Wife’s past killing you?

Can’t stop thinking about your wife’s past? Wondering whether or not your wife’s past is a “dealbreaker?”

If you’re struggling with your wife’s past, you are not alone.

[Transcript below]

Since I launched this website back in 2013, I’ve received thousands of emails from thousands of husbands struggling with the following subject: “Wife’s past is killing me.”

Sometimes, a husband has been troubled by his wife’s past since before their engagement. Sometimes, a husband only starts obsessing about his wife’s past years, or even decades, after the wedding.

Although I receive emails from men and women regarding all different kinds of “retroactive jealousy”—ie. intrusive thoughts concerning a partner’s past relationships/sexual history—emails from husbands troubled by their wife’s past almost always come down to the same topic: sex.

Some husbands are troubled by the fact of their wife having any sex with anyone else before they married. Thinking of their wife’s previous partners makes them sick.

Other husbands find out some “dark sexual secret” about their wife’s past which might be considered a “dealbreaker.” This is especially common when the wife is talking about ex lovers non-stop.

wife's past

However, most of the husbands who write to me are fixated on just one “thing;” one event, one person, one scenario, one sexual act… just this “one thing” about their wife’s past that they can’t seem to stop thinking about. “I can’t get over my wife’s past” – common thought that goes through their mind.  

Regardless of what did, or didn’t happen in your wife’s past, dealing with unwanted curiosity and intrusive thoughts can be exhausting, depressing, and extremely frustrating. 

And let me be absolutely clear: there is no “overnight fix” for retroactive jealousy concerning your wife’s past. To get to the bottom of this issue takes some effort, humility, dedication, and an open mind.

And as I’ve learned after working with hundreds of one-on-one coaching clients and students taking my online course, retroactive jealousy is not just about what did or didn’t happen in your partner’s past. 

To get to the bottom of retroactive jealousy, we need to get to the bottom of our values, our expectations, our conception of ourselves and our partner, our childhood, our own sexual past, and much more.

All of this is to say: retroactive jealousy is complicated. (I wrote an entire book, and designed a 10+ hour online course on this very topic.)

However: if you’re struggling with your wife’s past, and you’re looking for a way to start healing, here are five suggestions and mindset shifts you can implement immediately.

I have a lot more to say about this topic, but hopefully, this will serve as a good starting point.

(Buckle up. This is a bit of a lengthy one…)

And to be clear, this advice is based on my own experience of retroactive jealousy, and the experiences of thousands of readers, students taking my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast,” and one-on-one coaching clients.

wife's past

#1) Stop talking to your wife about her past.

I’ve covered this issue at length in other videos and blog posts, so I’ll keep this point brief.

However, if you want to “stop the bleeding” as quickly as possible, the first step is to immediately stop asking your partner questions about her past.  Wife talking about ex lovers? Stop her.

I know it’s tempting, I know you can’t stop thinking about it, and I know there’s a part of you that thinks that if you get the answer to “just one or two” more questions, you’ll find some peace.

But let me tell you from experience:

Retroactive jealousy doesn’t work that way.

You can’t “think” or “reason” your way through this issue. Really. And your wife can’t solve this problem for you, no matter how much she divulges about her past.

What’s more, the more information you receive, the more you’ll think you need. It’s a neverending cycle, like a junkie who promises himself he just needs “one more fix.”

It just. Doesn’t. Work.

Chances are good that if you found this article/video, you already know way too much about your wife’s past already. 

And chances are also good that you have the answers to the most “important,” potential “dealbreaker” questions about your wife’s past. (Which we’ll get to in a moment…)

So be disciplined with yourself, and commit to STOP talking to your wife about her past—at least for the next two months.

And stop the Facebook/social media stalking as well. I can promise you that no good will come from it.

#2) Think hard about your values—and make a decision, one way or the other.

I wrote an article/video about values which I’d encourage you to take a look at. But in brief:

One thing I’ve learned over the years working on this issue, is that the people who work their way through retroactive jealousy are the ones who get clear about their values, and whether or not their partner shares their values.

It’s extremely difficult to get past your wife’s past if you’re still grappling with whether or not your wife’s past is a “dealbreaker.”

Look, I get it. It’s confusing. You might love your wife, she might be the mother of your children and the woman you see yourself growing old with, but still… there are these nagging questions relating to her past…

How could she let herself do those things? What kind of woman would do that? Why can’t I stop thinking about it? What does her past say about who she is, and who she could be in the future? My wife’s past is killing me.

Now, nine times out of ten, the man struggling with these questions does not exactly have a squeaky-clean past himself…

Retroactive jealousy can seriously warp and distort our perspective on what is “normal” and not normal, what is and isn’t acceptable, what’s a dealbreaker, and what’s not.

This is the single most-misinterpreted aspect of my work on retroactive jealousy. 

When I tell you that retroactive jealousy is your problem, and not your partner’s, I am NOT saying that your partner’s past isn’t a dealbreaker. Of course, your values may be different than mine, and anyway, I have no idea.

What I AM saying is that a) your partner can’t solve this problem for you, and b) you have a decision to make, one way or the other, before you can move forward.

Many men act like the victim with regard to their wife’s past.

And, in my mind, acting like the victim, and being indecisive, is the antithesis of masculinity.

So don’t put it off: do whatever you need to do to get clear about your values, and decide, one way or the other: do I want to leave my wife, or work through this issue? Is this aspect of my wife’s past a “dealbreaker,” or not? Do I want to put in the work to get past this, and save my marriage, or not?

Spending time in solitude can be enormously helpful in this regard. So can meditation, physical activities like running, cycling, or hiking, spending time with trusted male friends, an extended solo road trip, or speaking with a (good) therapist.

Whatever decision you make, be sure you make it during an extended period when you can think relatively clearly—NOT in the midst of a panic or anxiety attack, or when your retroactive jealousy is at its height.

Take my word for it:

MANY men make a rash decision about their wife’s past before they begin putting in the work toward overcoming retroactive jealousy and then regret it for years afterward.

So whatever decision you make: give it some serious consideration, and commit, one way or the other.

Don’t necessarily rush your decision, but in the interest of your personal sanity/peace of mind, don’t put it off forever either. 

wife's past

Ask yourself: “Am I going to overcome this issue, or not?” It really is as simple as that. If you want to overcome this—truly, in your heart of hearts—and you’re willing to put in the work, you will accomplish your goal.

And whatever you decide, really commit to it. Write it down on a tiny slip of paper, and keep it in your wallet. Remember your decision, in your darkest moments, so you can stay on track with your healing. 

What is NOT an option is keeping one foot in, one foot out of the relationship, sporadically “punishing” your wife for her past for the foreseeable future. 

The fact is many, if not most women have episodes from their past they regret, or feel shame around. And of course, your wife can’t change her past, and neither can you.

That leaves you to, as the ancient Stoics liked to say, “focus on what is within your sphere of influence, and disregard everything else. Anything else is madness.”

So decide to leave her, or don’t.

If you decide to stay, commit to staying—and doing whatever it takes to stay disciplined, and work through this issue. 

And if you decide to leave, let me tell you that it might not ultimately solve your problem: retroactive jealousy has a nasty habit of following people through multiple relationships. 

So don’t say you weren’t warned.

#3) Rely on your own internal compass when it comes to your wife’s past.

man struggling with wife's past

With the explosion of the blogosphere, and YouTube, and endless available information from an endless number of sources, I often say there’s never been a better, or worse time to be dealing with retroactive jealousy.

On the one hand, there is a lot of high-quality information out there, written by thoughtful, responsible people, with a genuine aim to help others.

Unfortunately, at the same time there are numerous bitter, misogynistic, ridiculously insecure men out there who think they have all the answers when it comes to women, who is “wife material” and who is not, what is an “acceptable” number of past partners, who is a “slut” and who’s not, and how to think about a woman’s past.

But it’s not up to them, or me, or anyone else, to tell you how to think about your wife’s past.

So rely on your own internal compass, whatever decision you make. Be careful about the information coming in. Be careful who you turn to for guidance.

Beware of people trying to get you to conform to their ideology, and infect you with their bitterness and insecurity. 

Life is confusing, we all make mistakes, we all have regrets, and hopefully, most of us are trying to be a better person tomorrow. Hopefully, that also describes your wife. 

Be sure that you aren’t buying into any ideology or perspective which is going to rob you of what you truly value in your life.

Which leads me to..

#4) Look at the woman your wife is now, compared to the woman she was in her past.

This serves a dual purpose: it helps you remember why you married your wife in the first place, and it also helps you reflect on how she has grown as a person.

Are you the same person you were when you were 20? I hope not.

I look back on my former self, and some of my past decisions, and cringe. 

Now, I try to be kind to myself, and I accept that I was then, and am now, a work in progress, and all of my mistakes led to the man I am today, and yada yada yada…

However: at the end of the day, most of us have a few not-so-pretty episodes from our past. Your wife is likely no different.

And it’s likely that your wife’s past isn’t all that different from most other women.

And even if what you’re struggling with is completely “normal” in your eyes, you’re clear on her values, and your wife has no regrets, hopefully she is a more developed, well-rounded, more thoughtful woman today than she was years ago.

So think about how your wife has changed since you met her.

Has she demonstrated good values? Is she committed to self-improvement? Has she improved your life as a man? Does she bring joy, love, fulfillment to your life?

If the answer is “no,” your marriage has a much bigger problem than just retroactive jealousy.

But if the answer is “yes,” you have a lot to be thankful for. And isn’t your wife’s love, her affection, your joy and fulfillment, more important than her past?

On a related note, ask yourself: why did I marry this woman? What led me to make that decision?

Really sit down and think about it.

Think about how you felt about your wife when you first started dating, when she was still a delightful mystery. Think about the woman you met then, and how you were so taken with her.

Then remember: she’s still that woman.

Yes, she has grown in age and character, but you are still dating the woman you call your wife, believe it or not.

This is a useful perspective to keep in mind. 

It reminds you to continue courting your wife, that she is never truly “yours,” and that sense of mystery, and your longing for intimacy, connection, still remains… Regardless of your current stresses, stories, and all of the emotional baggage that can build up through the years.

Reflect on all of the gifts your wife has offered you, and make an effort to cultivate the spirit your romance had at the very beginning.

man kissing wife

If you fell in love with your wife in the first place, you can fall in love with her all over again. 

So have fun with your wife. Be curious and playful. Tease her. Take her on dates, and treat them as opportunities to get to know her better, her hopes and dreams, the woman she is, and the woman she wants to become.

And always remember that, though she may be your wife, she is first and foremost her own woman, learning and growing just like the rest of us, and entitled to her past, mistakes and all.

Retroactive jealousy can take an enormous toll on relationships.

Retroactive jealousy has been responsible for more than a few divorces. And it’s highly likely that your wife can sense your pain and unease about her past, even if you haven’t told her about it.

At this critical juncture, it’s crucial that you prioritize your personal development, and solving this issue. But don’t neglect the relationship entirely, either. 

Take this opportunity to inject a more playful, lighthearted energy into your relationship. Remember why you married her, and she’ll start to remember why she married you.

If you’ve made it this far, and you’re committed to healing, now it’s on you to…

#5) Find, and follow, a plan for healing.

The masculine in all of us seeks direction, planning, an end goal in sight. 

And if you’ve decided that your end goal is “overcoming retroactive jealousy,” you now need to put together a plan to get there.

Now look: I offer a guidebook and online course, not to mention a free mini-course that has helped thousands of men like you start making peace with their wife’s past.

But if you’re not interested in my work, no worries. The point I’m trying to emphasize is that you need to try something.

So read some new books on psychology and self-help. Find a therapist, counsellor, or coach. Double-down on your gym routine. Take a trip with some trusted male friends. Even better, join a men’s group in your area. Start journaling every morning. Explore cognitive behavioural therapy, or hypnotherapy. Sign up for a meditation retreat.

Try something new. Anything.

Write down some initial strategies and ideas, and remember, as I said earlier, overcoming your wife’s past does not have an overnight solution.

However, I have hundreds of emails in my inbox from readers, clients, and students who made major progress in as little as a week or two… because they put in the work.

It really is possible—but you simply must put in the work. Unfortunately, retroactive jealousy is not an issue that simply “sorts itself out.”

It might take you a minute to find the plan that works for you. Retroactive jealousy is a complex problem that usually requires a multi-pronged, multi-faceted solution.

The point is to reject the victim mentality, and take a step each and every day which gets you closer to your goal of making peace with your wife’s past, whatever that looks like for you.

Even the steps that don’t seem to get you closer to your goal are actually serving their purpose. While it’s crucial to find out what works, it’s equally important to find out what doesn’t.

So don’t just sit there stewing, or looking for guidance and comfort in dodgy internet forums at 3 AM. 

I’m serious. 

Take a step right now, after you’re finished reading, to get you closer to your goal.

Your happiness, mental clarity, and peace of mind all depend on it. Not to mention, your relationship…

I have received many, many emails from men whose relationships could no longer bear the burden of retroactive jealousy. Simply put: if your wife can no longer stand your being hung up on her past, make no mistake, she will leave. 

And who could blame her? No one can put up with retroactive jealousy indefinitely.

So take a moment right now to discover and commit to a path for healing—before it’s too late.

With the proper dedication, work ethic, and an open mind, you absolutely have the power to make peace with your wife’s past.

It just takes a decision, a commitment, and an open mind.

Thanks for watching. If you’re curious to learn more about overcoming your wife’s past relationships/sexual history, watch my video podcast below to learn more.

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.