Occasionally I get e-mails from readers who are troubled by their partner’s memories of former lovers.

Some people are worried that their partner may look back fondly on their former lovers, or have vivid memories of past sexual encounters, and so on.

I try to tell these readers that memories don’t exist the way they think they do.

As I’ve written before, memories are more like impressionist paintings with running, wet ink, than they are like HD videos. Recently I stumbled on a perfect example from television to help illustrate this point.

In October, Showtime premiered a new drama called The Affair. The plot line centres around–you guessed it–an extramarital affair, documenting the events that led up to, and followed the affair through the remembrances of the couple involved (‘Noah’ and ‘Alison’). The affair is reconstructed through the individual memories of Noah and Alison; half of each episode is devoted to Noah’s memories of events, and the other half devoted to Alison’s memories.

I’m very picky about what television shows I watch. I was drawn to check out The Affair simply because I’m a big fan of the actor Dominic West (who was absolutely brilliant in The Wire), who plays Noah in the seriesHowever, Dominic aside, it didn’t take long for the show to grab my attention.

What distinguishes The Affair, and what makes it so interesting, is the way it shows how hazy, and unreliable memories often are.

If you get into the show you’ll see how Noah and Alison often remember events differently; who said what to whom, who initiated what, what they were wearing, locations of events, etc.

In short: the viewer recognizes early on how memories shared between two people–even memories of significant past events–can differ completely.

This short video will help to illustrate this last point:

 

So how does this relate to your partner’s past, and retroactive jealousy?

In the opening lines of this post, I wrote about RJ sufferers who feel anxious that their partner is still holding on to memories of past lovers.

The Affair helps to illustrate that, even if they are holding on to memories, they’re actually holding on to ghosts. Which is to suggest that, aside from the simple fact that the past doesn’t exist, your partner’s past doesn’t exist in the present, and their memories don’t really exist either.

As we grow and change, our memories grow and change at the same time, so much that our imagined “memories” of the most significant events of our lives are, often, completely distorted, and bear little to no resemblance to past events. And, if you’re worried about your partner’s exes holding on to memories of their time with your partner, the same principle applies.

What’s more, why would you even want to be with someone who is hung up on their own past, and/or pining for past lovers? If you’re worried about your partner’s past memories, check in with yourself and see if what you’re feeling is actually real (ie. your partner is holding on to their past) or a result of your insecurity.

Even if this post gives you some momentary relief, please remember that it probably won’t last–at least not for long–until you get serious about confronting your insecurity.

It’s impossible to overcome retroactive jealousy without getting to work on your insecurity, stepping up, and putting in the necessary effort, which will help you to remember that memories don’t really exist, and don’t really matter.

What’s important is right now. Right now, you have the opportunity to embrace your partner’s present, and turn it into whatever you want it to be. And you can’t move forward if you’re stuck in the past.

In other news:

A student in my Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast course named Nick recently shared his story in a review:

My retroactive jealousy hit me like a ton of bricks one day and gradually got worse to the point I could no longer function on a day to day basis.

I couldn’t eat, sleep or work. I thought the only way out of this hell was to break off my relationship and start a new one, making sure I knew nothing of her past, not a very realistic goal considering the age we live in with facebook, twitter, texting etc…

I decided to change who I was and hold on to my current girlfriend, but I needed to change the way I thought and process emotions. That’s where Zach’s course came in.

As long as you follow the exercises and do exactly as he lays out for you in simple steps, you will beat RJ. I haven’t even changed who I am, just challenging my insecurities was enough to get the ball rolling.

The biggest part for me was learning to meditate (which until a month ago I thought was new age fluff). This was not easy for me to do as my mind was so over active any doctor on the planet would have prescribed me medication, and they tried. But I can now empty my mind completely and bring myself to the present moment.

I can now observe feelings and thoughts and let them pass without having any emotional connection to them, rather than letting them rule my life like they used to only a few weeks ago.

I can guarantee that my RJ was worse than most, and yet today I can look back at myself only a short few weeks ago and laugh at the some of the things I used to freak out about concerning my partner’s past.

This is the best online course you will ever find if you suffer from RJ, and the online discussion group Zach has set up for fellow students is really helpful. I cannot speak highly enough of this course, it saved my relationship and how I go about life in general now is much healthier. Thank you, Zach, for changing my life.

Happy to help, Nick!


Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in The Huffington Post, PopMatters, Mic, HuffPost Live, and many other publications. I'm also the founder of RetroactiveJealousy.com, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.