In today’s video, I clarify my views on the topic of talking to your partner about their past. I also share a few insights if you’re seeking to better understand your partner and learn about their values.

Read on or watch below if you’ve ever wondered “how should I talk to my partner about their past?”

Zachary Stockill: You’ve probably heard me say, several times, “stop talking to your partner about their past if you’re struggling with irrational retroactive jealousy.” As asking your partner 8000 questions about their past is not going to solve your problem. 

And it’s not going to accomplish anything really, other than prolong your suffering, and frustrate and confuse your partner. I received a comment recently from a viewer of videos on this channel. Saying basically, “okay Zach, I get that, but how do I get to know my partner and talk about their past?..”

“If I’m not having conversations with my partner about their past, how can I discover their values and even their past values, if I can’t ask them questions?”

So in today’s video, I’d like to clarify my views on this topic and hopefully give you some insight if you’re seeking to understand your partner better and learn about their values. So first, just in case you haven’t heard me say before, my general perspective on vetting the whole process of dating is: “I’m not trying to determine whether this person is a good person. I’m not trying to determine their personal value or their worth, as a human being. I’m trying to determine fit.”

And I think if you bring that energy into any conversation with your partner about their past… “Listen, I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, I’m not trying to imply that you’re a bad person… I’m trying to determine fit. I’m trying to see if we’d be a good match for each other. And if we’re not, that’s ok.”

How Should I Talk To My Partner About Their Past

If you bring that kind of spirit and energy into your conversations with your partner, about their past, its going to really increase your chances they’ll be honest with you because they’ll feel less judged. Hopefully, it’s a more chilled-out conversation, rather than this really an emotionally charged “trial.”

“We’re not trying to see if I’m a good person, or you’re a good person, or I’m not trying to say that I’m better than you. We’re trying to determine fit.”

And it’s really as simple as that.

I would also add, make sure you figure out what are your deal-breaker questions. So examples of this might be something like, you don’t want to go out with someone who maybe did pornography. I’m not judging porn stars, but not everyone wants to date someone who had a career in porn. That’s an extreme example. 

But in this example, you can see it’s very cut and dry. It’s pretty clear, that they acted in pornography, or they didn’t. Or maybe you don’t want to get involved with someone who has children from a previous relationship. Or maybe you don’t want to be involved with someone who’s been married before. These are just examples. But some people have these values and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

The point is simply, to be honest with yourself: what are your fundamental deal-breaker issues? 

Again, I think you only really know if it’s a true deal-breaker if you know for a fact that if you received a certain answer, you’d break up with them without even a second thought. Not “That makes me furious. But I’m just going to punish you for your past for all eternity. But I’m too scared to break up with you.” That’s not a deal-breaker issue. That’s cowardice on your part.

Another important point: actions speak so much louder than words. This is why I’m skeptical of the idea that endless conversations about a partner’s past are always valuable. In my own personal experience, they’re often not as valuable as you may imagine them to be. 

Because what a person does says so much more about who they are than what they tell you they’ve done. 

If you want to know who someone is, watch their actions over long periods of time. Don’t pay a lot of attention to what they say. A person’s actions will always tell you more about who they are than anything they might tell you about who they are. So bear that in mind when you’re having these kinds of conversations with your partner about their past. 

Remember that many people like to “clean up” their past a little bit in conversations. This isn’t to make you paranoid and skeptical and think that everyone’s a liar. That’s not what I’m trying to say. But again, if you’re genuinely interested in discovering their values, their actions in the present over long periods of time will give you a lot more valuable information than any conversation you could have had with them about their past. 

Now, all that throat-clearing out of the way, oh, that preamble is done. If you do want to ask your partner questions about their past, I think it’s much more effective for your purposes, in getting to know them and discovering their values, to try to ask them relatively open-ended questions. 

It’s much easier to get honest answers, and discover how a person truly feels, if you create an environment where they don’t feel judged for who they are. 

How Should I Talk To My Partner About Their Past

Ask them to share things, extemporaneously, off the top of their head, and just get them to speak freely about these issues, rather than giving you black and white answers. For example, if you ask someone, “How many people have you slept with?” That’s a very direct, very specific question. And a lot of people don’t like to be entirely honest about all that stuff. 

However, if you’re you’re creating an environment where no one’s feeling judged, a much better question to ask is, “How do you feel about casual sex? What do you think about hookups? What do you think about Tinder?” You get my point. Just get them to speak openly, and just speak generally about these topics because that’ll often give you a lot of information right there. Continuing with this example, if this person says, “Oh, I think, relationships are too hard. And I’ve never enjoyed relationships, and hookups can be amazing. And I’ve had incredible sex and hookups and…” 

If they go on like that, that’s a pretty good indication that they’ve had a lot of casual experiences. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the way they frame their casual experiences, and the way they talk about it might tell you everything you need to know about that particular area of their sexual history.

Don’t act like a lawyer, pressuring them, pestering them with specific questions.

How Should I Talk To My Partner About Their Past

I just want to stress this point because I think a lot of guys in particular get this very wrong, where they want to communicate very overtly, very directly. They want to be very judgmental. And it doesn’t work for anyone, because you’re dramatically increasing the odds that the person you’re talking to is going to “clean up” certain details. The odds go up that they’re not going to be really honest about who they are. 

If you want to have these conversations, ask general questions, open-ended questions, and just ask about their feelings about certain issues that are important to you. And don’t make them feel judged for telling you and showing you who they are. Because if you think about it, 

We all take a risk when we talk about our past, when we talk about our feelings, when we share with people who we are.

Hopefully, when we all do this, we want to be doing that in an environment where it feels safe, and we’re not going to be socially ostracized by sharing this information. And that’s another very important point to keep in mind. You know, human beings, we are social to the core. We are social beings to the core and deep in our hindbrain there’s always that lingering fear of social ostracization, and being left to fend for ourselves. 

In order to get people to really feel comfortable sharing who they really are, don’t make them feel judged for who they are. But just one more time: actions in the present over long periods of time will tell you so much more about who they really are, what they really want, and what they’re actually capable of in a relationship, as opposed to endless conversations about their past.

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.