Can’t stop thinking about your wife’s previous partners?

Are you overwhelmed by obsessive thoughts and curiosity regarding your wife’s previous partners? Do you catch yourself in repeated cycles of shame and self-loathing after you act on your insecurities, wondering what happened to the self-assured, carefree husband you used to be?

You’re not alone and you do not have to continue feeling this way.

Transcript below

Obsessing over details of your wife’s sexual past is exhausting, emasculating, and is often accompanied by some pretty serious feelings of shame.

I also know how liberating it is to be free of these obsessive thought patterns.

Since the release of my book in 2013, I’ve applied what I learned in my journey to overcome retroactive jealousy (RJ) to help thousands of others heal too.

I’ve received thousands of emails in my years of doing this work. Though the specifics of each case are different, every single person who writes to me describes feeling haunted by their partner’s past – many saying that thinking about their wife’s sexual past is “killing” them.

In these emails, men and women from all over the world describe the enormous toll retroactive jealousy takes on their relationships and their self-esteem.

Obsessive jealousy about your wife’s sexual past turns you away from your true nature and turns you into someone that you’re not.

The good news is, you can choose to stop living this way and can take immediate steps to overcome retroactive jealousy today.

Not only have I been where you are now and have overcome RJ myself, I’ve also helped thousands of men and women from around the world heal from obsessive jealousy too.

These people are not only in healthier, happier relationships, they’re also sleeping better, having better sex, and have seen massive improvements to their self-esteem.

Each of them got there by doing exactly what you’re doing now: researching the issue, taking steps to learn more about it, and committing to change.

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

If you commit to healing, it is possible to overcome obsessive thinking about your wife’s previous partners quickly and return to the man you know yourself to be.

Before I share a few strategies to begin the healing process, let’s talk about where you’re at now and how you got there.

Why Does My Wife’s Sexual Past Bother Me So Much?

My inbox is full of emails asking this question.

While in some ways, it doesn’t matter what prompts us to engage in obsessive thinking, seeking to understand what motivates us is human nature.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the origins of jealousy in romantic relationships, and the question of where it stems from is still mostly unknown.

Jealousy in romantic relationships didn’t become the focus of study for social scientists until the 1970s. Some argue that biology and genetics play a role while others look to the attachment styles in relationships and family structures.

What science can tell us is that there is a big difference between normal jealousy and obsessive jealousy.

If you’re here, chances are you’re dealing with something that falls in the realm of “obsessive jealousy.”

Don’t freak out. Hundreds of thousands of other people from all over the world have visited this page asking the exact same questions you are now, and those that do the work see tremendous success in overcoming this kind of obsessive retroactive jealousy.

I’m sharing this with you because, to slay the beast, we first need to understand what we’re up against.

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

Here are a few ways scientists know how obsessive jealousy is different than normal romantic jealousy.

Jealousy is defined as a reaction to a real or perceived threat.

Retroactive jealousy is a reaction to a real or perceived threat that we are going to a) lose our spouse to a previous lover or b) that our relationship is threatened in some way because we don’t measure up to a wife’s previous partner or past experience.

The premise for obsessive jealousy is the same, but it manifests entirely differently. Some scientists have made correlations between obsessive jealousy and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Like other forms of OCD, people experiencing obsessive retroactive jealousy get stuck in a perpetual cycle of obsessive thinking, anxiety, compulsive action, and relief-seeking behaviours.

I wrote a whole article about this cycle but to keep things short, one typical example of how this manifests for people with obsessive retroactive jealousy is: 

  • An intrusive thought about your wife’s previous partner enters your mind. 
  • You begin to play mental movies in your head about your wife’s ex-boyfriends or ex-husband
  • These anxious thoughts become so overwhelming that you start looking at her phone or begin stalking her ex on social media
  • In an effort to feel better, you question her repeatedly about her past until you are satisfied (for a little while) that she loves and prefers you until the next intrusive thought comes along and the cycle renews.

While science isn’t entirely clear about what motivates obsessive jealousy, we do know that people in marriages where one or both partners suffer from obsessive jealousy are less happy and more prone to conflict (Harris and Darby 2010).

Many readers have told me that they did not take steps to overcome obsessive jealousy, and it eventually cost them their marriage. So take my word for it:

There comes a point when your wife can simply no longer take the distrust.

While it’s important to know what’s at stake, I also want to remind you that you are a man choosing to read an article aimed at actively helping husbands overcome this pattern and avoid this outcome.

You can heal from this, and so can your relationship.

So…

How Can I Stop Thinking About My Wife’s Previous Partners?

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

#1) Simply Make the Commitment to Overcome Obsessive Thinking About Your Wife’s Previous Partners

The most important thing you can do for yourself and your relationship is to make the decision, right now, to heal.

Not only must you make this commitment, but I also want to challenge you to take immediate action aimed at healing from your RJ as soon as you finish reading this article.

Why?

We cannot expect our lives to be different if we do not make different choices.

I have some suggestions on immediate actions you can take in the steps below.

If you’re serious about overcoming intrusive thoughts about your wife’s ex-boyfriends, one of the steps you take may also be ordering the books from my recommended reading list or joining a community of others also committed to healing from RJ.

Those that heal in community report faster results than those that do it alone. But we’ll get to that later.

#2) Reject a Victim Mentality

There is a reason our retroactive jealousy feels so emasculating.

By continually seeking validation from our partners to satisfy our jealousy, we effectively give away all of our power in the relationship (I’m talking power as equals here – no macho stuff) and position ourselves as a perpetual victim.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume your sex life has taken a hit as a result of your retroactive jealousy.

I’ve been here before, too. I remember what can happen.

It’s my firm belief that acting like a victim is the very anthesis of masculinity.

So how do we get out of victim mode?

It starts by taking ownership of our lives–including our struggles.

The defining feature of a victim is that everything is happening to them. They are not an active director in the movie of their life.

Victims blame other people for their disappointments instead of taking responsibility for their thoughts, behaviours, and actions.

Blaming your wife for your unhappiness because you can’t stop thinking about your wife’s previous partners not only positions your as a victim, it positions her as a villain.

This is unfair to both of you. If your wife has to defend herself against things that may have happened years or even decades ago, you give away all sense of personal responsibility and agency.

When you play this role, the message you are giving to yourself and your wife is: things happen to me. As opposed to, I am not a “victim.” I a man who can make things happen, and who takes responsibility for his actions and behaviours.

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

To take the first steps out of retroactive jealousy victimhood, it’s crucial to recognize that:

A) You are not your retroactive jealousy. It is a form of OCD, not your true nature.

B) People living with retroactive jealousy simply cannot build a better future other than by taking action.

The first step in getting out of a victim mentality is to acknowledge that you’ve been playing the role.

Don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Victim and villain dichotomies exist in relationships all over the world – in romantic relationships, workplace dynamics, and in family & childhood structures.

Do decide that you’re not going to do it anymore.

Pay attention to your thoughts and language after you’ve made this commitment. Blame is the biggest clue that we’ve fallen back into victimhood. Try and catch yourself the next time you want to accuse or punish your wife (or one of your wife’s previous partners) based on something from her past.

Choose not to engage with that old story. Instead, start writing a new one.

#3) Know Your Deal-breakers

All of the advice I’m giving you today is hinged on you repairing a healthy relationship with your wife and returning you to the man you know yourself to be.

Most of the people I work with are in otherwise great relationships. They share a mutual love for their spouses and realize that obsessively thinking about their wife’s previous partners is killing their relationship and their sense of self-worth.

There are times, though, when the problem is not obsessive jealousy (or not only RJ) and where the relationship may not be worth salvaging.

If your wife talks about her ex-lovers frequently as a way to get a reaction out of you (unprompted by any questioning or testing on your part), she may be engaging in manipulative behaviour.

If you and your wife have inherently different values when it comes to sex, monogamy or fidelity, these may also be deal-breakers and, again, retroactive jealousy might not be the primary issue you’re dealing with in your marriage.

I recommend you take some time to sit down and consider your values. Remind yourself of what’s important to you. Notice if any of the things you’re obsessing about in your wife’s sexual past conflict with your values.

If they do, ask yourself: are my values in conflict with my wife’s present or my wife’s past?

For example, if your wife has been open to you about cheating on a college boyfriend decades ago maybe this conflicts with strongly-held values you have about loyalty, trust, and fidelity.

If your wife also talks about feeling ashamed about her past infidelity and values trust and transparency in your relationship, and has demonstrated total fidelity to you throughout your marriage, your problem is probably with her past, not her present.

It is unkind to both you and your wife to punish her for past decisions.

Only you know your wife and your relationship, and only you know whether you share the same set of values. If you know in your heart that the woman you married loves you and shares your present-day values, you need to take action to let go of her past.

We have to give our partners permission to grow and change. By latching on to something in your wife’s past, you continually drag your wife back to a person she evolved out of a long time ago.

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

#4) Remember Who You Really Are

Something I’ve discovered about people who struggle with RJ is that shame and self-loathing that goes hand-in-hand with being trapped in the cycle of obsessive jealousy.

Obsessively thinking about our wife’s previous partners makes us act like someone we’re not.

I lost my first serious relationship partly because of RJ. Not only was I devastated at the loss of this relationship, for a long time afterward, I felt humiliated. I was embarrassed about the way I acted towards her, and I hated the guy I’d become in the relationship.

Every single person I’ve worked with over the years describes these same feelings of self-loathing.

One of the most critical steps to healing from RJ is to stop identifying with the thoughts you have about your wife’s previous partners.

Remind yourself about the person you truly are and what you like about yourself.

You can start with your interests and ambitions if that’s easier. The more we can remember who we are when we’re at ease and confident, the easier it is to recognize when we’re shifting out of that place.

Whatever it is that makes you feel good, comfortable, and relaxed – indulge in that for a little while. Get out for a run, seek solitude, make time for friends that feel good to be around, whatever makes you feel like you.

How can I stop worrying about my wife's previous partners?

Try to see the world as much as you can from your most grounded, rational perspective and notice when intrusive thoughts about your wife’s previous partners start to creep in.

When these thoughts do come in, treat them like you would a mosquito or any other kind of unwanted pest.

Instead of giving in to these thoughts, try saying “hello, jealousy. I see you. Unfortunately, I’m not a guy who does that anymore. I’m going to have to kindly ask you to leave because my wife and I are about to go out to a great restaurant together and neither she nor I would like you to join us.”

Something that I want you to remind yourself of repeatedly as you do the work of healing is that you are not your retroactive jealousy.

The more you begin to see your obsessive thoughts about your wife’s previous partners as separate from your true self, the faster you will be able to let go of them.

#5) Take Immediate Action & Join A Community

Yes, I’m repeating myself. Here’s why: human beings are creatures of habit.

Believe it or not, retroactive jealousy is a habit. It wasn’t one you or I chose but over time it became a default.

Unless you take deliberate and committed action to change your thought patterns around your wife’s previous partners, they will remain your default.

Here’s another thing I know: momentum is a seriously powerful tool and right now, you’ve got it.

If you’ve read this article to this point, you’re a man who loves his wife and knows that he has to make changes to make his marriage healthier and happier for both of you.

I also suspect that you’re pretty sick of thinking about your wife’s ex-boyfriends all the time.

If you truly want to change this habit and free your mind from obsessive thoughts about your wife’s previous partners, you will.

If, and only if, you put in the work.

This is why it’s so important to use the momentum you have now and take one deliberate action that charts a new path forward.

I would highly recommend you take this step and consider joining my private course and community.

Why? Partly because it’s great not to feel alone as you do this work, but mostly because I’ve seen the proof firsthand…

People who commit to overcoming retroactive jealousy in a private community overcome retroactive jealousy faster.

There’s a reason I named my group course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast” – I have never seen people heal quicker than when they do it together.

Earlier in this article, I challenged you to come up with one action you can take right now to put an end to the pain that overthinking about your wife’s previous partners is causing you.

This challenge is an invitation…

An invitation to greater happiness and peace of mind in your marriage, and your life more generally.

Whatever you decide, choose an action you can take right now.

Your marriage and your self-esteem are worth it.


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.