How to accept the past of your partner? It isn’t always easy…

In today’s reader Q and A video, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on how to accept the past of your partner, and how you can approach the question: “Am I dealing with retroactive jealousy concerning my partner’s past, or a genuine conflict in values?”

Transcript below

Zachary Stockill: The question I want to address in today’s video is one that I get very, very frequently.

They put the question to me in different ways, but basically, the question is, “How to accept the past of my partner? Am I dealing with retroactive jealousy?” Or, “are my partner’s values and my values incompatible?”

In other words, these people are basically asking me, am I dealing with irrational jealousy, or should I leave my partner? Is there a fundamental deal breaker issue here that I should be taking note of? And does this deal breaker issue mean that I should break up with them?

How to accept the past of your partner?

Now, obviously, we’re all going to have to arrive at different answers to this question.

If you’re grappling with this question now, it’s really a very personal choice, but one thing I’ll suggest is I wrote a long article on this topic. I also made a video about it.

In addition to having a look at that video, I want to address one issue, or one idea that I think might be helpful to you as you make this decision.

Basically, the idea that I want you to consider as you grapple with how to accept the past of your partner is remembering that there’s no such thing as perfection in a person, or in a relationship.

Basically, what I’m saying is there’s always going to be something about your partner or perhaps your partners past that doesn’t sit quite right, or isn’t your favorite thing to think about, or you don’t love it.

We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all made bad choices in love, in sex, in dating.

It’s hard to be a modern human.

The modern sexual marketplace is really complicated. We all have baggage. We’ve all made mistakes, and looking for perfection, looking for someone who their past is a hundred percent squeaky clean. You tell yourself, “Oh, if they just had a clean past.”

Or, for example, the most common example, I get a lot of guys emailing me who basically want a virgin. They think, “If I’m going to be in a relationship with a woman, I want to be with a virgin.” Okay, fine. Let’s play that out for a minute. Let’s say you find your virgin, your mythical virginal woman. Who’s to say in a year, or two, or three of marriage she won’t get bored?

She’s watching television, she’s watching movies, she’s realizing that the modern woman, or many modern women in society have a range of relationships before they settle down. So maybe she leaves you, and she divorces you, and she goes off to have these experiences that she didn’t have before she met you.

There’s a million and one examples like that if you scroll around online enough, and what’s more when you’re grappling with this question of values, and what’s important to you in a relationship, and should you leave your partner, try to focus on what is most important.

For example, if one of your values is you want to have a really great sex life, and you want a woman who doesn’t have a lot of sexual shame, who’s sexually liberated, who’s open-minded, and adventurous, and you really have a great connection. Well, guess what? that’s probably going to come with some kind of a challenging flip side–the most obvious one being, she’s probably done some experimentation. She’s probably had a few partners before you.

And the alternative to that–let’s say you find your virgin, or someone like that. Someone who you imagine would have less baggage, less of a past, and therefore you’d have less to worry about. Well, guess what? Maybe she’s got some sexual issues, and maybe she’s somewhat frigid, and maybe she’s not open-minded, maybe your sex life would suck.

In that scenario, I would simply ask: what’s more important to you? Is it more important to find a woman with, maybe, only one or two past partners, or maybe she’s a virgin, but your sex life sucks?

how to accept the past of your partner

Or, would you rather be with a woman who’s had some experiences, who knows herself well sexually, who’s maybe arrived at some of the most important answers that she needs for her own sexual life, for her own relationship and dating life, who’s figured yourself out to a large extent and who has, for lack of a better term, gotten a lot of her experimentation out of her system, and now she’s super sold on you, and she loves the sex she’s having with you, and she super committed to you and your relationship?

Which one would you rather have?

I know my answer to this question, and obviously, you’re going to have to arrive at your own answer, but the main idea I want to get across to you is don’t look for perfection in a person, or a partner, or a new relationship, because you’re not going to find it.

I remember one experience recently where I was dating a woman, and she said, “Geez, I think you’re perfect. You’re absolutely perfect.” Immediately I said, “No, I’m not.” And, that might be a strange thing to say, because I mean, what a compliment, right? She’s saying, oh, I’m perfect. But I know I’m not perfect, and frankly, what I was thinking in that moment is as soon as she realizes that I’m not perfect that’ll give us the best chance at actually having a real meaningful relationship. If she thinks I’m perfect, it’s not going to work.

And, the moment I screw up, or the moment I make a mistake, or the moment she sees some of my weird eccentricities or whatever, some of my issues, she’s going to be out the door, or who she imagines me to be will be totally destroyed.

I’d much rather she had a more realistic vision of me, and all my flaws, and imperfections rather than thinking of me as perfect, because the perfect man doesn’t exist, the perfect woman doesn’t exist.

And the sooner you realize that, the better your dating life will be, the better your relationships will be, and the easier it will be for you to resolve this question of whether or not your partner’s past is a deal breaker, whether or not your partner’s past conflicts with your values, and how to accept the past of your partner.


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.