In today’s video, I’m going to share my own definition of retroactive jealousy, and help to clear this up a bit.

Read on or watch below to learn more about my definition of retroactive jealousy.

Zachary Stockill: So here’s a strange little fact about retroactive jealousy: many retroactive jealousy sufferers aren’t actually jealous people. Many of them have basically no contemporary-based, more “normal” jealousy.

Likewise, we often think of more contemporary-based jealousy as, for example, “My wife just met a sexy new coworker. I’m at an office party. I see him flirting with my wife.” That can set off all kinds of mate guarding instincts. This kind of thing is generally what we think of when we think of the term “jealousy.”

Retroactive Jealousy Definition

However, the term “retroactive jealousy” can refer to much more than that.

Certainly, this kind of possessive, mate guarding instinct can be part of retroactive jealousy. However, the term “retroactive jealousy” can be confusing for some people who are typical retroactive jealousy sufferers, who feel somewhat alienated by the term “jealousy.” For most people, the term retroactive jealousy/retrospective jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts and/or intense curiosity around your partner’s past relationships, or sexual/dating history.

The interesting thing is many retroactive jealousy sufferers don’t experience jealousy outside of this issue.

In fact, they wouldn’t even consider themselves “jealous” people to begin with.

I went and looked up the official definition of the term “jealousy,” and part of that definition is “a certain inclination to be possessive of one’s belongings.” If you’re being honest with yourself, there is some inclination towards being possessive of what we feel is ours, right? We feel like, on some level, we want to own our partner, including their past.

Retroactive Jealousy Definition

So in this case, even if you’re struggling with retroactive jealousy, the term “jealousy” is probably also at least somewhat applicable to you and your situation. But if you’re struggling with the intrusive thoughts, the constant inclination to snoop and learn more details about your partner’s past, don’t get too hung up on this term jealousy. Again, you may not be a jealous person at all.

Back when I was struggling with retroactive jealousy many years ago, I found the term online and felt a bit alienated by the “jealousy” part on the end, thinking “But I’m not a jealous person at all…”

However, the more I started connecting with other sufferers, the more I realized that this term “jealousy” is actually pretty applicable to me. So don’t get too hung up on the term jealousy. If you are struggling with unwanted intrusive thoughts and curiosity about your partner’s past, you’re in the right place.

And if you search for the term retroactive jealousy, just about everything you find will probably be relevant to you and your situation.

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.