Retroactive Jealousy

Medications, Mindfulness, and CBT

If you were in a romantic relationship before, chances are you experienced feelings of jealousy. It is normal to sometimes feel insecure about the possibility that your partner will feel attraction towards others. What about worrying over your partner’s past attractions? Surprisingly, there’s a name for this condition: retroactive jealousy. Simply put, it refers to feeling jealous about your partner’s prior relationships.

Curiosity about your partner’s relationship history may range from nosy to obsessive. Not to worry though, this is a common condition. It becomes concerning when your jealousy transforms into destructive and unhealthy behaviors.

Let’s take a closer look at retroactive jealousy.

What is it?

If you’re constantly dwelling on who your partner had intimate relationships with or dated in the past, you’re probably experiencing retroactive jealousy.

In this condition, you may develop an unhealthy fixation with your partner’s sexual or romantic past. Not surprisingly, retroactive jealousy is a confusing condition! Retroactive jealousy is recognized as retroactive jealousy OCD, retrospective jealousy, and retrograde jealousy. However, all these terms describe the same condition:

An extreme mixture of repetitive negative emotions and thoughts about your partner’s previous sexual and romantic activities. These destructive emotions and thoughts will lead to actions that eventually disrupt the relationship. The majority of people with this condition do not know why they are feeling this way. Understanding this condition and learning how to manage it takes time and patience.


Individuals with retroactive jealousy have an anxious attachment style. An attachment style is how you behave and feel in your interpersonal relationships. A person with an anxious attachment style engages is worrying about their partner lying, cheating, walking out, and being dishonest even without evidence.

At first glance, this seems like annoying behavior, but a person with his condition isn’t trying to upset their partner. This is why many researchers believe this condition is OCD.

The condition usually has origins in childhood such as traumatic experiences or parental neglect.

Other causes of retroactive jealousy may be:

  • An undiagnosed or pre-existing mental health issue such as OCD, PTSD, or Generalized Anxiety
  • A previous partner’s micro-cheating, lies
  • History of abuse that happened while married or dating

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of retroactive jealousy should not be confused with a previous disagreement, anger over dishonest behavior, or occasional jealousy. These occurrences are common and have a short duration. It is retroactive jealousy when you experience suspicion on a 24/7 basis. Your mind receives little respite because it is obsessed with graphic imagery of your partner engaging in sexual acts with former partners. These mental movies may prevent you from sleeping, eating, and even taking care of yourself.

Here are additional signs of retroactive jealousy:

  • Coped with another form of anxiety in the past
  • Obsessed in making comparisons between yourself and your partner’s exes
  • Fretting over your sexual performance and comparing it with previous partners
  • Inability to trust your partner even when there is no evidence
  • Prying into your partner’s personal items without their permission


If your thoughts and emotions about your partner’s past relationships are interfering with your quality of life, it is recommended that you seek professional therapy. There are several treatment options available for retroactive jealousy.

Let’s examine them in closer detail.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT

CBT is an effective approach for treating retroactive jealousy OCD. Using this method, the therapist will identify negative thought patterns and emotions. You are what you think. In other words, what you think affects your behavior. When you develop negativity about your partner’s past relationships, you may see this behavior in your partner.

A person with retroactive jealousy OCD creates false theories that are not close to reality. This individual may have constant anger and judgmental thoughts and will behave accordingly. The CBT therapist helps identify these thoughts and emotions and applies behavioral changes accordingly.

An example of CBT is learning to say “Stop”. The patient must utter it loudly or in their head whenever they experience negative thoughts invading their mind.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

This treatment is often used in combination with CBT. It helps break the association between obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. ERP is a type of psychotherapy. It’s geared towards refraining individuals with obsessive thoughts from responding to rituals or compulsions. In ERP, the individual is gradually exposed to stimuli that cause maladaptive responses.

For example, during treatment, you may be requested to evoke your doubts regarding your relationships by stating, “I am unsure about my partner’s past.”

Instead of engaging in rituals or negative thoughts, the therapist will guide you in how to dissipate these thoughts and deal with anxiety. ERP situations may be planned or unplanned.


In the early stages of the retroactive disorder, you may not be prescribed any medication. If OCD is indicated, your psychiatrist may recommend medication. It is important to note that therapy combined with medication is more effective, especially in the long run. Both work to reduce anxiety and help you develop better adaptive behaviors.

If your psychiatrist prescribes medications, they may suggest selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These medications work to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Examples of SSRIs include:

  • Celexa
  • Zoloft
  • Lexapro
  • Paxil
  • Prozac

In rare instances, a psychiatrist may prescribe off-label medications These are drugs that not meant for OCD specifically. Instead, they are prescribed for other illnesses. Keep in mind, this method is only considered when other medications fail. Examples of off-label meds include:

–         Seroquel

–         NAC

–         Xanax

–         Risperdal

–         Zyprexa

–         Ketamine

–         Buspar

Other methods of treating retroactive jealousy

Dealing with this condition is far from easy, but there are some proactive steps you can take to help you feel better.

Consider the following:

–         Limit your intake of processed foods, alcohol, coffee, and sugar

–         Engage in mild exercises

–         Join a support group for this condition

–         Practice mindful yoga everyday

Managing retroactive jealousy OCD is difficult but not impossible. Behavioral therapy combined with lifestyle changes is very effective. If necessary, you may opt for medical treatment as well.