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Retroactive Jealousy - when your partner's past becomes a source of torment

Retroactive Jealousy is the jealousy of the past, that is, a series of uncertainties related to the partner's previous love affairs. It is also known as Rebecca syndrome, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's film, Rebecca, the First Wife, and it manifests by a disproportionate jealousy for the partner’s romantic past. Retroactive Jealousy often becomes cause of conflict, hindering the grounds for harmony within the couple.


It is really disheartening to know that you love your partner/partner in your heart ,but at the same time find yourself struggling with obsessive thoughts full of negativity and sadness.

Feelings of anxiety and anger tend to emerge very quickly, and alternate with states of sadness and depression.


What are the symptoms of retroactive jealousy?

  • A constant state of anxiety, often associated with resentment, anger and discomfort;

  • An extreme need for control

  • An altered perception of the partner's past: often, one has the impression that their previous relationships were better than the current one.

  • Tendency to constantly compare oneself with a partner's ex;

  • Tendency to be obsessed with the sentimental past of the person next to you, being haunted by images of them being intimate and romantic with previous partners;

  • A sometimes morbid curiosity: the jealous individual cannot help but constantly ask questions about exes and go in search of more and more information on social networks;

  • Finding constant excuses to argue and test the feeling of love that the other says they have for us;

  • Living in the constant fear of being left to get back together with the ex;

  • Formulating paranoid thoughts and harbouring insistent suspicions about a partner's fidelity, even in the absence of evidence;

  • Possessiveness;

  • Masochistic tendencies: despite the distress that any further information brings to the person suffering from jealousy, he or she cannot help but ask and know, thus triggering a rather painful vicious circle;

Retroactive jealousy is a very powerful threat to the relationship. But is there anything that can be done to limit or manage it?


1. Increase awareness of what you experience


Many times you are so overwhelmed by the flow of events that you cannot understand what is really happening to you: this could also happen in the case of retroactive jealousy.

You may feel in the grip of intrusive thoughts and the sense of not being in control over what happens: take matters into your own hands. Think about what you are experiencing, name the feelings you have and think about the images that come to mind. It may be helpful to write down what is happening, to 'let out' the anger and become aware of it.


2. Stay in the present

“We don't see things as they are but as we are”

Anais Nin


A useful strategy to deal with such jealousy is to rationalise feelings and thoughts: one way to do this is to think back to your past rather than your partner’s.

Look back over everything you have been through, your experiences, both good and bad, think about the times when you felt loved or have loved.

Also, reflect on what you were like in your past relationships. If it doesn't take anything away from how you feel in your current relationship, why shouldn't it be the same for your partner?



3. acknowledge the problem by admitting it, first of all to yourself


Wanting to get rid of past jealousy without admitting to feeling it is to start out already defeated.

Admitting the problem is the first step to face it. However, If the feelings of retroactive jealousy feel too overwhelming, psychotherapy - individual or joint- can help.

An individual path will be useful to learn how to manage your emotions, thoughts and impulses in order to modify your vision of the past, and live in the present.

In many , those who suffer from retroactive jealousy have a need for control in a broader sense, so it will be important to learn to let go.


Another important point to work on is the fear of abandonment and betrayal: it will be necessary to learn to keep well in mind that if our partner has ended the relationship with their ex, there must have been problems and imperfections, and that he has now chosen to stay with us, to build a life project together.


4. try to decrease as much as possible controlling behaviours


“In jealousy there is more self-love than love;

in possessiveness, more selfishness than passion”

(R. Gervaso)


Stop investigating the past by looking for information on social networks, or asking family and friends about previous relationships. These are self-destructive behaviours: don't nag your partner with questions, but above all, don't compete with your ex. After all, if it is over with this person, there must be a reason, right?




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