If you’re over 50, chances are that you or your partner may have tied the knot previously or have lived with someone for a long time and maybe had kids from the past relationship and that’s entirely acceptable.
The problem is when you try navigating your feelings towards your partner’s ex. Enter retroactive jealousy.
If you start looking up your partner’s ex on Instagram out of curiosity, ruminating about your partner’s past and comparing yourself to his ex(es), or start doubting your man, then chances are your feelings might become very difficult to manage in the long run and this can bring up a lot of pain for you and your partner.
Luckily there are healthy ways to manage your retroactive jealousy and break the cycle. Here are some expert-approved tips for you.
What is retroactive jealousy?
Retroactive jealousy is a complex emotion about something that already happened and can’t be changed, but still, it makes you very uncomfortable and if it’s not properly controlled, it can become a problem, especially if you develop into obsessive-compulsive disorder and intrusive thoughts.
Discovering love later in life can be a wonderful experience and even though it’s normal to feel a bit insecure when thinking about your man’s exes, if you let this insecurity get the best of you, it will do you no favours.
What it’s difficult to realise is that sometimes the problem at hand is not always the other person or his past. Sometimes, the challenge is you and how you handle anxiety in your relationship. It’s often due to your insecurity about yourself and sometimes because of your low self-esteem.
What can I do to stop being jealous of his ex?
Whether you had unfaithful partners in the past, your current partner maintains contact with their ex, or you simply feel threatened by the fact that your spouse shared a life with another woman in the past, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t turn your relationship into a trial.
Accepting and acknowledging your feelings, and understanding that the way you respond is actually rooted in your personal history, lived experience, and what you have gone through—rather than your partner’s past, might be a game changer.
Working on your self-esteem is essential in order to stop the eroding effects of jealousy: having a positive self-image will stop you from comparing yourself to his ex and wondering what she had that you don’t.
In the end, what we often forget is that everyone has a past — including you. This past helped shape him and you into the person you are now. If you’re hoping to build a happy, loving relationship together then it’s crucial that you get over his past, focus on the present and begin to think about how you can heal your own wounds.
“Sometimes your anxiety about the past leads you to do things that only add to your anxiety and alienate your partner. Try to minimize interrogation, reassurance seeking, accusations, and withdrawing and realize that there is a reason the past is in the past” explains Robert L. Leahy PhD, author of ‘The Jealousy Cure: Learn to Trust, Overcome Possessiveness, and Save Your Relationship‘. “Most relationships end for good reasons. Maybe your partner’s past relationships ended because one or both partners found it unrewarding. If that relationship ended, it may no longer be important to your partner. You don’t need to resurrect the past to get on with your life. Rather than ruminate about his ex-partner and cause a fight, try doing everything you can to love and appreciate each other. Make daily and weekly plans for pleasure, growth, and communication, rather than litigating what has been over for quite some time“.
But what if his ex-partner is still in the way?
Occasionally, it may be that your partner’s ex is genuinely problematic. It doesn’t matter how much you improve your self-esteem and communication between you and him, she’ll continue to be in the way especially if she is the mother of his kids.
“For most people, dealing with an ex-spouse will be easy sailing—either you’ll hardly ever see them or you’ll bumble through the occasional awkward run-in just fine. But in some cases, they may be a more present part of your life—and if there are children involved, it’s even more important that you make an effort to keep things as healthy and positive as possible” says Aimee Hartstein, a licensed therapist who specializes in couples counselling and divorce guidance.“You and your partner will be dealing with this ex basically forever. The more amicable and friendly the relationship, the happier you all will be“.
If you can begin to really accept and ultimately embrace the reality that his kids come first without taking it personally, then you and your partner can sit down and figure out what can be done to improve the situation with their mother.
Don’t go looking for threats and trouble where none may exist. Your partner split with their ex for a reason—just like you split with yours—so it’s time to look toward the future.
Focus on the present and relationship, be grateful that you and your partner found each other in midlife and don’t think of yourself as the “second wife“. However, if you feel like you’re having trouble coping with your partner’s ex or if you feel like they’re impacting your relationship, then you may want to seek help. A therapist may help you overcome jealousy, build relationship and communication skills as well as well as identify cognitive distortions that contribute to these uncomfortable feelings.