Today, we’re covering the cognitive distortion of “should” statements, particularly prevalent among retroactive jealousy sufferers.

Read or watch below to understand “should” statements.

Zachary Stockill: Welcome back to my ongoing series on retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions. In today’s video, we’re covering the cognitive distortion of “should” statements. 

A quick note for the people who are new to my channel or new to this series. The term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, often obsessive curiosity, around a partner’s past relationships and/or sexual history.

Cognitive distortions are irrational unhelpful counterproductive thought patterns that hold us back from a happier life, hold us back in our relationships, and contribute to things like anxiety, depression, OCD, and what we call retroactive jealousy. 

So what are “should” statements? And why are “should” statements potentially a problem? 

“Should” statements refer to things that we tell ourselves we “should or must” do. Or, things that other people “should or must” do.

And we often take the reasons why for granted. We often don’t question the reasons why someone should do something, or why we should do something. It’s almost like this background programming in our brain that tells us “good people do this,” or “bad people do that.” Or, “we should do this, we should do that…”

Should statements can create doubt and fear. Because often we’re not entirely conscious that we’re falling victim to a “should” statement. We don’t really know where they’re coming from until we unpack some of the background noise in our psyche, and, realize that we’re feeling compelled to do something based on a potentially-sketchy, predetermined idea of why.

So what are some examples of “should” statements? I should lose weight (which is probably true for me). I should call my dad more, I should take out the garbage later. She should call me back, she should text me back earlier, she shouldn’t have slept with that idiot. He shouldn’t have lied to me, you get the idea. 

Now, some of these statements are innocuous. However, if we don’t question why… why should we do that? Why are good girls that way? Why are we drawing these conclusions? And are these conclusions serving us and other people? 

Unless we question those statements, we’re going to fall victim to them. 

"should" statements

And they could lead us to make some bad decisions. And they could contribute to feelings of fear and doubt. 

So let’s take the weight loss example. You could tell yourself, I should lose weight. And you might think, again, that’s probably innocuous. And it’s maybe even true. So I’ll grant you that it could be true. 

In my case, it absolutely is true. What’s a better thing that I could be telling myself? I’m going to eat healthier. Today, I am going to the gym this afternoon.

You see, I’m kind of breaking it down into the components that are going to get me exactly where I want to go. I’m making the goal smaller and more digestible. I’m changing my language, I’m changing my self-talk to reflect that, to put this in terms that I can actually use to help me get where I want to go.

People often use “should” statements when it comes to the way they view the world and other people. For example, you may look at your partner if you’re a retroactive jealousy sufferer, and say she shouldn’t have slept with that idiot. Now, I understand feeling that emotion. I understand loving someone and looking at a choice they’ve made in the past and thinking they shouldn’t have done that. 

However, if you take a step back, you can realize: who am I to be making this value judgment?

Number two, it’s her life. It’s her past. She probably has her own “should” statements that she’s dealing with, and she probably has her own feelings of guilt or regret or whatever around (perhaps) dumb choices she made in her past. 

Ultimately, she’s responsible for her own growth, her own development. And she’s entitled to her past; she’s entitled to make mistakes, and all the rest. 

And as I often say, most of us have at least one or two nights from our past that we would kind of like to “take back.”

Furthermore, if you really want to get daring and adventurous, I realized this won’t seem appealing to a lot of retroactive jealousy sufferers… But I’m at the point in my life where I’m quite comfortable with these thought experiments. You can look at that and turn it around and say, “okay… she should have slept with that idiot.”

And again, I realize that seems absolutely insane to a lot of retroactive jealousy sufferers, but bear with me here:

What is the evidence that she shouldn’t have slept with that idiot? And, you’ll run down the list of all the reasons why he’s a bad person, and she should value herself, etc. She should have slept with me. What’s the rationale for that? 

Maybe she learned some painful lessons that if she hadn’t learned ten years ago, she’d be destined to repeat for another ten years. 

Maybe that bad choice prevented her from making even worse choices in the future. 

"should" statements

Or maybe she learned something from that experience that continues to serve her today and that, in some weird way, led her to be with you. 

So none of this is a fact. I don’t know you. I don’t know your situation. These are just hypothetical situations or hypothetical statements you can look at around the idea of retroactive jealousy. I’m not trying to dictate how anyone should be thinking. 

But the point is: every time you make a should statement, you may have a certain rationale behind that statement. 

But you can always turn it around and start questioning and prodding it, and realize you can make “should” statements about just about anything.

So be conscious of where you’re making “should” statements in your life, or maybe as it relates to retroactive jealousy. Be conscious of where you’re making “should” statements and where it’s not necessarily helping you; where it’s not necessarily going to help you reach your goals

My homework for you today, as in all these videos in this series, is to encourage you to think about where you’re making “should” statements in your own life. Where are you making “should” statements with regard to your feelings about other people? Where you’re making “should” statements with regard to your retroactive jealousy? And start challenging those “should” statements a little bit. Start cultivating better, more proactive ways of thinking.

If you need more help with retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, check out my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast”, or 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.