“What causes retroactive jealousy?” is a question I see in my inbox all the time.

In today’s reader Q & A video, I answer an email from a reader who is struggling to understand what causes retroactive jealousy.

Transcript below

Briana writes:

I never struggled with retroactive jealousy in any of my past relationships. So why now? Is it possible that this feeling is a sign that my partner and I are not compatible?

Thanks for your question, Briana. And the short answer is yes, it’s possible.

Now the important thing to note there is I said possible, I didn’t say probable, I didn’t say likely. I said it’s possible.

As I often tell people, sometimes in certain cases, retroactive jealousy is an indication that there’s some kind of moral incompatibility between you and your partner.

Sometimes it’s an indication that you’d both be better off if you moved on and found someone whose values, morals, whatever you want to call it, are more closely aligned with your own.

However, in my experience, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

The idea that retroactive jealousy is an indication of a genuine, moral incompatibility, and a reason that the relationship should end…

Far more often, almost all the time in my view, and the emails that I receive and the continuing correspondence I have with retroactive jealousy suffers over many years, bears this out:

That more often than not, it’s not about a moral incompatibility, it’s about other factors.

It’s about fear of loss, it’s about a scarcity mentality sometimes, it’s about deep rooted psychological issues that go far beyond your relationship.

It’s about plain and simple insecurity, on and on and on.

But you raise an interesting point that I encounter pretty often actually, when people write to me, the issue is you’re struggling with retroactive jealousy now in your current relationship, and you’ve never struggled with it in your past relationships. What does that mean?

So of course, it’s impossible for me to really offer a general answer to this question. Now there’s a lot of different people out there, there’s different variables involved.

But an interesting thing to note that I’ve noticed, again, over seven years working in this issue, is that more often than not when I ask people who tell me that they’ve never struggled with retroactive jealousy in the past. My next question is often, “well tell me how you feel about your current partner?”

Have you ever been this deeply in love before?

And it’s interesting to note that more often than not, those people tell me, “No, I’ve never been this deeply in love, I’ve never cared about someone this much, I’ve never felt this much investment. I’ve never been this invested in a relationship before.”

And so what that says to me is that sometimes I think retroactive jealousy is inspired by a deep-seated fear of loss.

And some kind of insecurity around the fact that:

I’m investing so much in this relationship, I really love this person, and I’m scared to death of losing them. I’m scared to death of maybe someone from their past coming back into the picture, I’m scared to death of maybe them finding someone else attractive. I’m scared to death of this relationship not working out for whatever reason…

I think that often, retroactive jealousy, unfortunately, goes hand in hand with the amount of love and real desire we feel for someone.

So if you’ve never struggled with retroactive jealousy in any of your past relationships, I think it’s worthwhile to ask yourself, one, have I ever been this deeply in love before?

Two, am I afraid of losing this person on some level?

Do I have some fear around losing them?

And you really have to check in with yourself here because this fear might not be immediately obvious to you.

Meditate on it, a therapist or a coach can be really helpful. Really try to get in touch with your fears, so it’s not so scary anymore, so it’s not so fearful.

And finally, are there any external events or is there anything else going on in my life that may have inspired these feelings?

So for example, I just received an email the other day from a man who lost his child. And this bereavement, this grieving process seems to have, if not spurred on, coincided with feelings of retroactive jealousy.

So I think it is possible sometimes that some kind of trauma, some kind of external events outside of the relationship, can inspire retroactive jealousy.

In short, retroactive jealousy is a really strange one.

It impacts different people in different ways at different times.

There isn’t one cause for this, there isn’t one cause that we can all turn to and say, “That’s what causes retroactive jealousy.”

However, if you’ve never struggled with this before, I would bet money that you’ve never been this deeply in love before, you’ve never been this deeply invested before.

And there’s some fear of loss, some sense of insecurity, some anxiety around losing this person that you can look to, that might be inspiring at least some of these feelings of retroactive jealousy.

Click here to learn more about my premium course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast,” and start overcoming retroactive jealousy right now.


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.