Zachary Stockill (@zfstockill) shows us how overcoming retroactive jealousy and possessiveness is as easy as learning to let go.
The Cheat Sheet:
- All jealousy is related to insecurity in some way.
- How should we deal with the complex cultural politics of social media in 2015 as they relate to retroactive jealousy?
- What are your values?
- Jealousy and possessiveness often cause us to stay in unhealthy relationships for far too long.
- Is it fair to judge our partners based on their past? Or is the present all that really matters?
- And so much more…
If you’re in a relationship and you’ve ever been bothered by your partner’s past, then you’ve experienced retroactive jealousy; this can be a frustrating, isolating, confusing, and extraordinarily painful experience for those it affects. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the age of Tinder, retroactive jealousy will continue to be an important issue for millions of men and women around the globe, and (unfortunately) will become even more widespread as time goes on.
In this episode of The Art of Charm, we talk to Zachary Stockill, founder of RetroactiveJealousy.com and author of the book Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy: A Guide To Getting Over Your Partner’s Past And Finding Peace about processing our feelings and moving forward in our relationships if we find ourselves under the influence of retroactive jealousy.
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Unless you’ve been dating the same person since kindergarten, chances are pretty good that your partner had relationships before she or he even met you. And while it’s not that abnormal for anyone to feel an occasional twinge of jealousy when faced with this fact, some people experience this retroactive jealousy on a level that obsessively consumes their every waking moment.
Zachary Stockill, educator and author of the book Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy, found himself in this predicament when he was in graduate school, and it would change the course of his career.
“I fell into this profession more or less by accident,” says Zachary. “I was going through graduate school to be a history professor, basically, and I had some experiences that really brought home to me how jealous and sort of possessive I was in my relationships. And I got to a place where I was done with it and I was ready to change who I was and to change that about me because I was realizing that it was impacting my entire life in a really negative way.”
While retroactive jealousy can escalate to become as disruptive as any type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Zachary didn’t know where to turn because he couldn’t find much good information about the condition.
“[At] the worst stage of my retroactive jealousy, my partner’s past was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about when I went to bed at night,” says Zachary. “It was really debilitating.”
Recognizing a need to help the countless others whose lives were similarly under siege by this underrated affliction, Zachary wrote Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy, though he initially released it under a pen name because it wasn’t something he’d planned on making a career out of. But existing information online at the time consisted mainly of judgmental name-calling in forums, and it made him keenly aware of just how little help there was for people suffering from retroactive jealousy. If others could learn from his process of overcoming it, then perhaps he had an obligation to continue the dialogue and raise awareness of the condition.
As Zachary tells us,”A lot of the advice on the Internet I found…is more or less, ‘Just get over it; the past is in the past’ move on,’ which, if you’re dealing with this, is extremely difficult to do. So I wanted to basically just tell people, point blank, this is exactly what I did. This is the process I followed to get over this. And life gets really great once you manage to put it behind you.”
So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from “normal” feelings of retroactive jealousy that most people have from time to time into something that would more aptly be diagnosed as retroactive jealousy OCD?
“I’d say anything over a few weeks is abnormal and it might be time to pursue some course of action toward getting help,” says Zachary.
If you find yourself in need of seeking help, how do you start the process? Zachary recommends beginning with your partner. You may not be able to stop what’s going on in your own head at this stage, but you’re 100 percent in control of how you interact with other people. Recognize that you’re only repeating the cycle by harassing your partner about their past and that no good will come of it.
Then, focus on overcoming the root of all jealousy: your own insecurity. When you express negative feelings about your partner’s past, it’s likely linked to your own feelings of being somehow inadequate in comparison to how you imagine that past. Zachary recommends taking a security inventory.
“Create some kind of action plan,” he says. “If you’re overweight, work on losing weight. Commit to going to the gym three days a week. If you’re threatened by the intelligence of some of your partner’s past lovers, start reading more. Listen to podcasts that interest you. The basic message I try to put across to people is that what you’re dealing with is born out of insecurity. And if you figure out what you’re insecure about, if you get really serious about attacking that head on, you’re going to start to see improvements really quickly.”
Before the Internet, dealing with retroactive jealousy was hard enough. But now? So much information is out there that you can drive yourself well over the OCD line just by googling someone’s name. Avoiding social media is recommended while you’re trying to overcome retroactive jealousy; it’s just too easily triggered by visible connections to your partner’s past — old photos and friendships are right there, in plain view, for you to obsess over.
Your partner could very well be innocent friends with one or more of their ex-partners — and this is perfectly normal in this day and age. But it’s not going to be of any comfort for you to see their conversations on Facebook and the gallery of when they went to prom together a decade or two ago. While Zachary encourages you to be honest with your partner about how you’re feeling, you still need to be reasonable.
In the end, try to remember that you’re the one your partner has currently chosen to be with in the here and now. You’re the one that she or he is going home with tonight. When you can comfortably resign the past to the past and enjoy the present, you know you’re making progress.
“We’re human,” says Zachary. “We make mistakes. And hopefully we learn from them, so I think it’s important to let go as much as possible and to deprogram from all the cultural influences that aren’t really doing you any good.”
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to glean further tips for getting out of the retroactive jealousy rut. Zachary promises there’s not too much woo-woo to it, though he won’t discount the power of meditation and breathing exercises as a way to escape from our own egos for the sake of perspective.
THANKS, ZACHARY STOCKILL!
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