In today’s video, I want to share my #1 perspective for dealing with intrusive thoughts, how to overcome them, and how to start the process of rewiring our brain’s response to intrusive thoughts about a partner’s past.

Read on or watch below to learn the #1 technique for dealing with intrusive thoughts about your partner’s past.

Zachary Stockill: When we use the phrase retroactive jealousy, or perhaps retrograde jealousy, or retrospective jealousy, really what we’re talking about is one main symptom among other symptoms. The main symptom that we associate with retroactive jealousy is unwanted intrusive thoughts about a partner’s past relationship or relationships, and or their past sexual history. Anyone who struggled with any kind of intrusive thought knows that intrusive thoughts can be extremely difficult to deal with. We get a thought which inspires more thoughts, which inspires anxiety, which makes us feel like we can’t escape our thoughts. 

Technique for Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts About Your Partner's Past

We feel we’re at the mercy of our thoughts, we’re victims of our thoughts. 

The thoughts have this intense power over us that we can’t seem to escape. The good news for you or for anyone struggling with intrusive thoughts is that we can escape intrusive thoughts. We can rewire our brains, and we can change our responses to intrusive thoughts. And if we’re getting good at this, and we keep this up over long periods of time, we can change these patterns, we can build new patterns, and we can reclaim our power over our own brains. 

In today’s article, I wanted to share my main thesis or my main working theory for how to deal with intrusive thoughts about your partner’s past, how to overcome intrusive thoughts at the moment, and how to start this process of rewiring our brain’s response to intrusive thoughts. 

If you have taken my introductory course, Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast, or you read my guidebook Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy, or you perhaps downloaded my audio series Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy: The Guided Meditations, maybe if you’ve even been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to talk a lot about observing our thoughts rather than identifying with them observation as opposed to the identification. I want to tell you exactly what I’m talking about when we identify with a thought. On some level, we’re tying our identity to that thought, we’re ascribing significance to that thought, and we’re feeling like that thought has power over us. And thus we feed that unwanted thought with even more energy. 

The irony is: the more we feed an unwanted thought with more energy, the harder it becomes to escape that thought. 

So let me tell you exactly what I mean. Let’s say I have an unwanted intrusive thought about, for example, my girlfriend’s ex. So have this thought about my girlfriend’s ex. I might have some physical response to that thought, in fact, I probably will. If I’m a retroactive jealousy sufferer, so my heart rate may increase, I might feel some tension somewhere in my body, and I might start breathing a little more shallow. And I might have a strong and very visceral, emotional response to that thought, this response can be something like “Oh God, I’m so sick of thinking about this.”

What if I can never stop thinking about this? What if my girlfriend prefers her ex to me? Or What if she’s untrustworthy? What if they had amazing sex? What if all these what-ifs are right?

If you’re a retroactive jealousy sufferer, you probably know what I’m talking about. 

Again, I’ve been there. It’s been 10 years. But I remember what that process was like. So in this example, you can see that I’m feeding this unwanted thought with more energy.

And the more energy that I give this unwanted thought, the more power it actually has over me, and the more my brain will take this energy as a signal that this thought is significant.

Technique for Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts About Your Partner's Past

A signal that this is worthy of more thoughts, this is worthy of deeper consideration, and this thought is important. This is basically the message that I’m giving my brain when I have this reaction to the thought, which is what I call identification with a thought. Observation is different. So using the same example, let’s say I’m walking down the street, it’s a beautiful day, and I have this unwanted intrusive thought about my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. It might be of a sexual nature, it might be just general, you know, curiosity about the situation, whatever it may be.

Let’s say I have this unwanted thought. Observation says, “Hmm, that thought isn’t so pleasant. Interesting. Well, I’m going to carry on with my day. I’m going to listen to this podcast that I have in my pocket…. Oh, look, there’s a beautiful family crossing the street over there. That’s interesting. I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch? … Oh, I have work to do later, I should probably focus on that…”

I’m deliberately telling my brain, in a very real sense, by focusing on other things, that this unwanted thought is not important.

It’s not worthy of deeper analysis and deeper investigation, and all the rest. I’m simply observing the thought, I’m making a note. It’s like, “huh, there’s an unwanted thought. Interesting.” And I’m carrying on with my day. Students in my online courses like the fact that I emphasize this new habit of observation. 

Technique for Dealing With Intrusive Thoughts About Your Partner's Past

I liken it to observing clouds passing by in the sky, treating your thoughts as clouds passing overhead in the sky. So you wouldn’t look up in the sky and see a big fluffy white cloud and think, “oh, that cloud is me. And I need to investigate that cloud, I need to take pictures of it, and what does it mean,” and all these things. You’d simply see it as a cloud passing overhead in the sky and say, “Oh, that’s nice. I’m going to continue on with my day, I’m going to get back to what’s actually important. I’m going to focus on what’s actually going to get me where I want to go, rather than fixating on this cloud in the sky. “

Now, before the objections start flooding in, let me just tell you: I realize that at first, this process of observing, rather than identifying, is difficult.

This is very challenging at first. This is not going to solve your problem overnight. But It’ll become easier, and you’ll get more and more benefits, the more you practice.

This is one of those things in life that if you get good at it, and you stay committed and diligent to the practice, over long periods of time, it’ll become easier, and you’ll get more and more benefits. And eventually, this process will become almost automatic. 

Right now, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now. And so I’m pretty good at it. It’s almost automatic, you know, I might have thought about any number of things relating to work or things I have to do, or the future or anything, any thought that might cause me a little bit of anxiety, or a little bit of trepidation. It’s very shortly that I can reorient my focus back to what I can control. And if that thought isn’t serving me, if it’s just nonsense, you know, insecure thoughts, or whatever it is, I immediately bring my focus back to what is actually important. 

What I want to be identifying with, rather than this unwanted thought. More objections: “I tried to just observe it, and then it came back seconds later. What should I do, then?” The answer is to rinse and repeat. Over and over, you start training your body, you start training your psyche, to have this response. When you have a thought that simply isn’t serving you, some nonsense thought that doesn’t deserve any more attention whatsoever. Continually. Just make a note of it. And bring your focus back to what is actually within your power, what you can control. And more importantly, what you want to be thinking about. Another very important piece of advice that might sound strange, but bear with me: start thinking more seriously about thoughts that you actually want to have. 

Start thinking more seriously about what you want to be thinking about. 

To give you some examples: start setting bigger goals for yourself well beyond your relationship, well beyond retroactive jealousy. These could be creative goals, career goals, or just general personal development goals, fitness goals; whatever the case may be, start paying more attention to designing your life, giving your future a little more thought. And having lists–literally, lists of things that you could and should be spending your time focusing on. Again, this is a big topic, this is a big idea. And I get into this in great depth in my online course, Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast

But I just wanted to introduce this idea of observing rather than identifying. Because if you get good at this over long periods of time, if you stay diligent, if you stay committed, it really can change your life.

People say this all the time, on YouTube and elsewhere: “This will change your life.” I’m here to tell you that this will genuinely change your life if you stay committed, if you stay focused on where you want to go, rather than being distracted by unwanted intrusive thoughts about your partner’s past.


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.