Let me clear something up right off the bat: I don’t like the word “normal.”

What exactly is “normal” anyway? And who’s to say what’s “normal” and what’s not? And why do so many of us aspire to be a “normal” person? Sounds pretty boring to me.

(I digress, but my point is it’s a word that doesn’t mean a whole lot, and hence, one I don’t like to use.)

That said, I think there is a certain amount of jealousy that is “normal” in most relationships.

Even the most “enlightened” couples get the odd jealous twinge, and there’s nothing abnormal or unusual about it. To a certain extent, we’re biologically programmed to have the odd jealous impulse.

I don’t consider retroactive jealousy “normal,” however. Sure, most people don’t like to think about their partner’s exes, and that’s understandable. But most people also don’t get physically ill when they think of their partner’s past, or relentlessly question their partner about their past, or become obsessed with jealous thoughts of their partner’s past.

In short: obsessive retroactive jealousy is not “normal.” Not by a long shot.

But it can be tricky to determine whether the amount of jealousy you’re experiencing is “normal,” or borderline obsessive (ie. retroactive). So, today I’d like to share some examples of normal jealousy, and obsessive (or “retroactive”) jealousy, as I see it.

What follows is my totally-subjective take on what is “normal,” and what is not when it comes to jealousy surrounding your partner’s past.

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NORMAL JEALOUSY: 

Not loving the thought of your partner sleeping with someone else, including people from their past.

OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY: 

Being consumed by thoughts and/or “mental movies” of your partner’s past relationships day and night.

NORMAL JEALOUSY:

Experiencing a fleeting jealous pang when you see your partner’s ex on Facebook.

OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY:

Stalking your partner’s ex on Facebook, and Googling them for hours at a stretch.

NORMAL JEALOUSY:

Having a few questions about your partner’s past relationships/sexual history because you’re curious about their growth and development as a human being.

OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY:

Incessantly questioning your partner about their past because you think it will give you relief from your incessant curiosity. You might think that if they just answer “one more question,” you’ll be able to move on. (But you’d be wrong.)

NORMAL JEALOUSY:

Not loving the idea of your partner meeting for coffee with their ex-wife (or ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend…)

OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY:

“Forbidding” your partner from having any contact, of any kind, with anyone from their past, and asking your partner to remove everyone they once dated from their Facebook friends.

NORMAL JEALOUSY:

Having the odd insecure moment when you wonder if your partner is truly happy being with you.

OBSESSIVE JEALOUSY:

Having constant thoughts along the lines of “What if my partner prefers their ex to me? What if their ex is better looking than me? What if my partner is still in love with their ex? What if the sex was better…?”

Noticing a common theme?

Most of us don’t like thinking about our partner’s exes. And it makes sense, for being in love can make us feel possessive and insecure because it can be downright terrifying to really fall for someone.

But then again, most of us are not consumed by thoughts of our partner’s exes. Most of us don’t have constant jealous thoughts, questions, and/or “mental movies” from our partner’s past that haunt us day and night.

In short: most people don’t love thinking about our partner’s past, but they can live with it… and people who suffer from obsessive, or retroactive jealousy can’t. (Or, at least sometimes they feel like they can’t.)

It’s normal if you don’t love thinking about your partner’s ex, but it’s abnormal if you can’t stop thinking about your partner’s ex.

And if you can’t stop thinking about, wondering about, or obsessing over your partner’s past relationships you’ve got a problem you need to solve. No relationship, no matter how strong, can bear that burden for long.

(If you’re interested in solving that problem, click here to access my free RJ mini course)

Most of us, including those of us who have successfully overcome retroactive jealousy, can deal with the odd jealous impulse concerning our partner’s past. As in, it’s really not a big deal.

Because we realize that the present moment is all there is, and all that really matters.

And over time, stories of our partner’s past become interesting, not painful. Interesting because they help us understand our partner’s story a little better. We realize how fortunate we are that our partner went through everything they did in their past because it shaped them into the wonderful person (and partner) they are today.

Again, I don’t like the word “normal,” but when it comes to experiencing jealousy in my relationship, I’d rather be “normal” than obsessive.

What about you?

<<Click here to access my FREE mini course and start feeling “normal” about your partner’s relationships>>


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.