In today’s video, I want to explore the relationship between the concept of “projection” and retroactive jealousy.

Read or watch below to learn more about retroactive jealousy and projecting.

Zachary Stockill: If you have been in a relationship for any amount of time, odds are good that at least once or twice,you’ve been guilty of projecting your own thoughts, your own motives, and your own desires onto your partner.

And if you’re struggling with retroactive jealousy, it’s possible that you’ve done the same in this context. 

In today’s video, I want to explore the relationship between projecting in your relationship and retroactive jealousy. 

I received a very interesting comment from a viewer on this channel recently. This comment comes from someone we’ll call Mark. Mark writes:

I would appreciate your thoughts on projecting in relationships and retroactive jealousy. I have worried that my partners think of past experiences worried that they’re weak enough to desire attention and flirt for affirmation, worried that they sometimes call to mind beautiful or hot memories of other loves. Because I do this, I’m projecting. 

“There’s a saying: thieves think everyone steals. Maybe that’s a factor in retroactive jealousy…?”

Thank you for your comment, Mark. And this is a very interesting one.

And to answer your question, yes, this has been a common theme through many of my experiences coaching people struggling with retroactive jealousy. Not every retroactive jealousy sufferer is projecting onto their partner, but many do. 

But before we get into that, we should probably offer a definition of projection. So in general, in psychology…

Projecting involves ascribing your own thoughts, your own impulses, and your own desires on to your partner, or indeed anyone else. 

retroactive jealousy and projecting

There’s an element of hypocrisy involved in this, obviously. But that line that you quote is really good. Thieves think everyone steals, right? Because the person is a thief, their whole livelihood is based on stealing. So naturally, they assume that other people are going around thieving all the time when that isn’t necessarily true. That is a projection in a nutshell. 

And it’s very, very, very common in relationships. We all have moments of doing this, where we’re having a bad mood, or we have a bad impulse or whatever. And we project onto our partner. We say you’re doing this, or you want this, or you feel this way, or you’re doing X when in reality, it’s merely a projection of our innermost thoughts, and impulses.

So I want to, again, emphasize not all retroactive jealousy sufferers do this, but many do.

Many retroactive jealousy sufferers, in particular, men, don’t have a lot of sexual experience in their own past. And some of these men want more…

They wish they’d been more active during their single years. They wish they’d have taken more chances in their dating life.

retroactive jealousy and projecting

They wish they’d been with more women, perhaps. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this.

What I think is wrong, is punishing your partner for what you want. Projecting all this stuff on your partner, not being honest about it with either your partner or yourself, staying in the relationship indefinitely, and punishing your girlfriend or your wife over and over for her past. When in fact, her past is a reflection, perhaps, of some repressed desires on your part.

I don’t think that’s right whatsoever. 

However, I will also say that many of these men don’t realize they’re projecting. And this is where a good therapist or a coach comes in handy.

For a lot of these guys, I found in my coaching practice, it takes a bit of time and a bit of effort on my part to finally get them to realize that “Oh, really, I wanted these things. When I was single, I didn’t get to experience these things. And thus I’m punishing my partner for having what I wanted…” 

And I think Mark also raises an interesting and valid point when he realizes that he might have the occasional thought about an ex of his. He might have the occasional messed up sexual thought about someone. He may have the occasional fleeting desire for another woman. 

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not important. 

retroactive jealousy and projecting

Because human beings are complicated. Human sexuality is complicated. We’re a deeply, deeply, deeply sexually motivated species. We all have a million crazy thoughts a day relating to sex and all kinds of things.

And an innocent thought about an ex perhaps, or about a beautiful woman walking down the street, is not necessarily a big deal. 

Mark is conscious of the fact that “Just because I have some random thought about an ex, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about my feelings about my partner or about my current relationship.”

So for anyone out there watching who wonders if they might be projecting as it relates to their experience of retroactive jealousy, just keep an eye on yourself. You can journal about this, you can pay attention to these feelings when they come up. 

And I think it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if you ever have the question if you’re projecting, the odds are pretty good that you probably are.


Don’t punish your partner for things that you want. Don’t punish your partner for your repressed desires. 

I think that’s also really important to highlight here.

As I often tell male retroactive jealousy sufferers: if you feel like you need to go out there and be single for a while, or have more dating experience, or maybe even more sexual experience… If you feel like that’s something you need, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that at all. 

Speaking personally, I wasn’t ready to settle down at 18 years old, 19 years old, or 20 years old. I needed more exposure to different women, in different relationships. I needed more experience before I felt even remotely ready to truly commit to one woman.

I know that a lot of people don’t need that. But I did. And I was honest about that. And that led to me losing several relationships along the way. 

In fact, that led to me walking away from several incredible women. Because I had to be honest with myself, and I also had to be honest with them.

So that’s my biggest point in this video. Be honest with yourself and be honest with the women you’re dating or the men you’re dating.

If you feel like you’re projecting in your relationship, be honest about that with yourself and be honest about your innermost desires, your innermost fears, your innermost yearnings, Because what is suppressed eventually needs to be expressed. 

And if you try to bottle all this stuff up and keep all these desires and yearnings down for many, many months, or even years at a time, eventually it’s going to explode

Spend the time to get clear on whether you’re using retroactive jealousy as an excuse to push your partner away. 

Because maybe you don’t feel ready to make a serious commitment. Maybe you feel like you need more dating experience.

This isn’t an easy question to answer, but it’s much better to have these conversations with yourself now before you do things like get married and certainly before you have children.

This is where a good coach can come in handy. I have a lot of experience working with men in this situation where they’re dating a woman, but maybe they’re not entirely sure if it’s time to commit, they’re not entirely sure if maybe they need more dating experience. If you have those questions, I’d be happy to work with you.

If you need more help to get clarity and insight to get to an answer, consider applying for one-on-one coaching with me.

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, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.