Are feelings of disgust destroying your relationship? “My girlfriend’s past disgusts me,” is one of the subject lines I see most often in my email inbox. If disgust is plaguing your relationship, you’re not alone.
In this article, I share my top 5 strategies for shifting your perspective from “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me.”
These strategies come from years of supporting people to heal from obsessive negative thoughts about their partner’s past. Not to mention, my own healing.
Unless the amount of damage done is insurmountable, it usually possible to repair a relationship that’s been burned by feelings of disgust and judgment.
Let’s explore how.
Disgust is a tough one.
It’s right up there with shame and humiliation for the title of “human emotions we’d rather not discuss.”
Most of the time, we don’t want to acknowledge these emotions within ourselves.
Still, “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me,” is a frequent theme in my one-on-one coaching calls and online course.
I firmly believe if one person comes to me feeling a certain way, there are probably thousands of others seeking answers to the same question.
When hundreds of people came to me saying “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me,” I knew it was time for me to write about it.
Men come to me saying, “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me,” what they are really saying is, “my girlfriend’s sexual past disgusts me.”
If we’re talking about disgust in relationships, it almost always comes back to sex.
There’s an evolutionary reason for this.
Disgust is one of the basic emotions all human beings are born with to help us survive. Its function is to keep us healthy.
It’s easiest to think about disgust using food analogies: our feelings of disgust are what keeps us from eating the rotten meat that would make us sick.
We are also programmed to experience disgust whenever there is a threat of infectious disease.
It’s why we feel grossed out by other people’s bodily fluids and would much rather perform CPR on a loved one than a stranger (Buzekova, T and M. Isova 2010:233).
Sexual disgust is one of six strains of disgust scientists have identified.
Sexual disgust can manifest when we learn about a partner’s history of casual sex.
There are two reasons a partner’s history of casual sex is a common trigger for disgust.
The first comes back to what disgust is engineered to do: keep us safe.
Learning that our partner has a history of casual sex can send a red-flag to our brain that we are at increased risk for infectious disease, or infidelity. Our bodies trigger a disgust response to try to keep us safe.
These are primal emotional systems that haven’t adapted to the times we’re living in.
In the same way that it can be challenging to turn-off instinctual flight or fight responses to a totally safe situation, it can also be difficult to turn off disgust. Even when it isn’t warranted.
(Your disgust doesn’t know about condoms or STI screenings. It can’t help it!).
Now, before you go show your girlfriend this article and blame everything on her “cooties,” remember that this is only half of the disgust equation.
The other, greater, trigger for sexual disgust is morality.
Morality is learned and disgust is a powerful teacher.
Scientists believe that disgust is used as a tool in our socialization. It’s an emotional device that helps us adapt to the rules and beliefs of our families and cultures (Buzekova, T, and M. Isova 2010:233).
Social conditioning can shape our morals without us being aware of it.
Before we’re capable of critical thought, we’re taught what is right and what is wrong.
Who is good and who is bad.
We also learn what kind of behaviour is acceptable for men and women, and what to value in relationships.
A lot of the messages we receive about sex and relationships imprint a strict moral code on us at a young age.
When it comes to learned morality, sexual “purity” in women is a value that appears in many societies and cultures around the world.
Messages that a woman who has been with multiple men is somehow “spoiled” or “tainted” are pervasive in many cultures.
Those repeated messages could have informed the beliefs you have about women that are outside of your awareness.
These messages come from our parents, extended family, religious communities, neighbours, and schooling.
They’re repeated in television programs, books, and popular media.
Sometimes, they are presented by religious organizations and teachers.
So take a moment to reflect on the messages you received about women growing up.
Were the women that you admired and taught to respect seen as virginal, loyal – almost prudish?
Regardless, whether it’s morals, biology, or a little bit of both, understanding the roots of disgust in romantic relationships can only help us so much.
As I am fond of telling students and coaching clients, “there is no intellectual solution for retroactive jealousy.”
The real answers lie deeper than our intellect.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from the thousands of people I’ve coached about how to heal from disgust about a girlfriend’s past.
How to Move From “My Girlfriend’s Past Disgusts Me” to Peace At Last
Step #1) Identify whether your disgust has become obsessive.
If the disgust you feel about your partner’s sexual past is keeping you up at night and making intimacy impossible, you may be struggling with obsessive thought patterns.
Scientists have observed links between disgust and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
If you’re familiar with any of my work on retroactive and obsessive jealousy, you’ll know the same links to OCD show up there.
How do you know if the disgust you feel has become an obsessive thought pattern?
A little bit of jealousy and disgust in a relationship is normal. If you typed “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me” into a google search engine and landed here – likely you’re becoming aware of a greater problem.
Our actions are tell-tale signs that an emotion has become an obsession.
Do you frequently question your girlfriend about her past?
Or look up her exes on social media?
Is your disgust keeping you from having better, or more frequent sex?
If disgust is getting in the way of your relationship, your mind has attached significant meaning to a story about your girlfriend’s past.
Our minds get stuck on details that conflict with deep-seated, often unquestioned beliefs we hold.
These beliefs may be conscious or unconscious.
You may be attached to a story about your girlfriend’s past because it disagrees with the information you were taught as a child about how an “ideal woman” and “perfect wife” should behave.
What “good girls” do–and don’t do.
When something in our reality disagrees with our value system, our brains can spiral out of control.
We get stuck on that conflict because we seek harmony between our values and our lived reality.
The first step in changing our thought habits is to become aware of them.
Identify exactly which story from your girlfriend’s past is triggering you. Try to get specific about exactly what is bothering you about your girlfriend’s past.
Next, evaluate whether or not these unwanted thoughts have become obsessive.
Which brings me to my second piece of advice.
Step #2) Seek solitude to get in touch with your core values
So much of what we value is passed down from others, and doesn’t truly belong to us.
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the process of “domestication” that we all go through in childhood.
As we are “domesticated,” he says, “we learn how to live and how to dream” (1997, p. 6).
Miguel Ruiz goes on to say that at a certain point in our childhood, the domestication process is so strong that we no longer need people or institutions to domesticate us.
Our minds become so well trained that we begin to domesticate ourselves.
This process is also called socialization.
To get past disgust, we need to align with what truly matters to us, outside of our “learned morals.”
To do this, we need to “unlearn” the socialized beliefs we have that don’t serve us.
It informs the way we look at just about every aspect of our lives.
It’s worth acknowledging that you didn’t choose to grow up viewing sex and sexuality the way you did.
The way a “good woman” or a “decent man” was defined for you in childhood might not fit what you believe to be true.
The relationships that you saw modeled might not be how you would choose to love someone.
Still, your mind will try to convince you its the only way, if you’re not careful.
In the personal growth world, we call these unconscious thoughts limiting beliefs.
They are ways we see the world that we have unconsciously accepted as truth. Usually, we are unaware we have these beliefs.
If you are going to overcome romantic disgust, obsessive jealousy (or, frankly, any of the many issues that hold us back), you have to become aware of your beliefs.
I recommend sitting down with a piece of paper and writing out – unfiltered – any of the expectations for relationships that were modeled for you as a kid.
How were you taught men were supposed to act in relationships?
How were you taught women were supposed to behave?
Are the standards and expectations the same for both genders?
Don’t get down on yourself if some of these feel hypocritical, vain, or wrong to you.
If you find yourself getting critical about what’s coming up, you’ve stumbled on something significant:
Much of what we’re told to believe as children goes against our actual core values.
I recommend spending some time in solitude to get back in touch with what you truly value.
Go for a walk, meditate, or write some ideas out by hand on paper.
It may matter a lot to your parents or your church that your girlfriend didn’t save herself for you.
Does it matter to you, though?
Did you have partners before your girlfriend?
Do you think she would be justified in being judgmental about your past?
There’s a lot of noise in our heads at every given moment.
Very little of what plays on the radio of our mind actually belongs to our voice.
The more you can tune into your values, the more you can drown out everybody else’s.
A final note about morals, values, and social conditioning: it can be easy to blame people for planting unhelpful thoughts in our heads. Remember that those that “domesticated” you were just repeating the same stories they were told growing up.
Socialization is nobody’s fault.
It is our responsibility to unlearn what doesn’t serve us, though, and live according to our true values.
Now, if you arrive at the conclusion that you actually believe, deep in your soul, in your socio-cultural conditioning–fine. Then, you should make decisions based on your fully acknowledged, fully owned, core beliefs.
But if you’re conflicted about your socio-cultural conditioning, take the time to really tease it out. Take the time to consider different perspectives, seek out a variety of teachers, and read widely.
Only then can you truly decide for yourself on your vision of the world.
But, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you’re open to the idea that much of your socio-cultural conditioning is bogus.
Which brings us to:
Step #3) Experiment with replacing the disgust thought with its opposite
Considering alternative thoughts is an enormously powerful exercise to overcome obsessive thinking.
They’re one way we can trick our brains into moving from a negative thought pattern to a positive one.
To use this tool to help you overcome disgust, start by getting clear about exactly what’s triggering this emotion. (Refer back to Step 1, if necessary.)
Once you’re clear, write the trigger down as a statement.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll use a common trigger as an example:
“My girlfriend’s past disgusts me because her history of casual sex makes me think she is ‘bad’ or ‘dirty.’”
Next, experiment with writing down a potentially viable alternative to this statement.
A few we could try using the example above are:
My girlfriend’s past excites me. I value her independence and experience. I know that she doesn’t settle and that she chose me because she loves me and finds me sexually attractive.
My girlfriend’s past helps me to feel closer to her. I know that she trusts me and wants me to know all of her. I know she doesn’t judge me for my past, and I don’t judge her for hers.
My girlfriend is an attractive, intelligent, sexy woman. She has lots of options on the dating market, and right now, she’s convinced that I’m the man for her. Lucky me.
These statements may be tough to write at first. I get it.
They might feel so entirely not true that you want to give up on this exercise altogether. But stay with me…
When you’ve come up with a few “alternative” statements, pick the statement that resonates with you the most.
The one that provides the most clarity, or reassurance.
Look at it often and turn to it whenever feelings of disgust show up. It doesn’t have to feel true right away.
If there are several statements which make you feel better, keep them in a list on your phone, so you can refer to and reflect on them anytime.
This type of work takes practice. Commit to making opposite-thoughts part of your daily routine.
If you stay with it, your relationship can transform.
Step #4) Give your relationship a sexual reset
At the beginning of this article, I talked about how disgust and sex can go hand-in-hand.
Just about every man who says “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me” has a sex life that’s suffering.
Even if you’re having sex regularly, you may be holding back if your mind is focusing on your girlfriend’s past instead of the present.
So, what’s a sexual reset?
Honestly, it’s just about anything you both need it to be. It can be something you do together or something you commit to on your own.
It’s an act of leaving disgust behind and re-igniting the flame that drew you together in the first place.
Sex is just as much a mental thing as it is a source of physical and emotional pleasure and connection.
When your mind gets in the way of intimacy, it’s important to be intentional about recreating desire in your relationship.
Ester Perel often talks about how distance can create desire.
If you’re able to get away, I highly recommend going on a solo trip somewhere as part of this reset.
In your time away, commit to changing the thought patterns that have caused the repeat pattern of disgust. Spend time on the exercises I talked about earlier in this article.
This solitude will help you get the clarity you need, and the separation from your girlfriend will build lust and longing between you.
When you get back, embrace your girlfriend and approach intimacy with a fresh slate.
Be present and generous with her. Let her be generous with you too.
If your mind slips to the past, choose to focus on the opposite thought statement you created instead.
Or, give your mind a focal point in the room to distract you from negative thoughts.
(I have one client who thinks about trees and clouds as soon as negative thoughts enter his mind – see if this works for you too).
If a mini-trip isn’t available to you right now, the other key player in driving desire is novelty.
So get creative:
Mix up the sex you’re having in some way–whether that involves incorporating new toys, new positions, new “moods” or role-play, whatever.
Meet up at a bar, and flirt unabashedly with your girlfriend, seducing her as if you’ve never met.
Get out of town, park by a lake, and get up to something.
These are just suggestions, and the possibilities are endless.
If you’re comfortable bringing your girlfriend on board, I’m sure she’ll have some great ideas too. Enjoy the process!
Step #5) Instead of telling yourself “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me,” remind yourself about what you love about your partner
Every man I’ve spoken to about disgust expresses their frustration with the emotion.
They feel like they’re unfairly judging their girlfriends, and they don’t know how to turn that judgment of “my girlfriend’s past disgusts me.”
These men find the women they’re with to be sexy, fun, and trustworthy.
They are in relationships they want to hold on to and feel like disgust is holding them back.
These men are also aware that they need to work on this problem, or they’ll lose their girlfriend.
Disgust, jealousy, fear, shame, and insecurity are all emotions that hold us back in relationships.
They waste our time, hurt our partners, and make us feel like men we don’t want to be.
As you do any type of healing work from negative emotions, it’s important to remember what (and who) is motivating you.
Recalling what you love about your partner is a great way to remind ourselves why we want to make big changes to the way we think.
Focusing on what you love about your partner is also a powerful way to get out of negative thought patterns and into positive ones.
Dedicate time every day to remind yourself about what you love about your girlfriend – what you admire about her and what you find attractive.
Shifting our mindset takes time. But it’s always worth the investment.
If you’re doing the hard work of healing, know that you never have to do it alone.
You can join thousands of others in my course, jump on a call with me and talk things through one-on-one, or grab my guidebook and dive further into strategies which will compliment the ones I shared in this article.
I’ve helped thousands of people overcome obsessive jealousy and disgust. It would be an honour to be part of your healing journey, too.
Click here to learn more about overcoming retroactive jealousy, and healing from disgust around your girlfriend’s past.