Struggling with a boyfriend’s past isn’t fun.

Letting go of intrusive thoughts about your boyfriend’s past, and overcoming retroactive jealousy is a massive topic (I’ve built a website, wrote a book, and designed an entire online course around it). There’s a lot for me to get into, here.

But in the early stages of overcoming retroactive jealousy, any woman struggling with her boyfriend’s past would do well to keep the following principles in mind.

Of course, accepting these principles is easier said than done, but I believe it is essential for your healing, and as a first step toward overcoming retroactive jealousy for good.

1.) Your boyfriend’s past made him who he is today.

Before you groan, hear me out:

If any aspect of your boyfriend’s past was different, he would be a completely different human being.

Pause and consider that for a moment.

And what’s more: if your boyfriend was a different human being, you might not be attracted to him at all.

I’m serious.

To a certain extent, we are all a compilation of our past experiences, good and bad. We are all informed and influenced by our past experiences.

And thus, if we generally like who we are today, and others seem to like us as well, we should be grateful for those experiences, good and bad.

This does not mean we should repeat our mistakes and indiscretions from our past–but merely, to look at them as teachers.

Some teachers are harsh but fair. Others are cruel, yet effective. Although the way they convey messages might leave something to be desired, they still taught us something. Often, something very important.

Many of the darker episodes from your past–or your boyfriend’s past–can be viewed the same way.

There may be certain elements of your boyfriend’s past which you don’t like. But as long as your boyfriend’s values and your values don’t contradict each other, what are you really worrying about here?

Retroactive jealousy is usually based on insecurity. Take a long look in the mirror the next time you have the instinct to go snooping into your boyfriend’s past.

2.) When we date someone, we take the good with the bad.

Same with your boyfriend’s past.

This is an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

Because I’m a straight guy, and it would be a bit odd to write about my “boyfriend’s past,” let’s pretend I’m struggling with my girlfriend’s past–or present, for that matter.

Let’s say I’m threatened by my girlfriend’s sexy exes.

Let’s say one of them is a bodybuilding multi-millionaire with three yachts in his backyard. Let’s say another is an Academy Award winning actor who tends to attract women like moths to a flame.

And let’s also say that my girlfriend is funny, gregarious, outgoing, independent-minded, warm, and loving. Let’s say my girlfriend is a great girlfriend, and a whole lot of fun to be around. Let’s say my girlfriend is highly attractive…

Guess what?

I’m attracted to her because she’s highly attractive.

And I’m not the only person who notices.

Attractive people tend to attract other attractive people. Funny people generally like being around other attractive people. Pretty girls tend to draw the attention of the men around them.

I choose to be with my girlfriend because she has a number of attractive qualities. So why would I be upset that other men also notice these qualities? Why should I be angry at my girlfriend for having attracted men in the past?

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to be honest with yourself about who you are and what you want.

And my truth is this: I want to be with an attractive, funny, warm woman.

I do not want to be with a woman who inspires other men to run in the opposite direction.

boyfriend's past

Attractive, funny, warm women tend to have a number of aspiring male suitors. So if I want to be with an attractive woman, it’s inevitable that there will be other men interested in her.

I need to make peace with this… or, I’ll lose her.

And end up with a “safer,” less attractive woman who doesn’t inspire and energize me in the same way.

The point is: there is probably a challenging flipside to all of the things you love about your boyfriend.

For example: let’s say your boyfriend is highly physically attractive, spending hours at the gym every week. Shocker: other women in his past, and present, will notice this, too, and be drawn to him.

Or, perhaps you’re dating a super intellectual, smooth-talking tango aficionado who speaks seven languages and rides a Harley Davidson. Guess what? That archetype is going to appeal to a lot of other women. But it also appeals to you–that’s why you chose him.

It’s impossible to date an attractive person who no one else finds attractive. If you’re attracted to your partner, other people are too. Other women will inevitably be drawn to all of your boyfriend’s attractive traits.

So what’s the alternative, here? Dating someone you, and no one else finds attractive just so you can feel “safe?”

Doesn’t sound great to me.

So when we choose to be with someone, we have to do a couple of things.

One, is to accept them for who they are, past and present.

Step two is to acknowledge that we are drawn to be with them because of who they are, both good and bad, past and present.

And we can look at the ego-threatening elements of spending time with them in one of two ways–we can be frustrated, wishing we could have the good without the bad.

Or, more realistically, we can accept that there is a bad occasionally challenging emotion that might come up for us as a result of their attractive qualities.

Above all: trust your boyfriend until he gives you a reason (or reasons) not to. Trust your boyfriend when he chooses you. Trust his love, his attention, his affection.

And remember that all human beings are selfish, to some extent–he’s not spending time with you because he feels sorry for you, or he’s “settling.”

He’s with you because he knows that, right now, out of all the women in the world, you are the best choice for him.

What a beautiful compliment.

If you’re struggling with insecurity in this regard, here’s what you need to discover: the unique gift you are bringing to his life which no other woman can.

Work on your self-esteem, and convince yourself of the unique spirit, energy, value you bring to his life which would be impossible for him to find anywhere else.

3.) You should be grateful for the women from his past.

I look back on my earliest relationships and cringe. Hard.

As a younger man, I didn’t begin to understand women. I made constant mistakes. I could be self-centered around the women I was seeing. I wasn’t confident enough.

Suffice it to say that I was seriously lacking, in several areas.

Today I am so grateful to the women in my past for teaching me–about love, about relationships, about women.

boyfriend's past walking on a dirt path

If you have a good boyfriend–a boyfriend who is kind, empathetic, respectful, confident–I can just about guarantee that his greatest teachers have been women, not men.

I have learned far, far more about relationships, communication, masculine and feminine polarity, empathy from woman compared to men. The same is almost certainly true of your boyfriend.

So if you met your boyfriend before he knew the women from his past, before he had those experiences, those lessons, you’d likely be disappointed.

You probably wouldn’t even be attracted to him.

If your boyfriend had been a virgin, or extremely inexperienced when you met him, take it from me: he wouldn’t know much about women.

So if your boyfriend came to you as a “clean slate,” he wouldn’t know anything about how (and how not) to treat you–what you want, what you don’t, how to communicate with you, how to turn you on. Of course, every woman is different, and you are no doubt different from the women from his past. However, your boyfriend would be a shell of the man he is today without his past dating experiences–and, in short, he probably wouldn’t know what to do with you.

He probably couldn’t handle you.

So try to cultivate even a tiny amount of gratitude to the women from your boyfriend’s past. Depending on the severity of your retroactive jealousy, I realize that this might be very difficult for you. But if you can simply begin to warm up to this idea, just a little, I promise that you’ll feel more peace of mind.

Above all, remember:

Your boyfriend’s past is just that–his past.

If your boyfriend is anything like the overwhelming majority of other men on the planet, he’s not thinking about the women from his past. He’s thinking about the woman who has his heart right now.

Other women may have had his heart in the past, but you have his present. So ask yourself: which sounds better to you?

Now:

Most of this is pretty easy to accept intellectually.

Actually living by these principles, and discovering techniques to overcome intrusive thoughts and nagging curiosity about your boyfriend’s past is another story.

If you are having difficulty overcoming painful, unwanted thoughts and curiosity about your boyfriend’s past, you are not alone.

Click here to join Sara, and over 1000 others who have found peace of mind and mental clarity, saved their relationships, and overcome 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.