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Woe Is Me! “My Girlfriend is Jealous of My Exes, and I’m Exhausted. How Do I Deal?”

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Jun 11, 2023

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Image Credit: Railway Platform (1955)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


“I’ve been in a relationship for nine months now. Lately, I came across some very disturbing and uncomfortable traits my partner has. She struggles with retroactive jealousy, which makes her feel uncomfortable with the dynamics and experiences I shared with my exes, in the past. She compares herself with the situations I’ve been in with my ex-partners, and expresses discomfort that quickly balloons into fights. Though I have supported her and tried to understand her feelings, it seems to me like she can’t come to terms with the fact that my exes are my past, and no longer matter to me. I am stressed out everytime my partner feels jealous, and that leads to fights, too. What should I do?”

–Haunted by the past

DR: As a result of having a very vivid visual imagination, I have struggled with this, too. Needless to mention, it wasn’t fun for anyone involved and led to absolutely avoidable and unnecessary conflicts and hostility. But, as I grew up, I began to realize it was a “me”-problem and I couldn’t make anyone else — especially people I loved and cared for enough to be in committed relationships with — suffer its consequences. With time and effort (although, it took a fair bit of time, if I’m being honest) I was able to overcome it almost entirely. Have you tried to have a conversation with your girlfriend on how much her behavior is impacting your outlook towards the relationship, and ask her if she’s willing to make any attempt to overcome her irrational approach — through therapy, introspection, or whatever other healing mechanism she prefers?

In my personal life, what I have realized is: whenever I’ve been in relationships where I didn’t feel sure of my partner’s affection for me, felt that I wasn’t a priority for them, or sensed disrespect and disdain, my jealousy would be compunded. So, granted, your partner’s retroactive jealousy isn’t your fault. But if you’re really into her and envision a future to this relationship, perhaps, you can try to make her feel more secure in your love, generally, and see if that helps? However, with self-preservation also being a priority for us as individuals, I wouldn’t fault you for choosing to break up straightaway and safeguard your mental health. But just in case you have encountered similar issues with past partners, I’d especially urge you to introspect whether it’s possible you’re doing anything to trigger your partners’ insecurities.

But no matter what you decide, do reflect on the conflict to assess if you contributed to it any way — consciously or unconsciously. That could help your future relationships, too.

HK: I think trust issues, and complications with accepting the fact that your partner has had a life before you is something, has become really common in this generation. At some point, I’ve been guilty of feeling this way as well. What’s important to figure out, here, is whether your exes are still in your life — and, if so, to what extent. “Retroactive jealousy” gives me very therapy-speak vibes, but are her emotions manifesting into actions that depict an insecure attachment?

This behavior is not easy to justify, and I can also sympathize with how helpless the situation feels to you. I think the best way out would be to communicate clearly and work on this together (maybe in therapy?), or part ways — because constant reassurance may not be enough to dissuade her worries.

AB: Oof, this is a tough one, NGL! I’ve been in the position of your girlfriend; looking back on it now, my jealousy was largely based on my own insecurity about my place in his life and whether he actually cared for me. I suspect it might be the same for your girlfriend. My suggestion is to continue to make your feelings for her, alongside the importance you give to this relationship, clear through your actions. Bear in mind, though, that things like this take time, and once she truly internalizes that you’re not replacing a past girlfriend with her, but want something new and special with her, she’ll probably be less concerned about your exes.

Also, if this is her first serious relationship, ir might explain her feelings as well; it’s possible she feels like her ‘lack of experience’ in this whole situation might be putting her at a disadvantage. Try to understand the root of her jealousy and continue to be someone she can trust, but not at the cost of your own mental health.

A frank conversation, without any artifice, will help significantly; the rest will take time.

AS: Hmm… that’s a difficult situation to be in. I don’t think there’s much you can do, here, except try and make your partner realize the toll it’s taking on you, and your relationship. Her jealousy seems to be stemming from her own insecurities and that’s something she will have to work on herself. While you appear to have been mindful of her feelings and reassured her, have you explained how this is affecting you? If not, I would suggest starting there. This doesn’t have to be a critical or accusatory conversation, but one where you can be both reassuring about what this relationship means to you, and also encourage your partner to probe (or seek help to probe) what the root issue might be.

I don’t know how strong your communication is with each other, but maybe there’s a way for you to develop that — where she can talk to you about these jealous moments as soon as they arise, rather than letting it fester and it turning into a fight later. Then again, that’s a significant amount of investment from your end in addressing these concerns. So, I think you would also have to evaluate how important this relationship is to you.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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