Retroactive jealousy is a condition in which people find themselves feeling jealous, angry and upset about people their partner once dated or had sex with in the past.
The “threat” posed from these ex-lovers is usually non-existent, as the people in question have long moved on, but the retroactive jealousy sufferer often becomes obsessed with them — unable to stop thinking about a particular relationship or sexual experience for months or even years.
Despite the fact that regular jealousy focuses on the present and retroactive jealousy focuses on the past, their symptoms are remarkably similar.
Both forms of jealousy cause feelings of anger, fear, anxiety and paranoia.
In extreme versions, the thoughts and feelings of retroactive jealousy can feel like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), where you can't seem to avoid them or stop them.
Fortunately, this is not the case, the loop can be broken, and the fixation eliminated.
For someone suffering retroactive jealousy, your relationship often suffers as well. This happens because every time you think about the person you love, your jealous thoughts are triggered and you also feel pain.
If you do not resolve this, the situation can grow until...
Jealousy can drive the sufferer do crazy things like snooping through their partner’s phone, or spending hours interrogating them. Both are very good at undermining a relationship and turning it from a perfect love match into an unhappy place that neither partner wants to stay in.
Retroactive jealousy is challenging because it’s fixated with the past rather than the present. You feel an intense fight-or-flight response, but without anything that you can fight against or run from.
The experience of retroactive jealousy is also deeply conflicting.
Intellectually the retroactive jealousy sufferer knows everything’s in the past and therefore it’s crazy to feel anxious about it, but emotionally they’re unable to shake the feeling there’s something “wrong” with their partner’s past. This causes a vicious cycle in which the crazier the sufferer feels they’re being, the more it drives them crazy.