A male student going through my online course wrote me a question:

Do you think that it is wise to wait until I have overcome RJ to a reasonable level before considering marriage?

The reasoning behind my question is that marriage is a big deal for me, and I really want to have of a good grasp on RJ before moving on to a greater commitment level… Marriage feels like a whole new ball game which is risky compared to a dating relationship, which comes with less responsibilities. – Evan

Thanks for your question and support, Evan.

One of the biggest misconceptions about me and my work is the idea that I’m saying “Regardless of your partner’s past, and your feelings about it, you should stay with them. There’s no such thing as a deal breaker with regard to your partner’s past!” Not true.

Just the other day a student wrote to me to share details of his partner’s extremely troubled past, asking for my advice. I told him the truth—it seems like, given his values and everything he expressed to me about what he wants in a life partner, he’d be setting himself (and his girlfriend) up for years of pain if he stayed in the relationship. I think my course helped him see this for himself shortly after he wrote to me.

Late in life, this student realized:

Getting married is one of the biggest decisions many of us will ever make.

And it’s a decision many people take too lightly.

The divorce rate hovers above 50% in many Western countries, and it’s entirely understandable—for the most part, we aren’t taught about relationships, compatibility and sexual polarity, the natural life cycles of relationships, and sticking it through during tough times. Similarly, we aren’t taught how to explore what we really value in life and love, and how to find someone who shares our values, outlook, and life goals.

Thus, we should take the decision to get hitched (or not) extremely seriously.

And take all the time we need to figure out what we want, and most definitely do not want in a life partner.

Yes, nowadays it’s easy to process a divorce through the legal system in most countries. But divorce is one of the most emotionally draining, psychologically scarring (not to mention expensive) experiences on the planet—isn’t it a good idea to try and avoid it in the first place? There really isn’t any such thing as a pleasant divorce.

Which brings me back to retroactive jealousy. RJ has been responsible for more than a few divorces (and I have the emails to prove it). Many RJ sufferers spend years or decades bouncing from relationship to relationship, or marriage to marriage in search of a RJ-free union. Often, they find that retroactive jealousy is a burden they carry with them regardless of who they’re in a relationship with until they begin to put in the work to overcome RJ.

Thus, I advise any RJ sufferer to start putting in the work to overcome retroactive jealousy before committing to marriage, or making any other major relationship decision, whether it’s moving in together, having kids, etc.

In my work I don’t say that your partner’s past definitely isn’t a dealbreaker—I don’t know, and in all likelihood neither will you until you overcome retroactive jealousy. As a result, you’ll hopefully avoid a great deal of pain and suffering for you and your partner down the line, whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not.

The plan that I outline in my guidebook, and that I explore in much greater depth in my online course requires a commitment to personal development, and gaining clarity and perspective.

The people who commit to this path often find much greater clarity and peace of mind regarding their partner’s past in a short order of time, whether they realize that their partner’s past is a “dealbreaker” or not.

When this happens they can move forward (or not) in their relationship without the burden and strain of retroactive jealousy, optimizing their potential for future happiness (and minimal relationship regret and/or drama down the line).

Marriage feels like a whole new ball game in which I think risks must be taken more wisely compared to a dating relationship, which comes with less responsibilities…

The truth is marriage is a whole new ball game…

representing new commitments, new responsibilities (both legal and otherwise), new challenges.

I’m not married, but I know a lot of married people, and the consensus seems to be that marriage has the potential to be the most challenging and/or rewarding relationship of your life. Which is to say: this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you are struggling with retroactive jealousy and considering marriage or any other major step in your relationship, I think it’s a good idea to put that decision on hold for now.

(And yes—my advice is the same even if it seems like your partner really, really wants you to make a major decision with them.)

You owe it to yourself, and your partner, to make any major relationship decision with the utmost consideration and care, and as you probably know, retroactive jealousy can seriously hinder your ability to make good decisions.

There are precious few “do-overs” in life—and getting engaged for the first time is not one of them. Moreover, it’s extremely difficult—usually impossible—to move “backward” in a relationship. Which is to say, if you get engaged, and later have serious second thoughts (whether it’s a result of RJ or anything else), you’ll likely destroy the relationship as a result.

And what’s more, if you’re only in your 20’s, you have time on your side. The great American philosopher Jay-Z once proclaimed that “30 is the new 20.” He might be right.

Most modern 20-somethings have a great degree of freedom and flexibility to postpone marriage until a little bit later in life, and sometimes this is the right thing to do. And if you’re in your 30’s, 40’s, or beyond, you should still take the time to be really, really sure that getting married is right for you. With the constant advances of modern medicine, many of us have a shot at a very long life, with more than enough time to make such a life-altering commitment.

In summary: start putting in the work to overcome retroactive jealousy so you can make the decision to move forward in your relationship—or not—with a clear mind.

Thanks again, Evan.

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.