In today’s reader Q & A video, I respond to Jim. Jim and his girlfriend broke up because of retroactive jealousy, and he wants to know if he did the right thing.

Even if you’re not someone who broke up because of retroactive jealousy, I think you’ll find it interesting.

Jim writes:

My girlfriend and I broke up due to my struggles of not being able to overcome her sexual past. After listening to your podcast, I believe I have a case of retroactive jealousy, and I’ve been debating whether or not I made the right choice of ending our relationship. Although you obviously don’t know our relationship, my main question would just be for any advice you may have on if you think I’ve made a rash decision due to my retroactive jealousy.

Transcript below

Zachary Stockill: Thanks for your message, Jim.

This is a tricky one, and this is a question that I receive quite frequently.

A lot of people feel this impulse to break up with their partner due to retroactive jealousy. There are various reasons for that.

So one reason might be that people realize, “My partner genuinely does not share my values. Maybe I’ve been using retroactive jealousy as an excuse to push them away because I’m unhappy in the relationship and I believe in my heart of hearts, deep in my soul, that their past choices demonstrate that they’re not a good fit for me.”

That’s one possibility. This is the minority of cases, I would say.

It’s important for me to acknowledge that some people realize that their partner doesn’t share their values and it’s less about the past than about the present and the future.

If you encounter someone who has a history of violating values and principles that are extremely important to you, and they haven’t really changed, and they’re not really owning their past choices that maybe aren’t totally in line with you and your values, and it’s very likely they’re going to continue to do this in the future, then it’s probably a reasonable decision to end that relationship because you’re not compatible.

The rest of your relationship is probably going to be a big struggle.

However, many more who are struggling with retroactive jealousy and debating whether or not to break up, I believe their biggest motivation isn’t that they believe that their partner doesn’t share their values or there’s a massive chasm between their values and their partner’s values.

I think the main impetus is just “I am so sick of thinking about my partner’s past, I can’t take this anymore. Maybe if I break up with them, this will solve my retroactive jealousy. Maybe if I just break up with them, I’ll be able to think about something other than my partner’s past. I’ll finally get some peace of mind. Maybe this will solve my problem.”

So as I’ve covered at length, on my YouTube channel and elsewhere, it’s possible this will provide some people with long-term relief; however, as I’ve covered again in-depth many times, retroactive jealousy has a nasty habit of following people into consecutive relationships.

Regardless of the person’s past, regardless of different partners pasts, and what’s involved in various people’s past, it has a tendency to follow us around, unfortunately, until we really step up and put in the work and learn all the exercises, practices and perspectives that can help us keep retroactive jealousy at bay over the long-term.

So it’s important for me to acknowledge that before I say what I’m about to say next. So I would say if you’re struggling with this question of whether or not you did the right thing first off, unfortunately, if there’s already been a real break, I think that some relationships can survive that, having a breakup and then coming back together, I think most cannot.

I think most of the time when that trust is broken, that we’re both going to work on this thing, and we’re going to stick together through thick and thin and I’m yours and you’re mine, we’re really going to make a go of it. I think once that’s broken the first time, it can be very tough to put it back together again, unfortunately.

broke up because of retroactive jealousy

There’s a metaphor I heard once: the idea was if you have a plate and you drop it on the floor and it shatters, maybe it’s broken into two or three pieces, and maybe with some glue you can put it back together, but fundamentally the plate is weaker now.

So the next time you drop it, it might shatter into even more pieces. And then, can you put it back together after that? I’m not sure.

I kind of think that’s what breakups are like when you have multiple breakups with the same person. It becomes increasingly difficult, I think, to put that back together.

That said, if you’re considering whether or not you made the right decision when you broke up because of retroactive jealousy, the main question I would ask you is:

What was your motivation for breaking up? Was it simply that you thought that breaking up would solve your retroactive jealousy and you just want to think about something else, you’re so sick of thinking about your partner’s past? Or, did you come to the conclusion that your partner fundamentally does not share your values?

It’s possible that I’m wrong, but it’s likely you made some kind of mistake.

I don’t know if a reunion would be possible, but either way, I would strongly encourage you to get really clear about what your main motivation or the main impetus behind you wanting to break up was.

Regardless of what you come to with regard to your main motivation, I think it’s in your best interest to start learning more about retroactive jealousy now to prepare you for your next relationship and to really give you a fighting chance against retroactive jealousy if that comes up for you in your next relationship.

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.