In today’s video, I’m going to talk about the cognitive distortion of “emotional reasoning,” a common pitfall of retroactive jealousy sufferers.

Read or watch below to learn more about emotional reasoning.

Zachary Stockill: Hello and welcome back to my ongoing series on retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions. 

In today’s video, we’re going to talk about one that we’re all guilty of from time to time. And that is: emotional reasoning. 

Before we get into it, I’ll give you my very brief reminder. The term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, often obsessive curiosity, about a partner’s past relationships and or dating/sexual history.

Cognitive distortions are usually irrational, unhelpful, counterproductive thought patterns that hold us back from a happier life, and hold us back in our relationships. They often contribute to things like anxiety, depression and, of course, retroactive jealousy, which is the reason why I’m sharing this series here and on YouTube

So what is emotional reasoning?

Emotional reasoning is making sense of the world based solely on your emotions. Exercising emotionality over rational thinking. This type of thinking assumes that just because you’re experiencing an emotion, whatever the emotion is, that automatically means that that emotion is indicative of reality. 

For example, assuming that the fact that you’re feeling guilt means that you’re a bad person. You’re automatically making meaning out of your emotions, rather than looking at the whole picture. Not realizing that feelings are not necessarily facts

The lie of emotional reasoning says the opposite, basically; that all feelings are facts. 

And falling victim to that way of thinking can often lead to things like anxiety and depression and related disorders. 

Let’s take the classic retroactive jealousy example. So someone struggling with retroactive jealousy may conclude, based on emotional reasoning, that the fact that they’re struggling with their partner’s past automatically means that their partner’s past is a dealbreaker

“The fact that I’m experiencing these highly charged emotions relating to my partner’s past automatically means that they’re not the right person for me… And that automatically means that I should leave. It automatically means that I’m in the wrong relationship…”

Now, of course, as I say, endlessly on this channel and elsewhere, sometimes walking away is absolutely the right decision. 

Sometimes walking away and ending the relationship is the best choice for everyone involved. 

That includes you and your partner. Sometimes you deserve better. Sometimes your partner deserves better as well. And sometimes you’re just not meant for each other. And sometimes someone’s past is a glaring indication that there really are red flags. Sometimes, their past really is a problem. 

However, in my experience of working on this issue of retroactive jealousy, this represents the minority of cases. 

In other words, the vast majority of people struggling with retroactive jealousy, yes, experience highly charged painful emotions around their partner’s past. And this was certainly true of me back in the day as well, if I think back to when I was struggling with my then girlfriend’s past.

And there were times when I was falling victim to emotional reasoning. Where I said “oh, the fact that her past is bothering me so much automatically means that I should leave…” 

Whereas I’d have other moments when I was feeling calm and I realized that that was completely illogical. It didn’t make sense. 

emotional reasoning

“There are no real dealbreakers in my partner’s past, nothing that I should seriously be worried about. And the fact that I’m struggling with these painful emotions around my girlfriend’s past doesn’t necessarily mean that I should make meaning out of that…

It doesn’t necessarily mean that I should make a decision about the future of my relationship based on these emotions.”

So again, sometimes emotional reasoning will lead you to more or less the “right” conclusion. But that certainly isn’t all the time for retroactive jealousy sufferers.

Again, in my experience, the vast majority of people who struggle with retroactive jealousy, once they start doing what we know works, once they start taking the steps that we know make a difference… 

Once they start getting a handle on their brain, they start calming down. They start getting some degree of control over their emotions, and they start seeing things clearly. 

Once this happens, the vast majority of people realize that their partner’s past isn’t actually a dealbreaker. Emotional reasoning was leading them down the wrong path. 

So my homework to you in this video, as is my homework and all these videos, is to encourage you to think about where you may be falling victim to emotional reasoning in your own life.

Over the next week or two weeks or so you can journal about this. You can simply make mental notes if you’d prefer that. But think about where you might be making emotional conclusions relating to your relationship, or relating to anything else in your life.

Where are you falling victim to the cognitive distortion of emotional reasoning?

If you need more help with retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, check out my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast”, or consider applying for one-on-one coaching with me.

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, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.