“My boyfriend’s past bothers me” is a recurring opening line in emails I receive.

In today’s reader Q and A video, I respond to Jasmin, who writes “my boyfriend’s past bothers me.”

She continues:

I bought and read your guidebook, and have gone into the website. Thank you for helping me through retroactive jealousy concerning the fact that my boyfriend’s past bothers me.

My issue is that when I see mementos of my boyfriend’s past relationship with his ex, I feel very bad afterward.

The problem is that I keep finding things left over from when his girlfriend lived with him. My boyfriend’s past bothers me and I do not know how to combat seeing these “triggers” so often.

Transcript below

Zachary Stockill: Thank you for your message, Jasmine. This general theme of being bothered by objects around your partner’s house or objects from his past, this is pretty common when it comes to retroactive jealousy. So you’re certainly not alone in struggling with this kind of thing.

I think there are a few ways that you can approach this, a few ways you could look at this issue, but the number one piece of advice I’d offer and you might already be expecting it, is start putting in the work to overcome retroactive jealousy. When you’re at a point where your boyfriend’s past is just not a big deal anymore, you’re starting to see things clearly, the mental movies have started to disappear, the curiosity starts to fade, you start feeling great again, and your relationship improves and you’re sleeping better, and all these things that we associate with retroactive jealousy with overcoming retroactive jealousy–once that process starts happening, these objects and their association with your boyfriend’s past starts to not become important anymore.

You might notice objects lying around the house or a certain object that has real meaning associated with your partner’s past and you just stop thinking about it. It’s just not a really big deal anymore.

So my biggest piece of advice is just start putting in the work toward overcoming retroactive jealousy.

And this problem will kind of take care of itself.

But in the meantime, another thing that you can think about is changing the story you’re telling yourself about these objects, trying to change the meaning they have in your life and in your partner’s life.

So for example, if there’s a kitchen table that you’ve associated with your partner’s past, maybe you and your partner can have some fun, get a bit wild and crazy on that table so you’re changing the meaning of that table, you’re associating a new, really positive memory with this object that will hopefully override any association that this object might have with your boyfriend’s past.

You can do this with clothes. If there’s a certain piece of clothing that you’ve associated with your partner’s past, maybe you start wearing it or … You can get creative with this. But the basic idea is just to try to start changing the memories you have associated with these items, creating new memories, creating new mental associations, and changing the overall story that you’re telling yourself about these items.

Remembering that they’re just items. They’re not living. Don’t have a memory.

They’re completely inanimate and you can create a new story around these items and change their meaning, probably not only in your life, but also in your boyfriend’s life as well.

Other people ask me about beds. That’s a big one. A lot of guys write to me and they say: “Hey, my wife slept with her ex husband or ex boyfriend on this bed. I have to go in this bed every night. It’s driving me crazy.”

That’s tough. And for items like that, again, my previous tip still applies, this idea of changing the meaning of those items, changing the story. The idea that I introduced this video with just in terms of overcoming retroactive jealousy, and sooner or later this won’t be a problem anymore, that idea certainly still applies.

But if you started putting in the work toward overcoming retroactive jealousy, you’re really committed. You started doing all the right things. You’re really on the path. You’re making progress and you’re really working hard, and months and months later, you’re still having these negative associations and these items, they’re really bothering you. If you can afford it, I don’t think there’s any shame in maybe replacing those items. Go to the mattress store and get a new bed or get a new kitchen table or buy your boyfriend a new shirt and say, “That shirt’s ugly. I want you to throw it out.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that if you can afford it of course. I don’t think it’s necessarily an admission of defeat. Sometimes it’s nice to kind of throw some things out and start anew.

And if you do suggest this, I wouldn’t be really abrasive about it.

I wouldn’t lay down all these ultimatums. Just kind of suggest it. And when you suggest it, when you present this idea, suggested in the spirit of, “Hey, let’s do something new, let’s try something new, let’s inject some new energy into this room or into our wardrobe,” or whatever. Just try to talk about it in the spirit of renewal, the spirit of giving yourself a bit of a treat, something new, something nice. Don’t make a big deal about it.

And if they say no, if they don’t want to replace this item, then I think you should respect that.

And you can almost look at it as a challenge, and mark the time by how much that item bothers you.

For example, is it bothering you as much as it did two months ago or six months ago or a year ago? And if you start putting in the work toward overcoming retroactive jealousy, and you really commit to the path that I lay out in my blog, my guidebook, my online course, I’m confident that sooner or later these objects won’t bother you anymore.

And you might even feel a little silly that they ever bothered you once upon a time.

Thanks again for your message, Jasmin.

Click here to learn more about getting past your boyfriend’s past, and 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.