Many women struggle with intrusive thoughts about their husband’s past

And over the years, I’ve received thousands of emails from women troubled by their husband’s past—a syndrome commonly known as “retroactive jealousy.”

[Transcript below]

The range of symptoms and emotions these women describe vary widely—from feeling “obsessed” or “consumed” by their husband’s past, others who are questioning their partner’s values, and others who have no questions about their husband’s values, but who simply “can’t stop thinking” about his past.

Each and every email is different—however, over several years working on jealousy related issues, certain patterns have emerged. 

One pattern I’ve noticed among women who are troubled by their husband’s past, is that most of them don’t question their husband’s values, necessarily.

Instead, these women are often haunted by the love their husband once shared with another woman, or, the presence of “past connections” (ie. children, stepchildren, or ex-partners) in their husband’s present.

Many of these women realize that what they’re feeling is irrational, however, that doesn’t change the fact that they can’t stop thinking about their husband’s past, no matter what they try.

Many of these women are at the same time grappling with some sense of insecurity relating to their husband’s past.

Perhaps they worry that the connection they currently share with their husband isn’t as “special” or remarkable as a certain connection from her husband’s past. 

Sometimes, these women don’t feel as sexy, desirable, or attractive as women from their husband’s past. 

Other times, these women are simply consumed by “little moments” from her husband’s past—such as certain vacations, events, or other scenes or scenarios from her husband’s past which haunt them.

When it comes to struggling with your husband’s past, there is an enormous amount to dig into. There are so many issues at play here, so much self-interrogation to undertake.

So what will follow is a highly abbreviated strategy to start overcoming your husband’s past.

If you’d like to learn more, I host a premium video course called “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast” which explores all of these issues in far greater depth.

The course has helped hundreds of wives around the world overcome retroactive jealousy, and get past their husband’s past.

But for now, this should give you something to get started.

So here are a few suggestions for beginning to overcome your husband’s past.

#1) Trust your husband, and his word—until he gives you a reason not to

My mother often used an expression: “trust somebody until they give you a reason not to trust them.”

This does not mean that we should never forgive people who breach our trust. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes.

Instead, what I took this expression to imply is that we should give ourselves permission to trust our loved ones, give them the benefit of the doubt, and learn to let down our guard a bit. 

Jealousy, obsession, paranoia, snooping, are all exhausting habits which are usually a disservice not only to our partners, but also to ourselves.

married couple husband's past

When men are asked what they want from their wives, a word they frequently use is “trust.”

As men, we love to feel our woman’s trust—her confidence in our direction, our masculinity, our purpose in life. We also want to feel our woman’s trust in our word, our honor, our integrity.

Now, obviously, not all men are trustworthy and honourable. And I don’t know your husband’s character.

What I do know is that, if he is like most men, he feels that when you doubt his word, you are doubting him.

And you are also doubting yourself.

Let me explain:

Many women who write to me about their husband’s past are “hung up” on a woman (or women) from their husband’s past. In some way, if they dig deep enough, they realize that they feel inadequate, unremarkable, “less than.” 

“If what my husband had with her was so special, what makes our relationship special?” they wonder.

Other times, they know that their husband is totally devoted to them. Their husband has expressed his loyalty, his devotion, his attraction for his wife innumerable times. 

Yet still, his wife wants more reassurance, more clarification, more comfort.

Of course, we all need those things in our relationship now and then.

But if you are constantly looking to your husband for reassurance that you are special, that you are “better” than any woman from his past, that he needs and wants you more than anyone else, on some level, you are telling him that you don’t trust him, or his word.

On some level, you are telling him that he was or is lying when he tells you how special you are.

You are telling him that you don’t necessarily trust that you are special in his eyes.

On some level, you are telling him that maybe—deep down—you are questioning his decision to move on his old life (and/or partners), and choose you.

As you can imagine, all of this will, sooner or later, undermine his confidence in your confidence.

blonde woman troubled by husband's past

Confidence is universally attractive. And as patient as your husband may be when you ask him questions about his past, or look to him for reassurance, eventually, it will take its toll. 

If you’re constantly looking for confirmation that you really are “best” for him, he may begin to doubt it himself.

What’s more, anyone who has been on the receiving end of irrational jealousy—which retroactive jealousy usually is, irrational—knows that feeling like your partner doesn’t trust you takes an enormous toll.

Intimacy, closeness, connection, love is largely about trust—trusting ourselves to let someone in, let someone really see us, and really see that person.

And of course, if your husband continually demonstrates that you can’t trust him your marriage has far bigger problems than simply retroactive jealousy, and you probably shouldn’t be with him.

But this isn’t true for the vast number of wives who write to me.

The vast majority of them know that they can trust their husband, and they are not actually threatened by any women from their husband’s past.

But still—they can’t stop thinking about it. They can’t stop asking questions. And often, they can’t stop seeking an “ultimate reassurance” which, of course, will never come.

So let me be clear: your husband can’t solve this issue for you. I promise you.

No matter what he says or does, or doesn’t say or do, retroactive jealousy is your problem to solve.

Thankfully, there is a solution. There is a cure.

But for now, simply keep in mind that retroactive jealousy is toxic to true intimacy, true connection, true passion.

So remember that when you look to your husband to constantly comfort you, constantly reassure you, constantly answer questions about his past, you are telling him “I don’t trust you.” 

woman on beach troubled by husband's past

And no self-respecting husband will tolerate that indefinitely.

Here’s an idea: on a piece of paper, write down your husband’s most meaningful or resonant words of love or reassurance.

If possible, write down in his own words any sentences he has spoken which you found particularly comforting, particularly reassuring.

Next: keep this piece of paper with you at all times for the next few days.

Turn to it for comfort next time you feel curious or suspicious about your husband’s past (instead of asking him directly for more reassurance).

#2) Stop snooping.

With the advent of the internet, and social media, there’s never been a better time to moonlight as a private investigator.

For most of us, especially those of us who embraced social media in our adult lives, there’s an endless trail of information about what we’ve done, who we’ve dated, who we loved, who we lost, and everyone in between.

Many wives who write to me tell me they can’t stop “snooping” when it comes to their husband’s past.

The hookups, the flings, the one night stands, and of course, the ex-wives and girlfriends.

They can’t stop cyberstalking the ex-wife, the ex-girlfriend, the ex-hookup. 

And with apps like Facebook and Instagram, it’s all too easy to lose an hour, a day, a week to cyberstalking your partner’s ex.

Many of these wives are, at the same time, cyberstalking their husband—making sure he isn’t maintaining his past connections too closely, or poring over his past posts, photos, and comments to try and “get to the bottom” of his past, and figure out how and why certain women once fit into his life.

If you want to continue down this rabbithole, and lose another week or two to late-night Facebook investigations, keep doing exactly what you’re doing. 

I often say “there is no intellectual solution to retroactive jealousy.” 

Because let me tell you: no matter what you find, or don’t find, and no matter how hard you dig, social media won’t give you the answers you’re looking for.

woman stalking husband's past

There will be no “aha!” moment, or social media discovery, when everything will come together, and this issue will be solved for you.

This beast we call retroactive jealousy is far more complicated, multi-layered, and downright devious than that.

All of this is to say, if you want to overcome your obsession with your husband’s past, you need to be disciplined with yourself, and stop the social media stalking.

If you want to check out your ex’s profile, stop yourself.

Stop yourself If you want to dig into your husband’s old wedding photos.

If you want to scroll through his timeline to discover new women, new hookups, stop yourself.

Discipline is the key here. Ruthless self-discipline.

Instead of cyberstalking your husband’s past, make a list of comparable, productive activities to distract yourself.

Download a language learning app. Write an email to a friend. Zone out on YouTube. Listen to your favourite podcast. (Like Humans in Love ft. Zachary Stockill!)

The point is to replace the destructive activity with something productive. (Or, at the very least, non-destructive.)

Please note that this is a “quick fix” that won’t ultimately resolve your underling compulsion toward cyberstalking activity.

But at least, for now, it won’t make your retroactive jealousy worse. And it will, hopefully, stop the bleeding.

(Again, much more to say on this issue, but I’m trying to be brief.)

Finally, #3) Remember that, in all likelihood, the only person keeping your husband’s past in his present is you.

If your husband is anything like most men, particularly most men in meaningful, satisfying, loving long-term relationships, he is over his past.

husband's past

Even if he was married before, even if he has children from a previous relationship, even if he had 500 casual girlfriends, and now he has chosen to be with only you.

The now is what is most interesting for most men. Most exciting. The only thing truly worthy of our attention.

Now—this very moment in time—is what consumes most men.

Especially if your husband is interested in anything relating to personal development, the question he probably grapples with more than any other is “How can I be a better man today? How can I demonstrate my love for the people who matter in my life? How can I be a better husband and father tomorrow?”

What I’m trying to tell you is that if you are his woman now, he’s probably not thinking about the women from his past.

All of those women led him to you. In fact, he’d probably be a shell of the man he is today had he not explored other relationships, other connections, and made mistakes in his past. 

He probably wouldn’t be ready for you, and the love you share.

I know it’s difficult—believe me, I know. I struggled for years with intense retroactive jealousy, which I can tell you about some other time…

It’s difficult, but you must try and cultivate some sense of appreciation for any woman from your husband’s past. 

Regardless of your husband’s mistakes, or those of his past partners. Regardless of what some other woman did, or didn’t do, for your husband., regardless of anything…

Because any change to your husband’s past—really, anything—would have forever altered his future. And all of your husband’s past connections have shaped and formed him into the man he is today.

And thank God that he had each and every one of those experiences, good and bad. Because each and every one of them led him to you.

You’re probably watching this video, and reading this post, at least in part, because you love your husband. You value your husband. You want to keep him in your life.

So remember if anything in his past was even slightly different, you may not have ended up together today.

This is by no means a new or revolutionary idea. I’m certain you’ve heard variations of this advice before.

What I’m here to tell you, as someone who was once in your shoes—struggling with intrusive thoughts relating to my partner’s past—is that life gets much better once you start warming up, just a little, to this idea.

And remember that you are likely the person dragging your partner’s past into the present.

Even if he has children from another relationship, even if your husband’s ex is still in his life in some way, I would still bet money that your husband is desperate to focus on the now—building a better life for his children, for his wife, taking the necessary steps to get to where he wants to be tomorrow. 

He doesn’t want to focus on his past because you are such a glorious part of his present. So who could blame him for that?

Here’s one final suggestion: write a list of bullet points featuring reasons to be grateful for your husband’s past. I know it sounds crazy, but bear with me here…

They could be “mistakes” your husband made which led him to you, ways he has grown and changed as a result of his past, whatever. Carry this list around with you in moments when you’re feeling weak, and needing some perspective and clarity.

In conclusion: if you take away nothing else from this video, please remember that you really do have the power to overcome retroactive jealousy, and get past your husband’s past.


I’m not offering empty comfort, here. I have received emails from hundreds of women, just like you, who managed to beat retroactive jealousy, save their relationships, and achieve mental clarity and peace of mind regarding their husband’s past.

If you want to see, hear, and read dozens of testimonials from students taking my online course who overcame retroactive jealousy, click here.

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.