Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. They fall in love and start dating, right? Contrary to popular belief, a relationship is not a coming together of two people. It’s more. Dating somebody entails coming to terms with their entire existence, quite literally. You have to understand their past, love their present, and believe in their future. Most people struggle with the first quite a bit. So, how to accept the past of your partner?
While there is no override switch to insecurities, anxiety, and jealousy, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you be at peace with the person your partner was. We’re talking about all this and more with insights from counseling psychologist and therapist Neha Anand (MA, Counseling Psychology), founder-director of Bodhitree India and chief consultant counselor at Bhimrao Ambedkar University Health Centre.
A simple question plagues your mind, “How can I stop being bothered by my partner’s past?” The answer isn’t straightforward but it is incredibly helpful nevertheless. You see, there are different facets to this problem – trust, support, communication, and empathy. Let’s explore these in detail without further ado to solve your quandary.
Should You Care About Your Partner’s Past?
A friend in an on-again-off-again relationship once said, “I think it’s over for real this time. It’s not just that my partner’s past bothers me… I can’t trust him after what I know about his ex. The whole thing is nauseating. You know what? My boyfriend’s past makes me sick to the core. That’s what it is, disbelief and disgust.” Harsh as it sounds, this is not an uncommon sentiment to come across.
New relationships often witness showdowns when one partner learns about an ex or discovers a facet of the other’s personality hitherto unknown. But is this anger justified? Does a person’s history bear relevance in the present? Neha says, “Yes, definitely. If our present paves the way for our future, the past has shaped us into who we are. It bears relevance for sure but this need not be a negative thing. Many people change for the better due to harsh experiences because they learn from their mistakes.
“But there are others who carry emotional baggage from their past, which influences their behavior. It depends on the person in question. Depending on the impact their past has had on them, you can ascertain if there’s a cause for concern.” Let’s simplify this further by giving you a few instances which are red flags.
“My partner’s past bothers me; is my concern warranted?”
If your partner shows certain problematic behavior patterns, you are right to ask, “How to accept the past of your partner?” Here are the warning signs of a person’s past controlling their present. You SHOULD care about your partner’s former life if they:
- Showcase abusive tendencies: Perhaps a bad childhood or a tumultuous dating history have made your partner mistrustful and insecure. This results in verbal or physical abuse, controlling tendencies, or constant arguing in the relationship. If this isn’t a red flag, we don’t know what is
- Engage in manipulation or gaslighting: Subjecting you to emotional/psychological abuse in the guise of romance is worrisome, to say the least. Your partner’s past is leading them to control you through such tactics
- Crowd your space: Being clingy in a relationship is also an indicator of unresolved issues. Invading your personal space and breaching boundaries are big no-nos. Needless to say, this is an attempt at feeling secure in the relationship
- Are emotionally dependent: Seeking completion through another person is a recipe for disaster. If your partner relies on you for fulfillment, the littlest influx in your equation will affect them significantly. They are not self-sufficient because of their past
Well, did any of these red flags resonate with you? If yes, then there are many avenues to work on the relationship. Be it through therapy or open communication, fixing a toxic bond is possible. But if your partner does not exhibit these traits, you’re probably very confused. Don’t worry, we know why you’re feeling a little shaky on the relationship security front.
“Why does my husband’s past bother me so much?”
A reader from Ontario wrote, “There’s nothing wrong with us per se. I was just going through a few old photos and came across a picture of him with his then-girlfriend. Since then, the whole thing has gotten stuck in my mind. Believe me, I’m not this person. Why has such a trivial thing gotten a hold of me and why does my husband’s past bother me so much? I don’t know how to accept the past of my partner.”
Neha says, “It’s quite natural to be ill-at-ease with your spouse’s history. A relationship is the most intimate space we share with someone. It comprises so many memorable experiences and moments. And parting ways with a person does not negate this journey. But you shouldn’t view this as a threat; this was a chapter of your partner’s life and they’re sharing a much longer one with you.” Hmmm… excellent food for thought! And as it turns out this phenomenon has a name. Retroactive Jealousy!
If you often say things like, “My boyfriend is my first but I am not his” or, ” I feel anxious about my girlfriend’s past even though I know she loves me” or “I feel jealous of my boyfriend’s past even though I don’t have cause for concern,” or simply, “why do my boyfriend’s past relationships bother me so much?”, understanding Retroactive Jealousy may help you get to the root of your issues. It’s not that difficult to learn how to accept the past of your partner.
Related Reading: 8 Expert Tips To Let Go Of The Past And Be Happy
What Is Retroactive Jealousy?
Romantic jealousy is fairly common in relationships. All research on jealousy points out that jealousy in relationships happens when a partner feels threatened by an active threat in the relationship. This threat from a third-party rival may be real or imagined. For example, Julie feels threatened by John’s pretty colleague who gets along with him really well. Or, ever since Pete put on weight, he has felt increasingly jealous of his partner Maya’s gym instructor.
Did you note that these are cases of existing rivals or threats that provoke jealousy? Now put that against the case of retroactive jealousy where a person feels threatened by their partner’s interest in someone in the past. Imagine feeling jealous when looking at a past photograph of your partner with their ex at a beach vacation where they both look tanned and fit.
Retroactive jealousy research shows that this form of jealousy occurs when “there is a loss of a sense of uniqueness or specialness about the relationship.” If information about your partner’s sexual or romantic past makes you feel that your partner’s past was more special or unique than what they share with you, you are likely to feel jealous.
The study titled Social Media’s Role in Romantic Partners’ Retroactive Jealousy: Social Comparison, Uncertainty, and Information Seeking demonstrates social media’s role in perpetuating this problem further by archiving people’s past for easy access. The study adds, “Such information about the partner’s past relationship may establish a comparison level with which to evaluate the current relationship.”
This brainstorming has led us to the most important juncture in the article. We will now address what you can do when your partner’s past looms over your sense of safety in the relationship/marriage. Understanding retroactive jealousy may help you see the issue with some perspective allowing you to look at your own jealousy objectively. Here come the strategies that teach you how to accept the past of your partner.
How To Accept The Past Of Your Partner – 7 Tips From An Expert
If you’ve found yourself experiencing unpleasant sentiments like “My boyfriend’s past makes me sick”, this is just the section for you. Coming to terms with their dating history is a challenging process, but we’re here to make things easier. We’ve curated a list of 7 coping strategies that can help you learn how to accept the past of your partner. You can implement these at your own pace and in your own style – there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to relationship problems.
Just keep in mind the words of William Shakespeare from his beautiful work The Tempest – “What’s past is prologue”. What you’re worried about has already run its course; it was the run-up to your wonderful now. Hey, enough chit-chat! It’s time you start reading these 7 mantras that are a godsend.
1. Accept your feelings
“Why do my boyfriend’s past relationships bother me so much?” Trying to mask your emotions with “I’m fine” or “It’s nothing” is not a good idea. It is most definitely something and you should acknowledge it. Embrace your feelings in their entirety after having a conversation with yourself. Neha says, “Before troubleshooting, you have to accept the problem at hand. If you’re experiencing retroactive jealousy, be honest about it to yourself and your partner. Denial will only complicate things further.”
The next time you find yourself thinking, “My partner’s past bothers me so much”, don’t shrug it off or sweep it under the rug. Probe into the line of thought and get to the root of the issue. Don’t invalidate (or let someone invalidate) your insecurities. This is how to accept the past of your partner initially.
Related Reading: Making Peace With Your Past – 13 Wise Tips
2. Communicate honestly
If you feel anxious about your girlfriend’s past or boyfriend’s exes, this is the most important piece of advice you’ll get. Neha explains, “I cannot emphasize the importance of communication enough. It is vital to talk about jealousy or insecurity with your partner. You have to tackle the issue as a team. In an ideal situation, a couple should have a heart-to-heart about their dating history before they enter into a relationship with each other. Transparency from the outset is essential for trust.
“But if you’re just discovering a previous chapter of your spouse or partner’s life, don’t hesitate to bring it out in the open. The more straightforward you are, the easier things will be.” There are many communication exercises for couples that can help you and your partner during this hour of need. Always remember to speak your truth for it is the cornerstone of individuality.
3. How to accept the past of your partner? Seek professional help
Sometimes, we all need a helping hand. Neha says, “When a person becomes obsessed with their partner’s past, the repercussions are quite damaging. The relationship starts becoming toxic and controlling behavior takes hold. It’s best to reach out to a therapist (individually or together) and seek help. You need an outlet or a safe space to talk about these problems and therapy is your best option.”
If you’re grappling with questions like “why does my husband’s past bother me so much?” or “why can’t I make peace with my partner’s past?”, consulting a mental health expert is a wise choice. At Bonobology, we offer professional help through our panel of licensed counselors and therapists. They can help you analyze your situation better and embark on the path to becoming a more secure partner.
4. Live in the moment
We don’t just mean this in a motivational sense. Overthinking ruins relationships because worrying about something that has already happened is counter-productive. Why not focus on nurturing what you have instead? Whenever thoughts like “my boyfriend dwells on the past” or “my partner has retroactive jealousy” riddle your mind, focus on how pointless dwelling on these is.
It is not possible to change the course of history and holding somebody’s past against them is a little unfair. Channeling this energy toward the betterment of the relationship is a hundred times wiser. As best-selling author Jaclyn Johnson wrote in her book, Don’t Feel Stuck!, “Do you like neck pain? Then stop looking behind you into the past.”
5. How can I stop being bothered by my partner’s past? Don’t snoop
Resist the temptation and don’t give in to that voice that asks you to check your partner’s phone or read their diary. Neha says, “It’s a red flag in the relationship when you start entering your partner’s private space. It is not acceptable and you would not tolerate it if you were in their shoes. Rise above the urge to invade their privacy.” If you want to learn how to accept the past of your partner, actually accept it and leave it alone.
Because investigating their past is like going down the rabbit hole. You will just spiral out of control as you learn the details of a relationship they shared with an ex. It’s best to just respect their space and trust them. This involves steering clear of eavesdropping, social media monitoring, and manipulative conversations. How to accept the past of your partner? Respect boundaries.
6. Be empathetic
A lack of empathy in relationships is heartbreaking to witness. Don’t let your preoccupation with your partner’s past make you suspicious or bitter toward them. Try and see things from their perspective as well. They have come a long way since their past decisions… They’re dating you after all, aren’t they? Acknowledge the factors that may have led them to commit mistakes and look at their journey objectively.
So, how to accept the past of your partner with empathy? When you have a conversation about your concerns, be open to their way of seeing things too. Listen and respond, don’t react. Neha says, “Empathy is crucial when you’re navigating conflict with your partner. And when you’re having trouble with their past, understand that they might not have been aware of the consequences of their choices. Be kind to them.”
7. Build your self-worth
A reader from Kansas wrote, “It’s been a rough month for me… My boyfriend is insecure about my past to a great extent and this is getting to his self-esteem. I think he’s comparing himself to my ex and I don’t know what to do anymore. We keep fighting and I’m running out of ways to reassure him. What can I do if my boyfriend dwells on the past constantly?”
This brings us to our most important point – being secure in yourself. An ex’s presence shouldn’t threaten you to this extent, and if it does, look within asap! You need to build your self-worth and recognize your strengths. You’re a phenomenal person in your own right and nothing can take away from that.
People who worry about things like, “My boyfriend is my first but I am not his” or “I don’t know why I feel jealous of my boyfriend’s past” or are anxious about their girlfriend’s past should talk to their partner and see where they feel their relationship is lacking. Why do you feel like your partner’s past relationship was more special than the one they have with you? Addressing these insecurities should help alleviate these pangs of jealousy.
- New relationships often witness showdowns when one partner learns about an ex or discovers a facet of the other’s personality hitherto unknown
- You should only care about your partner’s former life if they show abusive tendencies, engage is manipulation or gaslighting, do not respect your boundaries, or are codependent
- Retroactive jealousy is where a person feels threatened by their partner’s interest in someone in the past. It occurs when there is a loss of a sense of uniqueness or specialness about the relationship
- To accept the past of your partner you need to acknowledge your feelings and communicate them to your partner honestly. To not snoop into their private space and to stop overthinking are common and effective advice
- You need to build your self-worth and get to the root of the insecurities that are causing the jealousy. Take professional help if you need it
So, what did you think of our tips and tricks? Did they teach you how to accept the past of your partner? Be sure to let us know in the comments below. We sincerely hope that you overcome this phase in your relationship. May happiness and longevity be the norm for you and your partner – farewell and good day!
You obsess over your partner’s past because you wonder if what they have with you is more special or unique than their past relationships. The comparison leads to feelings of insecurity.
Some amount of jealousy is normal. But it feels depressing, affects your relationship, or you find yourself obsessing over it, it is definitely not normal. You need to get to the root of this insecurity immediately.
To not let your partner’s past bother you, you need to acknowledge your feelings and communicate them openly to your partner. You both can introspect what bothers you, why do you think what they had was more special than what they have now. Do you have self-esteem issues? Is it something in their behavior that makes you feel this way? You and your partner can support each other to work on these insecurities.