Retroactive Jealousy During Divorce And Beyond

Women and Divorce
Wendi Schuller
Author of
The Global Guide to Divorce

Retroactive jealousy can lead to divorce.

This  can be a red flag that something  in the relationship is wrong.  It also can indicate that a partner has control issues or has their own problem of handling jealousy.

Retroactive jalousie  also happens post-divorce when a former spouse cannot let go and is jealous of the other people that came before him or her.

When dating post-divorce, watch out for a love interest who asks too many questions or wants a detailed history of your past.

Retroactive jealousy is when a spouse discovers something unknown from their partner’s past.

It could be finding an old photo or love letter.

A couple may have gone over the highlights of their dating pre-marriage. They gave the headlines version of a distant love life.

The individuals glossed over their past instead of listing each and every person they dated, which would have been unrealistic.

When the other spouse goes ballistic upon uncovering a reminder of their partner’s previous dating period, this is retroactive jealousy.

This type of jealousy goes off the deep end, where a person becomes obsessed with it. The thought of their current or former spouse being with someone else, is swirling around in their brains. They cannot let go of the movie in their head starring their partner and a former flame.

The question is – does a partner have the right to know intimate details of their spouse’s former lovers?   Or names and the number of past flings?  Possibly from a health point position.

If a person has had several long-term intimate relationships, instead of many one-night stands, there is less of a risk for pasting on sexually transmitted diseases.  Being aware of a partner’s history having a string drunken one-night stands would necessitate using a condom.

In one case, a woman’s fiancé repeatedly asked whom she lost her virginity with and how many other lovers she had after that (zero). Although this man was not a virgin himself, he was upset that she had a prior sexual relationship before they met.

He demanded to know who that person was and kept insinuating that there were more guys she was not mentioning. She eventually kicked him to the kerb and got on with her life.

On an emotional level, accidentally finding out about a deep, dark secret can hurt – even end a relationship.

Not being told of a previous marriage or about a baby given up for adoption who is now an adult knocking on the front door, is a shock.

This can get the other person wondering about what else might be hidden.  A spouse may lose their trust when a situation like this occurs.  Feeling lied to or there was a cover up is a bit more than a spouse having reactive jealousy over a forgotten photograph being found.

If you are the one struggling with retroactive jealousy, examine what specifically bothers you.

  • Is it the fear of abandonment? You possibly are afraid of being dumped for a former lover.
  • Feelings of being inadequate – that you are not enough? This could be an insecurity issue.
  • Are you too controlling – resenting your spouse’s ties to other people and friendships?
  • Are you fantasising -seeing images of your spouse and their former lover over and over?

Steps to take

Consider talking about your jealousy with your partner. Most likely they have no idea, will have a laugh and then be reassuring that you are still number one. They might be trying to revive your relationship in an unhealthy way, by talking about past romances. This has to stop.

Does your relationship seem shaky and not stable? Talk to your partner. Perhaps they are feeling the same way and are motivated to get it back on track.

Perhaps your love life got a bit routine and boring and that is why you are focused on your partner’s past one.  Spice it up, such as with a naughty weekend in Paris. Get out of your familiar environment.

Is there something lacking in your life now which propels you to dwell on your partner’s past?

This could be due to not feeling fulfilled or knowing your purpose in life. Enrich your life with stimulating new ventures, activities or sports. Perhaps connect with a Higher Power.  When one has too much time on their hands that encourages the mind to wander and dwell on the past. Meet new people and reconnect with ones you already know.

Post-divorce, retroactive jealousy can be an issue, especially when you were you the one left behind.

  • Avoid triggers. Go to new places and avoid the ones you frequented as a couple. No need to see your ex snuggling with someone new.
  • Shake up your routine. If you went out for morning cappuccinos as a couple, then go out in the afternoon. Not helpful to daydream about whom she is sharing coffee with now. If he enjoyed Friday after work drinks, then go to the pub at another time period.  It is avoiding doing things that you did when married and lessening the chance of an accidental encounter.
  • Avoid stalking them in person or online. Living with retroactive jealousy is a waste of one’s energy and time when the marriage is over.

To help get regarding retroactive jealsouy, talk to your friends who are great listeners and allow you to vent. Also, they may give a reality check.

There are divorce charities which help individuals to move on post-divorce.  A relationship counsellor can help people deal with reactive jealousy and see a situation more clearly.



Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).

Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.

She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is


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