Retroactive Jealousy OCD: What Is It?

Hi there Psych2Goers, this is a disclaimer that this article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. If you are struggling, please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional.

Jealousy is something everyone feels from time to time; it’s human nature! People may be jealous for many reasons, but did you know that it’s possible to be jealous of your partner’s previous relationships? What happens when this snowballs from a minor annoyance to something you can’t stop thinking about? What if you begin to find yourself resenting your significant other because of it? In this article, we will be looking at an emerging concept: retroactive jealousy OCD – a severe form of retroactive jealousy.

What Is Retroactive Jealousy?

If you’re in a relationship, it’s likely you know that your partner has dated others before. Retroactive jealousy is a concept where knowing this piece of information bothers you (Ballard Psychiatric Associates, 2021). You may find yourself thinking about their past partner much of the time. Additionally, you may question your partner about them or make efforts to dig up their past and find out more about who they were with and what they saw in their exes. This concept can vary in severity according to each case (Ballard Psychiatric Associates, 2021). Some people may occasionally check their partner’s exes’ social media pages while others may actively judge their partner and go to lengths including spying on their partner as they go about their day. Generally this feeling stems from insecurity about oneself in relation to their partner causing them to act out. While some may deal with a relatively mild case of retroactive jealousy, others may have a more severe form that involves an obsessive compulsive component (Ballard Psychiatric Associates, 2021).

What Is Retroactive Jealousy OCD?

Retroactive jealousy OCD is where you cannot stand the fact that your partner has been with other people and cannot stop thinking about it. It has its parallels with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in that it often involves excessive rumination a strong need to perform certain behaviors that interfere with your daily life (Balestrieri, 2021). It’s not enough to simply think about your partner’s past relationships, but you must also take action in order to remain constantly on guard. This behavior can be extreme causing you to follow your partner around, monitor their electronic devices, or even shame your partner to make them feel bad about themself. Often this is constantly on your mind, and like OCD, will drastically reduce your quality of life (Balestrieri, 2021).

Signs of Retroactive Jealousy OCD

People with retroactive Jealousy OCD may engage in the following behaviors:

  • Constant thought and research into your partner’s dating and sexual history
  • Questioning your partner on every detail of their past relationships including specific intimate details
  • Invasive monitoring of your partner’s emails, texts, social media or other means of communication
  • Being suspicious that your partner is cheating on you with little to no evidence
  • Setting traps for your partner to confess to being unfaithful
  • Intense fear of losing your partner to their ex
  • Strong judgement of your partner on the people that they have dated. Can sometimes shame them for it
  • Discomfort when you are not engaging in your obsessive behaviors

(Sources: Ballard Psychiatric Associates, 2021 and Balestrieri, 2021)

These symptoms overlap with what is expected out of OCD:

  • Intense fear of an object or event
  • Overthinking small details and constantly doubting yourself in your beliefs
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Partaking in compulsive behaviors to alleviate stress related to your obsession; for example, handwashing if afraid of germs
  • Extreme discomfort if you don’t perform your compulsive task

(Source: Mayo Clinic 2020)

Not only do these behaviors effect you and distract you from living a normal life, but they can be intensely harmful for your relationship. Lashing out on your partner can hurt their self-esteem for something they cannot change. Similarly, it can hold you back from achieving your own goals as you’re constantly fixated on someone else. Finding ways out of this is ideal to improve your quality of life.

How to Seek Help

The best way to navigate retroactive jealousy is to get in contact with the appropriate professional. Finding the right couples therapist, coach, or counselor can help give you the tools to gain a healthy outlook on your relationship for both yourself and your partner. Similarly, finding the right mental health professional to talk about obsessive compulsive tendencies can be beneficial for yourself to learn how to manage and treat your symptoms (Richer, 2021). 

While jealousy is part of human nature, it can become intensely problematic when it takes over your whole life. Fortunately, acknowledging your problems and finding the right person to help you through your feelings can go a long ways in improving both your relationship and quality of life. Let us know your thoughts on this topic. What have you learned? Have you experienced retroactive jealousy or been with someone who has? Let us know in the comments!


  • Balestrieri, K. (2021, April 7). Retroactive Jealousy: What It Is and How You Can Overcome It. Modern Intimacy.
  • Ballard Psychiatric Associates. (2021, July 17). Retroactive Jealousy. Ballard Psychiatry.
  • Keeler, J. J. (2021, April 12). What is Retroactive Jealousy OCD? Impulse.
  • Mayo Clinic. (2020, March 11). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – Symptoms and causes.
  • Raypole, C. (2019, December 13). Dealing with Jealousy About Your Partner’s Past. Healthline.
  • Richer, L. S. T. (2021, June 10). Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy in Relationships. Anchor Light Therapy Collective.

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