been teaching and learning about retroactive jealousy for over seven years.
I’ve learned a lot about jealousy and comparison as a result of this work. I’ve compiled some of my best tools to overcome jealousy and comparison in this article.
But first, let’s explore whether your problem is retroactive jealousy or whether your distrust might be warranted.
How Do I Know If My Boyfriend Still Loves His Ex?
I don’t know you or your relationship, so I can’t answer this question for sure.
However, I’ll wager a bet, that on some level, you know.
I’ll also guess (based on the fact that you’re reading an article about overcoming jealousy) that you want to trust him.
People who seek out my guidance are often in relationships worth keeping and with partners that are worthy of their trust.
Still, sometimes it’s helpful to go through the process of evaluating whether our jealousy is justified or not.
Here are two questions to help you gain clarity on whether your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends are still on his mind.
Question #1: Do you bring up your boyfriend’s ex–girlfriends, or does he?
If you and your boyfriend are talking about exes often, get clear on who is bringing them up.
If you’re instigating most of these conversations and it seems like your boyfriend wants to talk about anything else – it’s likely you’re suffering from retroactive jealousy.
It’s also important to evaluate how he’s talking about his exes.
Is he sharing with you past troubles with his ex, or does he talk about missing his ex and reminiscing about their happy times together?
If it’s either of the latter two, it’s possible he’s not over his relationship with his ex.
You and your boyfriend must have a frank conversation about this – a one-and-done kind of dialogue.
Let him know that talking about his ex makes you feel hurt and uncomfortable.
You have a right to ask him whether he still harbors feelings for his ex-girlfriend. You both need to make a plan to move forward without memories of his ex following you into the future.
Question #2: Does he still see or speak to his ex? Or follow her on social media?
If your boyfriend has had a clean break from his ex – meaning they no longer hang out, chat, or follow each other on social media – it is highly unlikely your jealousy is justified.
Your boyfriend has taken all of the appropriate actions to get his ex out of his life.
He would likely prefer not to talk or think about her.
If this is the case, you need to take action to stop dwelling on his past. (I’m sharing my best strategies on how to do this below.)
Did you answer “yes” to this question? Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean your boyfriend still harbors feeling for his ex.
Sometimes, exes remain friends. Often, people that were together for a long time have shared friend groups that make it difficult to achieve a totally-clean split.
If your boyfriend still sees his ex because of mutual friends and social obligations, pay attention to how they interact.
Does he try to avoid her, or is she the first person he hugs when you all get together?
Is he openly affectionate with you at these gatherings, or does he stick you in the corner with someone else as he laughs it up with his ex?
Do they message each other secretly or get together one-on-one?
Trust your gut, but don’t confuse your insecurity with your intuition.
Your boyfriend should be focused on you and have little or nothing to do with his exes – and they definitely should not be engaged in intimate, private friendships.
If you’re in a rock-solid relationship with a great guy, but jealousy is still getting in the way of enjoying relationship, read my strategies below to get over comparing yourself with your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, and gaining greater confidence.
“My Boyfriend’s Ex-Girlfriends Are All I Think About”: The Ultimate Guide To Overcoming Comparison
Step #1) Take a Break from Social Media
Social media and social comparison go together like PB and J.
Worse, the two fuel each other so much that scientists claim they operate in a “feedback loop.”
Meaning, the amount of time we spend on social media increases our jealousy, and our increased jealousy drives us to stay on social media longer (Marshall, T. 2013).
It’s also worth mentioning that social media is one giant highlight reel. It’s impossible to see ourselves as equals when we’re comparing our lives against a highly edited version of someone else’s peaks.
We all have a range of highs and lows – as well as things that we’re great at, and things that we’re not so great at doing.
Social media tells us a dangerously incomplete story about others that is never worth comparing against your daily reality.
Similarly, when you find old pictures of your boyfriend and his ex, you’ve got to remember these are also the “highlight reel” of his past relationship.
Think about your own social media activity.
We post pictures when we’re happiest or when we want to show-off.
It’s futile to stack your entire relationship up against a happy picture of your boyfriend and his ex.
It does not capture the truth of that relationship or share any of the boredom, disagreements, fights, or hurt that were also part of them being together.
Here’s a hard truth: no amount of internet sleuthing will satisfy your jealousy or make it go away.
You will never stumble across the piece of evidence you’re genuinely looking for: the one that confirms once and for all that your boyfriend loves you best.
Making the decision not to engage when you find yourself triggered by retroactive jealousy, and creating new ways of thinking is key to healing.
Staying off social media makes this work a whole lot easier to do.
Step #2) Boost Your Self-Confidence
Social comparison impacts everyone and not just those in romantic relationships.
We stack our houses up against our neighbors, and compare our lives to those in our peer group.
Sometimes, social comparison can inspire “upward action.” Meaning, we can look at something someone else is doing or has and realize that we want it too. Once we recognize the desire, we can take action towards it.
This is the idea of “healthy competition.” And health is the key word.
It’s about seeing someone else’s rock-hard abs and committing to a gym membership. It’s not about seeing someone’s tiny waist and starving yourself to look the same.
There are whole studies on social comparison theory and how it can both inspire growth and create harm.
Typically, those that struggle with retroactive jealousy are experiencing the harmful results of social comparison.
Often, poor self-esteem plays a role.
When you’re constantly evaluating yourself against your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends and seeing yourself as less, you’re demonstrating a lack of confidence about your self-worth.
If low self-esteem is contributing to your retroactive jealousy, be intentional about building yourself up.
One of the easiest ways to boost confidence is to get out into nature and exercise.
I know. It’s the same answer you hear from everybody as the cure to every problem.
When it comes to emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, though, there truly is no better remedy than exercise and fresh air.
Other things you can do are start writing out what you’re grateful for or practicing power poses. (I highly recommend this TED talk with Amy Cuddy to learn more about how our body language can impact self-confidence).
Write lists about all of the things that you like about yourself. Ask your boyfriend to add to this list.
Spend less time on social media and more time doing the things that bring you joy, purpose, and that you’re naturally talented at doing.
There are so many health benefits to trying out some of the ideas listed above – beyond overcoming retroactive jealousy.
Remember, your boyfriend chose you and keeps choosing you. He must think you’re pretty great.
Step #3) Stop Asking About Your Boyfriend’s Ex-Girlfriends
Jealousy is an intimacy killer.
Researchers have found that jealousy negatively impacts relationship happiness and contributes to more frequent conflicts (Martinez-Leon, N. et al. 2017).
But you didn’t need science to tell you jealousy is a buzz-kill, did you?
I suspect that’s why you’re here.
Here’s something I’ve learned after several years helping thousands of people heal from RJ: it’s on you to do the work, not your partner.
If you’re suffering from RJ, it impacts both of you, but change can only happen with you.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t recruit your boyfriend to support you.
You can ask him not to bring up his ex-girlfriend anymore.
You can let him know you’re taking a social media break and ask him to hold you accountable.
You can ask him to take down the painting they bought together if it triggers you.
The inner work, though, is all on you.
As you’re working to overcome RJ, I encourage you to stop when you feel the temptation to ask your boyfriend about his exes.
I’m not advocating silent suffering. I just know how much of a dangerous cycle it can be when you initiate endless questioning your boyfriend about his exes.
When we suffer from RJ, we want our partner to soothe us and convince us that they love us best.
The relief you get from questioning your partner isn’t worth the strain you’re putting on him and your relationship.
You will never fully achieve the validation you’re looking for by looking to another. Again, it has to come from within.
Step #4) Learn to Trust
I have a long-time female friend who used to struggle with retroactive jealousy towards her (now) husband’s ex-girlfriend.
When she met her husband years ago, she described having the ultimate summer fling.
Everything was fun, reckless, sun-kissed, and worry-free–until she saw a picture of his ex.
She told me he’d spoken of his ex throughout that summer. She was aware he’d recently gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship and that he was still untangling their affairs.
What he hadn’t mentioned in those conversations was that his ex-girlfriend was gorgeous.
My friend admits that in the early days of their relationship, she looked up her partner’s ex often – and was hooked on the narrative that because the ex-girlfriend was more beautiful, he must have preferred her.
This is an intelligent woman who didn’t inflate her partner’s physical attractiveness but, because of social comparison, began to undervalue her own.
When I asked her how she got over it, she offered two pieces of advice:
1) She began to listen to all of the ways her partner described the hurt, anxiety, and fear his ex-girlfriend had caused and started to value her character over his exes attractiveness.
2) She decided to experiment with trust.
This second point is critical.
My friend didn’t flip a switch that was “I don’t trust him”/ “I do trust him.”
She had done enough mindset work to know that when it comes to changing habits, we have to “fake it until we make it.”
Whenever jealous thoughts came up, my friend chose to say to herself, “we don’t do this anymore. I choose to trust him.”
She decided that she’d rather trust her partner and be burned than lose all of the fun of a relationship to doubt and insecurity.
The result? They’re married, have an adorable baby, and my friend doesn’t think about her husband’s ex or worry about him cheating her.
All because she consciously decided to accept a certain amount of risk, and make a choice.
You can begin to experiment with trust today.
You can expect that this will feel like acting in the early days before you cultivate new habits.
Most of the best changes in life begin when we pretend at something until it becomes real.
The alternative to not making the choice to trust someone we love is a lifetime of loneliness, and lack of intimacy.
I know which choice I’m making. What about you?
Step #5) Ditch Comparison by Cheering On Your Boyfriend’s Ex-girlfriends
I included this step knowing full well that many of the women reading this are going to resist it.
Yes, I’m suggesting you be happy for the same people that are making you jealous right now.
Here’s the thing. Gratitude and positive thinking benefit the person thinking the positive thought (Allen, S. 2018).
Here’s the other thing. Your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend will never know that you sent them good vibes. You reap the rewards of wishing them well and they aren’t any the wiser.
How can you start thinking positive thoughts about your boyfriend’s exes?
It’s easier once you’ve started to see your own value and opened yourself up to trusting your boyfriend.
It’s helpful to remind yourself that your boyfriend and his ex broke up for a reason and that he has chosen you for a reason too.
How does it work? If you go down the social media rabbit hole and find yourself feeling inadequate, try to be happy for your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends instead of engaging with negative emotions.
Change your mindset from “she’s so fit. He must wish I was that fit too” to “Good for her for exercising. It seems to make her happy. Instead of going to the gym, I had a great night in with my boyfriend watching movies and eating pasta. I wouldn’t have traded it for a treadmill if you’d paid me.”
The problem with social comparison is that we often get jealous about choices we don’t even want to make for ourselves.
There are only so many things we can do, be, and have.
We all have our diverse interests – we cannot do it all.
We’re going to live happier lives if we follow our interests and peacefully let others pursue theirs.
If you catch yourself triggered by your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends on social media, make the split-second decision to see her post from a place of good intentions.
Wish her the best with the choices she’s making and remind yourself of the many ways you show up for yourself.
There can’t be comparison where there is genuine well-wishing.
You can’t be jealous when you choose to feel good about your decisions and the life you’re creating.
Step #6) Pay Attention to Your Triggers
When you’re focused on your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, notice where your attention is fixated.
Do you worry that he had a better sex life with his ex? Or more fun?
Do you fixate on her looks, her social media following, her money, or her career?
Jealousy can be a tool to highlight where we feel our lives are lacking.
Like I said earlier, sometimes social comparison can be helpful.
If you’re focusing on an attribute – like career or influence – you can use this information to take positive steps towards your dreams.
If you’re focused on things like looks or lifestyle, you’re focused on the “highlight reel” and are forgetting that all (read: every single one of us) only puts their best foot, face, and food photography forward on social media.
What doesn’t serve you doesn’t deserve your attention and energy.
Use information gathered in social comparison to help you identify areas of your own life that you’re ready to grow and make positive changes within.
Don’t dwell on superficial things that have been filtered, cropped, and manipulated, and believe those images accurately represent someone’s life.
Step #7) Seek Help if You Need It
When our feelings of jealousy and comparison become obsessive, it’s often difficult to overcome these emotions on our own.
It’s essential to educate yourself about retroactive jealousy, become aware of your triggers, and be honest with yourself about whether your RJ is ruining your relationship.
I wrote a guidebook and workbook to support people like you wanting to overcome retroactive jealousy. I also offer a comprehensive online course and one-on-one coaching.
I’ve supported thousands of people to heal from retroactive jealousy and overcome obsessive thinking and relationship-sabotage.
In the process of healing from my retroactive jealousy and supporting others to do the same, I’ve learned it’s faster and more effective to do this work with other people
Obsessive jealousy shows up in the brain and our habits, much like other forms of OCD.
It takes commitment to heal from RJ and the right tools to truly recover.
My work is not a replacement for traditional psychotherapy – if that’s what you need – but I have been listening, learning, and seeing incredible success with former RJ sufferers from around the globe for nearly a decade.
Click here to learn more about healing from retroactive jealousy, and how you can get over your partner’s past fast.