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My girlfriend has retrograde jealousy and its getting worse!

Tagged as: The ex-factor, Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (13 August 2013) 13 Answers - (Newest, 19 August 2013)
A male France age 30-35, anonymous writes:

Hello Everyone,

I have spent the last week reading everything I could on this website relating to the subject of "Retroactive Jealousy" but I was not able to find much relating to my case (surprisingly, since there is a lot of information here).

I am a Parisian who just finished his superior studies and I am starting a job as a manager in 20 days. For my studies, I was in an exchange program between my school an Rotterdam School, so I spent one year in the Netherlands (beautiful country). This was 2 years ago. There I met a girl 7 years younger than me, very fresh and soft and I have been in a relation ship with her since 1 year and 10 months. Let us call her L (short for Love). I really do love her and she came to live in France with me and everything seemed to be going fine until three months ago.

L saw my old facebook posts and she started digging for information about my ex. Let's call my ex X (because this is a variable in the equation which is causing us all trouble). As a matter of fact, X and me had a 3 year relationship BEFORE I met L. X is my age. And X is my only X, the only other woman apart from L with whom I have had sex, and it was not just fucking, I was in love, but sadly it didn't work out (but that is of no importance now).

So X is the only other woman I ever had to share my life with, and L was at first okay with it but since the last three months she has turned into a complete psycho.

She took my email and facebook passwords from me, demanding to "See" and "Read" all conversation that we had. She read them all, and then realised that she is acting weird, on her own. But then one day she deleted them all. I am fine with it. I don't care about the souvenirs from the past. I just want L to be happy. But L is not happy at all. She asks me very specific questions, which I now have learnt to avoid. She gets angry at me for having X, and also at X (although she and X ahve never seen or met each other. I sometimes see X because we have a lot of common friends. For example, I saw her last at a friend's birthday party. I had told L to come too, but she had refused after finding out that X will be there too)

And sometimes L goes from being loving and caring to totally rude and cruel, and she compares herself (in every way, how she has sex, how tall she is, how long her hair is, how she speaks english, how she cooks) with X. There is nothing funny about it. I had first thought it was funny, when one day I said "Nice breakfast, but I can't eat honey I am going" and the reply was "Did you say this to X?" I laughed and sat down and ate and then she asked if X made good breakfast.

And the tension in sex is so much now. I can't touch her anymore. Not because I don't want to or that she doesn't allow me. I can and she welcomes it. But I stop because now, she has this habbit of being very depressed later on (once I found her crying) while thinking of me having sex with X.

So, as it goes I now realise after researching this topic that this is a special jealousy which exists when the person who makes you jealous is not even around. I read about it now and I am aware.

What I want to know is, How can I help L, who I see going through so much emotional pain? I will not accept to break up. She is for me, and has been since the time I know her, what rain is for the desert.

What I also want to know is, how do I help myself? It's not reasonable to be questioned all the time about X and I try a lot to not get angry and never use stingy responses. I always try to be loving and gentle, but it takes a toll on my ego that I am causing so much hurt and sadness to the woman I claim to love.

I want to know what I should do, to make our couple survive. I feel compelled to make this post after what happenned last night. She said this while we were standing in front of the microwave to get the dinner out, and I instinctively just put my hand on her and pulled her near to me. She almost choked with rage/sadness emotion and said this

"How could you have thought of a life with another woman? It stings me so much. You have looked at Babyname's with her. You have touched her. It breaks me inside to know that some other took what was my right. I want you to hold me and touch me, but not the same way you did her. I feel second choice when I think that you held her and touched her exactly how you touch me."

Please, help me I have been in this state since three months now and the problem is increasing instead of decreasing. I don't know how to cease this problem.

View related questions: depressed, facebook, her ex, jealous, my ex

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (19 August 2013):

She needs professional therapy or she will get worse. As for you: Don't accept her demands anymore. They are unreasonable and they don't make her happy. Nothing you do will ever be enough to lessen her anxiety because it is all in her own head and she needs to take responsibility for that by getting professional help. It is wrong of her to make you give over your passwords, let her read all your emails, make you soothe her over and over again. When she says cruel and rude things to you, don't just try to laugh it off. You are enabling her to become more and more of a monster. She is in a lot of emotional distress but it is wrong of her to seek things from you to make her feel better because you cannot make her feel better since the problem is in her head. She needs to get professional help. If she won't, then I recommend you discontinue this relationship. I mean come on, you put your arm around her and she flies into a rage? Would she prefer you just never touch her again? Probably that will upset her too. You're in a lose-lose situation and dead end unless she gets professional help. No one can have a normal relationship like this.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (16 August 2013):

"I can't be tough on her. She is my girlfriend. "

But, OP, you are helping her to mentally destroy herself by standing by and refusing to do what needs to be done. it's like as if she was a drug addict, slowly killing herself on drugs, and you refuse to call it out do something and instead give her more drugs because that's what she wants and what she 'needs'. You're helping to 'destroy' her.

Like many of the posters here have said, your gf needs to see a mental health care professional, because the problems are all in her own mind, they are consuming her and affecting her life and yours, and are out of control.

retroactive jealousy seems to have similarities with anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, both of which are mental illnesses that need treatment to improve, they don't just go away. It is like an anxiety disorder (maybe a psychologist could say if it is a type of anxiety disorder) because, well, it causes a lot of emotional distress, right? She thinks a lot of negative thoughts about herself and about you, the kind of thoughts that feel very threatening to her. And it is similar to OCD because she cannot stop thinking about it. it is a compulsion. The negative thoughts intrude into her mind. And, over time, more and more things "trigger" her to start thinking about it. Initially maybe only if she hears you mention X then she will start thinking her negative thoughts. But then as time goes on, more and more things make her think about X. Now you can't even cook her a meal without it 'triggering' her! Now even holding her hand and being nice to her triggers her!! In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it's only a matter of time that just seeing your face is going to trigger her!! similar to these mental disorders, her condition is getting worse and worse over time, not better. It requires professional intervention to get better or stop it getting worse.

the thing is, you cannot be her therapist. Aside from the fact that you're not trained to be one (!) she has a lot of emotional associations with you and thus she cannot objectively listen to what you say. She needs to have a third party whom she has no feelings for, tell her certain things. If you told her the exact same things, she cannot accept it because her emotions get in the way. But if a neutral third party tells it to her, she may.

please do some research into local counseling facilities and therapists. call some therapists on your own, so you can have information to give her. Maybe you can go to a therapist by yourself and get some advice better tailored to the specific details of your interactions. But better yet is to inform your gf that she needs to get professional treatment for her uncontrollable negative thinking. Why would she refuse? Does she NOT want to feel better? Does she want to feel upset all the time?

I also have to caution you on the negative effects on you of being in a long term unhealthy relationship like this if she doesn't get better. People have to mal-adapt to survive unhealthy relationships. As a result your personality may slowly change over time. You may become timid, jumpy, over sensitive, nervous. Or you may become really depressed and full of despair all the time. So please, even if your gf does not want to see a therapist, you should see one for yourself to protect your own mental health.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (15 August 2013):

"What I want to know is, How can I help L, who I see going through so much emotional pain? I will not accept to break up. "

I am sorry but you will not like the answer I am about to give you.

You cannot do anything to directly help her. She NEEDS PROFESSIONAL HELP. She needs to go to a therapist and get counseling, maybe even medication. Her brain has some imbalance. Nothing you do can change this brain chemistry.

One last thing you can do to help is to explain to her that she needs to get professional help. But if she refuses, then there is nothing left that you can do.

"What I also want to know is, how do I help myself?"

You need to set boundaries with her to stop yourself from getting emotionally "beat up" by her. That means you need to not allow yourself to be subjected to her nasty behavior, her controlling behavior, her manipulation or any other thing that makes you feel like crap. The minute she starts going on and on about something, you need to get up and leave. You need to tell her that unless she gets therapy/medication to bring her extreme and out of proportion emotions under control, you will have to leave her side whenever she gets out of control since you being there doesn't help instead it drags you down. Explain to her how you feel 'beaten up' emotionally, and how you cannot survive this relationship if you are always feeling this way, and that is why you have to leave her side when she starts acting out.

Tell her you still love her and want to spend time with her, BUT not when she is like this. When she starts acting up against you, you will go away. When she's found a way to calm down, you will return. If she starts acting up again, you will leave again. You get the picture.

"It's not reasonable to be questioned all the time about X and I try a lot to not get angry and never use stingy responses. I always try to be loving and gentle, but it takes a toll on my ego that I am causing so much hurt and sadness to the woman I claim to love."

YOU ARE NOT CAUSING HER HURT AND SADNESS. She is causing that to herself. You didn't even know her when you were with X! How on earth is any of her sadness your fault?? were you supposed to be a psychic, have a crystal ball and see into the future to know you will end up with L and thus should not go with X? That's ridiculous. She is the one who needs to change, not you.

Again - she is the one who needs to change, not you.

You have to tell her - gently - that she needs professional help, because her emotions and thoughts are out of control, they are unreasonable, and they are destroying the relationship by making her miserable and then when she is miserable she then makes you miserable by her words and actions. There is nothing you can do to change the past, she should know that. Therefore, the only person who can change her feelings, is herself. But she needs to do this by seeing a professional therapist for help, there is nothign you can do.

Please don't beg her to calm down, don't try to over-soothe her. As you have found, it does not help, it does not stop another recurrence of her issues. All it does is create a pattern where she feels bad, acts out and attacks you somehow, then you have to absorb her negativity and emotional abuse and bend over backwards trying to appease her. This is not a relationship, this is TOXIC.

She needs to change, not you. She needs professional help. If she refuses then you really need to end this relationship because she will not get better and there is nothing you can do. some times people who need to change, won't ever change unless they suffer the consequences of not doing anything (such as their partner leaving them). I am serious. People with mental health issues that cause them to 'attack' their partners emotionally (or verbally, or physically) make very bad relationship partners and no relationship with such a person will be a good or healthy one unless and until that person changes on their own and stays changed permanently. If you insist on staying in a relationship with her if she doesn't change, it will only over time cause you to emotionally detach from her because there is only so much you can take mentally. She does not need a boyfriend. But she does need a therapist.

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A female reader, agneeman South Africa +, writes (14 August 2013):

agneeman agony auntWow.

First let me say you sound like an amazing boyfriend and the part of me that can not relate to this wishes I had her problem.

Unfortunately, she sounds a shitload like me. I guess I have retroactive jealousey (thanx for that I am going to look it up) but not toward one person - to multiple people that he had meaningless encounters with ( hence wanting to switch places with L, who has these advantages on me:

a- it was before you met,

b- it was a woman you loved so it wad not like you were replacing her with a cheap easy dime-a-dozen whore or that she is paying a wife's price for a whore's prize, and

c- you love her enough to help her through it, not to mention

d- you are a well spoken Frenchman and

e- it was one bloody woman, not 8)

Before I talk myself into impatience with her let me share what I can relate to, and some advice though I do not know if it will work it is basically based on what I wish my husband would do- without knowing if it will work.

She is sexually threatened. Something about your ex threatens her feminity on a deeply carnal level. Carnal ie: not rational or intellectual though highly emotional.

First and 4most this is her problem and you alone can not solve it: though you are being a darling about it- but lets not talk bout that before I sob out of jealousy

She needs to stop torturing hetself. Finding too much info about your ex merely hurts her it is unhelpful and unhealthy unneccesary.

You can help to validate her by finding things that give het exclysivity with you. A woman in love wants exclusivity and once that is destroyed love is nothing but painful in a way worse than hate.

"Here's something special that only me and you share"

"If I could replace you with her I wouldn't"

Try to say these things to her both verbally and nonverbally

You need to find things that crown her as the princess of your life. A princess is unique, special, set apart, and irreplacable. She is not a generic in anyway. Find experiences/ gifts even ways of touching her that communicate this uniqueness to her.

I am sorry to say that the prospect is bleak. I think is break-up is coming sooner or later. Perhaps breaking up temporarily might make her more lucid, while she waits for the images to stop torturing her. A year (sorry) might be sufficient time for her to start becoming desensitized to the idea of you sharing that with someone else.

And even though I maintain you did NOTHING to betray her, perhaps treating this as _ne would treat infideliry will belp her. She is clearly voing through the same emotions as a victim of adultery and perhaps resources on how to overcome adultery might be validating as well as pragmatically helpful.

Good luck dream guy

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A male reader, Yos Netherlands +, writes (14 August 2013):

Yos agony aunt"I cannot say this to her. It is as if I am telling her that shut up or I will throw you out. No, she left her life, her country, everything behind for me. I can not do/think/say that. As long as she wants me, I am hers. I refuse to be a fair-weather friend."

That's not what I mean. I mean the opposite in fact. She left everything behind to move to be with you and suffer daily from retroactive jealousy. An experience that can be a living nightmare, I can testify to that having experienced it. That's no life. She's in a foreign country without her support network trapped in a downward cycle of self destruction.

Don't tell her to shut up. Don't tell her to block it. Instead tell her to deal with it. Don't be a fair weather friend, be a real friend. Get her to accept that she cannot go on like this and must face it, come to terms with it and with herself. Make sure she understand that it's not acceptable for you for things to continue like this. That she has to confront it. She HAS to. Our true friends are the ones that grab us when it's really need us, shake us and say 'this is not ok'. You have the power to help her if you choose to use it, rather than being soft on her.

If you give her only sympathy you encourage her to take pity on herself. The way out of retroactive jealousy, based on my experience, is to do the opposite. It's to see ourselves in the harsh light of reality, the way the world really is, and decide that we're better off letting go of the baggage that causes retroactive jealousy. Her jealousy is based on illusion, insecurity and fear. These are things that can be beaten with truth and love.

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A male reader, anonymous, writes (13 August 2013):

I asked the question. Response To Answers #1

@Everyone : Thanks for your answers. It is nice of you to have read my long text and then responded so well with well presented thoughts.

@Yos : I can't be tough on her. She is my girlfriend. Although I do get your point, and I have done this in a sense already by telling her things on the lines of "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds". When you say that I need to give her a choice, either lose me or accept it and move on, you discount the feelings I have for her. I cannot say this to her. It is as if I am telling her that shut up or I will throw you out. No, she left her life, her country, everything behind for me. I can not do/think/say that. As long as she wants me, I am hers. I refuse to be a fair-weather friend.

@MsSadie : Thanks for your compliment. Especially since we French are known o be bad at English, so it means a lot to me. Point noted about seeking professional help. In fact, me writing here is the first step of the process. I jsut wanted to know whether I was taking things to seriously or does this disutation really merit a more experienced treatment. Your mathematics is very good ;) Indeed, she was 18 when we met. And yes you have guessed it correctly, I am her first lover, and first physical lover also. I appreciate your analysis of a whilrwhind romance and how for some women sometimes the first love is all consuming. In the words of Fitzgerald "they slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they could not recover". This I have felt on my own too. And I quite agree with you there. However, your last paragraph is of utmost importance. I really thank you for writing it. I will do it as soon as I can. I will tell her how unique she is and that making a comparison makes no sense.

@Tisha : I haven't told her. But I was going to, just I was mustering up the courage. Given, that I myself found out about this very recently. However, seeing so many cases on the internet almost parallel to mine, I am reassured (ironically) that I am not alone who eats these bitter lemons which life threw at me. I plan to tell her this week each nigght, how special she is to me. And on the weekend, I will introduce her formally to this jealous condition. I'd probably make her read all these answers too, so taht she knows how much this weighs on me that she is no longer happy with me. Thanks for suggesting CBT. I will first check with her if she agrees to go in for therapy. I want her to, for our sake. I will do my best at avoiding questions about X.

@Xearo : Who else does she have for venting out her emotions? Whatever hse feels, it is my job to listen.It's not strange, it's natural I find. What would be unnatural for me would be if she would feel some emotion and not share with me. She is not attacking me. She is sad herself. She tries to control herself, but it's as if she loses control over her control. Thanks for your response, I will be heading towards professional help if it dosn't improve pretty soon.

@Eyeswideopen : I am hoping to show her this question answer session. Some other internet files which I have saved in a doc format, and my diary so that she understands that she is spiralling us both into depression slowly if she doesn't stop. I count on her reason to accept therapy.

@Anonymous Female Reader who answered 13th August : Thanks for your answer. It is what I had hoped to get from this site. An account of someone who might have experienced similar emotions. I know it is not easy giving yourself away in front of everyone, even if you are anonym. Really, thank you. I have learnt a lot from your post, and I will do exactly wht you suggest. I will also do wht your boyfriend did. I will test out everything this week. The "no name" phase is currently going on. She calls her "that girl". She gets angry if I say No, her name and I didn't do this/that. She doesn't like listening to anything, and she has committed herself that she gets goosebumps out of fear when she listens to her name. I am very concerned. But you have given me a ray of hope. You overcame it, and so it is doable. And maybe she will do it also :)

@Everyone : I will keep you posted about the turn of events this weekend. Merci!

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 August 2013):

Oh man. This hits so close to home for me. I was L about a year ago. My boyfriend (first boyfriend/sexual partner ever) was 28 and I was 22. At first I was so excited that we were in love, it seemed like everything was perfect.

About 3 months into the relationship I had this kind of awful epiphany where I realized that everything he had done with me he had also done with his four exes. I stalked them on Facebook, read about them online. I always compared myself to them--they were skinnier (that's a fact, not an opinion) and I thought they were beautiful and probably smarter and better in bed. I went from being the happiest girlfriend to a totally insecure mess.

I couldn't get over it. I tried and tried. I posted here, I bought self-help books, I saw a therapist. Nothing worked. Every time I thought about him with his exes, I would start crying. And I thought about it all the time; in the car, at work, even when we were having sex. About 6 months ago I broke up with him (so we were together for a year). The first 3 months of our relationship were bliss and the last 9 were me obsessing about his, miserable for both of us, really.

I don't know what to do in the future. I'm scared to date again because I don't want the same thing to happen. I'm hoping that, since I have slept with someone/been in love before, I will be more accepting of my next boyfriend's past. But I don't know.

I'm sorry this isn't very encouraging, but I wanted to be honest with you and tell you that it might not work out. And, honestly, a lot of damage has already been done. I found that, the more details I knew (eg, reading old emails, seeing old pictures, finding old letters) the worse it was for me...and it sounds like your gf has seen a lot of that. I'm sure she regrets asking so many questions and reading those emails.

There are people who work through it...but if it doesn't go away after 6 months or a year, you have to know when to throw in the towel. I hope you and your gf can get through this together.

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A male reader, Yos Netherlands +, writes (13 August 2013):

Yos agony auntI think it's time for some tough love. She needs to understand that by continuing this way she will destroy your relationship. She needs to understand that she has to let go of her irrational beliefs (that you are 'her right' etc) and that only she can do that.

One of the things that shook me out of my initial retroactive jealousy and into a place where i had to deal with it was my partner getting mad as hell with me. Making it very clear that she was NOT ok with my behaviour and that she wasn't going to accept it continuing. That meant I had to face up to a choice: change myself or lose her.

GIve her that choice. She needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and wallowing in her own self-pity and decide to move past it.

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A female reader, MsSadie United States +, writes (13 August 2013):

MsSadie agony aunt"Let's call my ex X (because this is a variable in the equation which is causing us all trouble)"

That's so clever! Your handle of the english language is superb.

Anyway, I agree with the other agony aunts who suggest that your girlfriend seek professional help. The kind of jealousy that she is experiencing is often indicative of much deeper issues like severe feelings of inadequacy, co-dependence, or even OCD in some cases.

One thing I'd like to point out is that this love of yours is quite young. Looking at your age range and subtracting the 7 years age difference, I place her between 19 and 22. Which means when you two first got together almost 2 years ago, she was between 17 and 20. So, is it possible that you are her first love?

It doesn't explain the intensity of her behaviors, but understand that for some young women the first love can be consuming. This holds even more true when the man she's with is older than her and when the relationship is one of those "whirlwind" romances, that begin with a burst of strong passion. In these cases it's quite normal for the woman to act possessively and feel insecure.

Little steps that you can take in the meantime to help alleviate the issue are to avoid being places that you know X will be and to divert L from the topic of X when the conversation starts to head there.

Have you told L that you don't want to discuss X? Furthermore, have you let L know the things that you really love about her WITHOUT comparing those things to X?

Best of luck to you!

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A female reader, Tisha-1 United States +, writes (13 August 2013):

Tisha-1 agony auntFirst of all, you cannot solve the problem for her. The problem lies in her own thinking, in her mind, and she is one who has to deal with it. Does she acknowledge she has problem? Have you told her you believe she is suffering from retroactive jealousy? If you have not, it is time to tell her you are concerned that she is suffering from this form of OCD.

Encourage her to seek therapy for this, it's my understanding that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) would be her best approach.

If she does not believe she has a problem, well, then there's not much you can do.

What can you do? Stop answering her questions about the X. Don't engage in conversations about the X. All this does is give her new material on which to ruminate, and obsess, and later on, use to fuel her anger toward you.

It's irrational, as you well know, and so logic will not solve this. No amount of reassurance and holding and sheer will on your part is going to make her feel better. The problem arises in her mind and thus, it is her mind that needs the therapy.

If I were you, I would stop responding to these episodes of RJ and would confront them each time by telling her that she is experiencing an episode of RJ and needs to go to therapy. Don't feed the monster that is RJ, it only makes it worse.

Do tell her that you care for her and love her but will no longer enable the RJ that lies within her and that you hope she will seek therapy for her own sake.

Good luck.

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A male reader, Xearo Trinidad and Tobago +, writes (13 August 2013):

She needs professional help else I don't think there is anything you can do for you and I think you are doing your best anyway. It seems kind of weird her expression of jealousy actually seems like she is attacking you. I don't know if this is some way of her trying to get you to actually be angry/show more emotion for her but that is just a vague guess from me. Seek professional help first.

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A female reader, eyeswideopen United States +, writes (13 August 2013):

eyeswideopen agony auntBoy this post just breaks my heart. I feel so sorry for you Buddy. This doesn't look good at all. She needs professional therapy I'm afraid. Is there any way you can convince her to get it?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (13 August 2013):

Sorry you are in this situation.

L has it very bad! She may need professional help, because there is retrograde jealousy and then there is over the top crazy insane jealousy.

It is affecting her, you and your relationship and it's not healthy at all. She can't keep comparing to X. X is in your past and helped shape you into who you are today, for L.

If I can give an example - when I met my boyfriend, my exes were all bad. They either lied, cheated or whatever the reasons, but none of them could be seen in a positive light. So it was easy for him to hear about them, because I shared everything, the good, bad and ugly and he knew he was better than them, so it was easier to forget about them and focus on us.

I however, had a harder time, and also went through a bit of retrograde jealousy, over his exes. Why? Because he still had tender or positive thoughts about them, even though they are over and in the past, I also felt jealous about what they had shared, and wondered "what if" and also compared myself to what I heard about them. We as women, for some inexplicably reason, want to be better than any other women, period! haha

How did we get over this? I shared how I felt. We had various discussions about it. We were open and honest with each other. One night, he told me what I said above: he reminded me - all those girls from the past, be they one or dozen or whatever, they made him who he is today, good or bad, but that they are THE PAST, and he is who he is today, and he is WITH ME. He has chosen ME. So he said those words, and he showed through actions, and being consistent, that he loved me, nobody else, didn't regret anything, was happy with me, and slowly but surely we moved on.

I went through a phase where I didn't even want to hear their name. He would mention a situation or example relative to something and say when "her name" family did this or that, etc. At first I told him "don't say her name" but with time, as we developed as a couple, our relationship matured and our love grew into what it is today, now I can hear their name, and feel a fondness for them to have treated him well, to have shown him love, to have led him to who he is today. I don't care if they were skinnier or not ( I don't ask ), hair colour, whatever. I don't ask that, because it's not a competition. It's about being THE ONE. When you love someone, you want the best for them - in their past, in their life now, and forever. So I love him with everything in me, to the best of my ability, and we are happy and I no longer dwell on his past, or the girls, because hey? they are in the past and it's not by accident or lack of opportunity that they are not in his present. It all ended for a reason, and I am here, after all this time, because I am THE ONE for him :) so retrograde jealousy be gone! ;-)

So to you OP give it time for your girl. If she has not had anybody before you, it will be harder, but not impossible. You only had 1 girl, X, and she is still finding it hard? Give it time... and by the intensity of it, she may just need professional help if this has gone on for 3 months.

Good Luck - keep reassuring her, remind her you are HERS now, and to forget X because you have! she is the past and L is your present and future. If you repeat it enough, eventually it will sink in. :)

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