I can’t stop dwelling on my partner’s sexual past. What shall I do?

If you're in a relationship, it's normal to be curious about your partner's past experiences. However, when that curiosity turns into an obsession over your partner's sexual history, it can put a significant strain on the relationship. If you're struggling with these feelings, know that you're not alone.

This type of obsession is commonly referred to as; retroactive jealousy. According to therapist Zachary Stockill, retroactive jealousy is "an obsessive preoccupation with a partner's sexual or romantic past." It can often manifest as intrusive thoughts and an overwhelming need to know every detail about your partner's past experiences.

The problem is… it never ends. The more details you know, the more questions you have, the more questions you have, the more details you know and then your find yourself picturing your partner with other people which leads to jealousy and resentment – it can turn into a really negative spiral. 

To be the obsessor, or the person on the receiving end of this… really sucks. If you’re the obsessor, you find your mind filled with these intrusive thoughts. If you’re on the receiving end, you are on the receiving end of all these accusitory questions about your past and find yourself being judged and vilified. 

Obsessing over your partner's past can stem from a variety of issues, including insecurity, fear of inadequacy, and trauma. But it's important to remember that your partner chose to be with you because they love and care about you. Dwelling on their past experiences only does one thing: takes away from the present moment and damages the trust and intimacy in your relationship.

It's tricky. Because of course, it’s natural to want to know about your partner's past, but it's important to recognize that it's their past and not a reflection of who they are now. Despite what social media says, relationships really do change us. Your partner's past experiences do not define them, and it's so very important to focus on the present and the future of your relationship.

It's also important to address any underlying insecurities you may have. Therapist Sarah Rusbatch emphasizes, "If you find yourself obsessing over your partner's past, take a step back and examine why that is. What insecurities are driving this behavior?" By identifying and addressing these insecurities, you can work towards building a stronger sense of self-worth and confidence in your relationship.

Retroactive jealousy is a common issue that can be challenging to overcome, but it's not impossible. The key to overcoming retroactive jealousy is to stop focusing on your partner's past and start focusing on your relationship in the present. Instead of dwelling on your partner's past experiences, focus on building trust and intimacy in your current relationship.

Here are three mental models you can use to help if you're obsessing over your partner's past. 

  1. Acceptance. One way to do this is by practicing acceptance. Accepting your partner's past means accepting them for who they are, past and all. By accepting your partner for who they are and the past for what it is, you can let go of the need to control or change their past experiences.

  2. Reframe your thoughts. Therapist Rachel Wright suggests reframing your thoughts about your partner's past experiences. Instead of thinking of them as negative or threatening, try to see them as a part of their journey that led them to you. Wright explains, "Your partner's past experiences have helped shape who they are today, and that includes the qualities and characteristics that you love about them."

  3. Build your self worth. It's also important to focus on your own self-worth and confidence. When you feel confident in yourself, you're less likely to feel threatened by your partner's past. Work on building a strong sense of self-worth and confidence in yourself, and remember that your partner chose to be with you because they love and care about you.

Remember, your partner's past experiences do not define them, and they do not diminish the love and connection you share with them. By focusing on the present and the future, communicating openly and honestly, addressing your insecurities, and seeking support when needed, you can overcome the obsession and build a stronger, healthier relationship.

If you have a tricky relationship problem you'd like advice on, click here.

Want more resources to help? Relationship quizzes, couples questions and relationship games are all available in Couply: The App for Couples.

Photo by Budgeron Bach.