“I feel threatened by my boyfriend’s ex” is a line I see in my email inbox on a regular basis.

“I feel threatened by my boyfriend’s ex” is a common sentiment among retroactive jealousy sufferers.

Transcript below

Zachary Stockill: Celine asks:

Is it normal to feel like your partner’s past lovers, or any other close female friends for that matter, threaten your relationship? I feel like I’d have to be very cold-blooded to not care about that. That’s normal if you love someone, right?

Okay, Celine. Thank you for your very honest and vulnerable question.

I don’t like the word normal. I don’t like telling people this is normal, this is not normal. What’s normal, what’s not because it’s often very difficult to decide or to declare that something is normal. I don’t like the word normal.

However, if we have to use that word, for you to tell me “I feel threatened by my boyfriend’s ex.”

In fact, if you were to go in the street and ask, I feel like most people would not feel threatened by their past lovers.

For example, if I have a girlfriend who I care about very deeply, and I know she’s had lovers in the past, the odds that I would actually feel threatened by those past lovers are very, very low. And here’s why:

Number one, it might sound arrogant, but I’m clear on the value that I bring to her life. I am clear that I am a “catch,” so to speak. And that might sound arrogant. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I’m clear on the value that I bring to her life.

I’m clear about my gifts and what I can offer her, how I make her life better. I’m very clear on that stuff because… well, a lot of reasons.

Number one, I had very healthy, supportive, loving parents. I grew up in a good family environment which is great for your self-esteem even as you age into adulthood. In general, I’m a fairly confident person, et cetera, et cetera.

So the fact I don’t really feel threatened in any way by my partner’s past lovers, and I never really have, even when I was struggling with retroactive jealousy.

Number two, I’m also aware of how different I am from a lot of other people on the dating market.

I am no saint. I’m no angel. I am messed up in all kinds of ways. I’m not trying to say I’m perfect, but I have lots of female friends. I have very intimate, very unguarded discussions with them about what dating is like in the modern era, what men are like.

And I’m pretty clear that I have a lot to offer. I’ll say, in this regard.I don’t make a lot of the mistakes that a lot of other men make.

I’m ambitious. I think I’m a pretty good boyfriend. I think I’m a pretty good partner, et cetera, et cetera.

And frankly, if you’re the kind of person who’s interested in personal development and watching videos like this and improving yourself, and you’re curious, and you want to read books about psychology and sex and great relationships and how to be a good lover and et cetera, et cetera, it automatically puts you into the top 5 or 10% of men or women as the case may be.

So, the more you commit to work like this, the better it is, and the better it is for your confidence in general and the less you’ll feel threatened by anyone else, whether it’s your partner’s past lovers or anyone else.

So if you tell me “I feel threatened by my boyfriend’s ex,” my advice to you is to do two things.

One, get very, very, very clear on your value.

Get very, very clear on everything you bring to your partner’s life. All the things that make you you, all the wonderful things that make you you, all of the characteristics you bring into your partner’s life which actually benefit them, how different you are from other women who your partner has been with in the past or could potentially be with in the future.

Try to get as clear as you can on all the value you bring to your partner’s life, and get very clear on everything they would be giving up if they were to leave you, if they were to go back with their ex. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consider the worst case scenario.

In other words, if your partner really doesn’t want to be with you, and they want to go back to their ex, what would they be giving up? How big of a mistake would that be from your vantage point?

Now the delicate art of building self-esteem is not something thar comes naturally for everyone.

It’s not something that happens overnight. It takes work and effort. It takes plunging into your own psyche.

Sometimes it takes working one-on-one with a therapist or a coach. I don’t mean to suggest that this is necessarily easy. However, the fact that you’re writing to me with this question suggests to me that you are not very clear on the value that you bring to your partner’s life.

It’s also very, very likely that in some way, you’re not trusting your partner when they’re telling you, “You’re so much better than my ex,” or “I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” et cetera, et cetera.

Now, you didn’t provide a lot of context in your email. Maybe your partner is not telling you these things.

However, frequently, I receive emails from retroactive jealousy sufferers where their partner is constantly reassuring them, constantly praising them, constantly appreciating them, and it’s never enough.

They always need more reassurance, more praise, more love, more affection, more sex, et cetera, et cetera. It’s never enough.

And if you do that over and over, if you continually reject your partner’s words of affirmation, if you continually reject your partner’s love, eventually your partner will get sick of that because no one wants to feel like their partner doesn’t trust them. No one wants to feel like their partner isn’t accepting what you’re trying to offer them.

So be very wary of that and trust your partner and trust their love, trust their attention, trust their affection, trust their choice to be with you, and a crucial first step to building that trust in your partner, in their choice to be with you is to get very, very clear on your value.

All of the wonderful things that make you you and all of the value you add to your partner’s life and everything your partner would be giving up if your worst fears were true.

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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.