A reader from Wales named Bryn wrote to me about a knockout named Becky, double standards, and the rabbit hole that is retroactive jealousy.

Below, I answer his question concerning retroactive jealousy and how best to deal with the potentially awkward situation of interacting with what I call “trigger people;” or, individuals associated with your partner’s past:

Hello Zach,

Firstly I must thank you for taking the time to write your book.  It is proving to be the best £9 I have ever spent!!!! I can relate to every single part of it. I want to tell you my story, and ask you a few questions.

At the end of last year I met ‘Becky’ through work. WOW, she was lovely!!  I was in a relationship at the time and so was Becky.  We exchanged emails and numbers and eventually met.  All I can say that it was love at first sight; we simply clicked, unlike anything I had experienced before…

I then began to have the ‘thoughts:’ they were mild to start. Odd thoughts would pop into my head about her past, her ways, morals etc. I wouldn’t say they took over my head but they bothered me, how many people had she been with? What has she done with them? Was she a serial cheat? I didn’t know her well enough or anything of her past and spent a lot of time guessing at my own questions. I didn’t ask her any questions at this point.

As most of you are aware, double standards are a hallmark of RJ.

Whether or not we cheated is irrelevant; instead, we become consumed by retroactive jealousy, the thought of our partner being a cheat in the past. Our “number” might be 500, but 5 is too high a number for our partner, as Bryn discovered:

The thoughts became worse; I started reading her Facebook, emails and texts.

She didn’t mind, she said she had nothing to hide. I read chats she had with other male friends, nothing suggestive at all, just general banter but I didn’t like the fact she had been chatting to other men. Maybe because I assumed all boys were after one thing! The same thing I would have been after should I have been texting a girl?

I started to make up imaginary stories of why she would talk to another man when she had me, I kept asking her why she talked to other men.

She said she didn’t see anything wrong with chatting to friends but would stop as she realised it made me feel uneasy. She declared her love for me every day, she said I made her feel so much better than she ever had and would never do anything to risk what we had, chatting to friends was something she had always done, but was willing to stop doing it because I didn’t like it. Did I feel threatened? Was I insecure but didn’t realise?

Yes and yes. 🙂

Those thoughts eased as I realised I was being irrational about it; it still bothered me a little if I allowed it but I stopped thinking up the stories and believed her.

Things started to get back to normal, I even laughed at myself for allowing these txts get to me in the first place. I thought I was back to normal but boy was I wrong…..

One day, out of the blue I asked her had she ever had a one night stand, I was curious I suppose, she replied ‘nope’ she said that she would feel degraded if she slept with someone who she felt not in a relationship with. The conversation progressed, I needed to know more, she didn’t really want to talk about it but I kept asking and asking.

By the end of the chat I knew lots, she has had 5 boyfriends before me, which in comparison to my 30 odd is nothing, and she views sex completely different to what I did. I thought I would be satisfied now; I had the answers to the questions that I had been asking myself. At first it didn’t bother me in fact I felt quite assured by the ‘magic number’.

I then started to run over this in my head, more and more.

The number of men became irrelevant; one person would have been too many!! I began making up stories of how it happened, did she like it? Did she ask them to do the same things as she now asks me? It was horrible, graphic images in my head of MY WOMAN with another man, touching her. I started getting angry, hating it. Asking why she would even touch someone like that. This happened before she knew I even existed!!!

I asked her questions, asking for the truth about everything, did she do certain things, how it made her feel. She answered honestly and told me until she met me she had never had an orgasm, she never hated sex but never really enjoyed it either. I liked hearing this but it still didn’t make my thoughts go away.

As I explain in my guidebookthere is nothing your partner can do or say that will ease all of your anxiety, retroactive jealousy, satisfy all of your curiosity, or allay all of your insecurity.

Let these words sink deep into your consciousness.

The images got worse not better until they took over my whole head and made me depressed and feel sick. I couldn’t stop myself thinking of them. I would ask more and more questions every day, the same questions as I already asked, looking for another tiny bit of info. She then started asking me the same questions and in a strange way I enjoyed telling her the answers, I felt that if she felt bad about knowing details of my past, maybe my pain would ease as we would be going through the same pain together.

Although she didn’t like hearing these stories, it didn’t seem to bother her in the same way it did me.

I continued trying to answer the questions myself but still asked her, maybe hoping for the magic answer which would make me feel ok and take it all away.

That was about 2 months ago now, I researched like mad about what I was going through and as you can imagine a hundred different answers. Then I stumbled upon RJ. I then realised what I was going through, I kept looking at every forum and reading every post, still I battled it nearly every waking minute of the day. And, I felt I had to be distant from her as even looking at her would trigger it off. I stopped cuddling and communicating, we had no humour; it was if I felt guilty on myself if I did these things.  The relationship was on the knife edge, but I loved her so much, every now and again I would keep telling myself it was ok, when it wasn’t.

Sunday night just gone and I came across your website. POSSIBLY THE BEST CHOICE IN MY LIFE SO FAR was to read your webpage and buy your book. It almost changed me overnight!! I don’t mean to say by any stretch RJ has gone but I feel so much better about it all already and I know the best is still to come, I’m actually excited.

This is such an important point, which I have tried to emphasize both on this site and in my book: overcoming retroactive jealousy can be exciting, even fun.

It’s exciting to think that you’re in the process of growing into a better, stronger, and more attractive person and partner, overcome your retroactive jealousy. Embrace the process, bumps in the road and all.

I have been doing the exercises as you detailed and been reading the book, cover to cover once per day so far. I have learned so much about myself in such as short space of time, I have already begun to look at things differently and it is changing me already. The part in your book about my ego and fooling me that I am this confident, invincible man rings so true. People must look at me and think ‘He is a confident man’, captain of the rugby team, sun beds, tattoos, go to the gym, handsome! (So my mother says!!)  

But I now realise I am possibly one of the most emotionally insecure people you come across, I just never thought it, but that is going to change and is changing!!!!!!! I still have lots of negative thoughts daily but my reaction, emotions to them are changing. I particularly relate to the ‘thoughts passing like clouds’ and ‘not attaching emotion to thoughts’ areas in the book very, very inspiring. And, I don’t doubt that things may get worse as I continue my battle, but I’m definitely seeing things differently already…

The only worry that I can’t seem to get an answer for is this:

I’m worried that should we bump into an ex boyfriend in the street, pub or wherever, he may provoke me. By saying something about what he and she did together.  Maybe ‘something that she liked him doing to her’ or ‘a position sexually she used to like.’ I’m worried it may differ from the answers she has given me and my RJ will flare back up. Knowing boys from around here, he may even be lying or doing it for a reaction. But, I’m worried what would happen if this situation comes up. Can you see my concern???

Bryn: I can definitely see your concern. That said, I have a few thoughts:

1.) Any man who would go out of his way to try to make you feel uncomfortable, provoke you, or say something rude about your girlfriend is a zero who doesn’t deserve a second thought.

What’s more, if the above scenario occurred, surely your girlfriend would see in a new way that the guy is a zero, and that she dodged a serious bullet by not ending up with him.

Anyone who would try to get to you like that is not only telegraphing insecurity, but is obviously still attached — in some way — to your girlfriend. And your girlfriend is choosing YOU, not him. In short: you’re winning, Bryn. You will continue to win if you handle the situation correctly, which leads me to…

2.) Don’t let the guy get to you. Just don’t.

Recognize that he’s a zero. And, you’re winning, and you’re a bigger and better man than he. Don’t give him the satisfaction that he is having an impact on you. Even if you’re uncomfortable, anxious, etc. in his presence, power through it, observe your emotions without identifying with them, breathe deeply with both feet firmly on the ground, and recognize that this too shall pass.

3.) Furthermore, IF the above scenario occurs, embrace the challenge.

You wrote earlier that overcoming retroactive jealousy is “exciting:” imagine how excited you might feel if you can rise to this challenge. Not let this guy get to you, and go about your day as you normally would?

Even if you’re uncomfortable, if you can power through the discomfort, upsetting thoughts, anxiety, etc., and brush the guy off, it would be a huge victory. If I were you, I would use this potential situation as inspiration to continue the work you’ve started. Be the bigger man, and kick your retroactive jealousy to the curb for good. I think that if you can overcome a challenge like this, you can overcome just about anything as far as retroactive jealousy is concerned. This potentially awkward situation might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Thanks so much for your letter. Stay strong, brother.

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.