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Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure

Book review by Kathy Labriola

The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure:  How to Stop Being Jealous of your Partner’s Past  By Jeff Billings

What is Retroactive Jealousy? It is a complex set of negative feelings about your partner’s past sexual and romantic relationships, which can be so intense and obsessive that this can destroy your relationship.

Jeff Billings book The Ultimate Retroactive Jealousy Cure:  How to Stop Being Jealous of your Partner’s Pastoutlines a program of techniques and exercises that can help people who become consumed by retroactive jealousy. He developing these techniques to try to get over his painful obsession with his wife’s past sexual relationships, and wrote the book to help others who are over whelmed with intense anguish about their partner’s sexual past. 

Billings writes from a heterosexual perspective, but I believe other people will find the book very enlightening and relevant to their lives as well. The themes he discusses are universal:  anxiety and uncertainty in a relationship, fear of losing a partner, judging your partner’s sexual and relationship choices, and doubts about your desirability or worthiness as a partner. Anyone who has ever felt insecure in a relationship will be able to relate to the topics in this book!

He also writes from a monogamous perspective, and the book assumes that you are in a monogamous relationship. However, this book can still be extremely useful to people in open relationships. This is because the two key causes of retroactive jealousy, fear and judgement, are also operational in jealousy experienced in open relationships. The same insecurities, low self-esteem, fears of loss, and judgements that drive jealousy in open relationships are at the core of retroactive jealousy. As a result, nearly all of the techniques and exercises in Billings’ program would be very useful for people experiencing retroactive jealousy, and I would recommend trying them. Polyamorous people reading his book will find themselves nodding their heads as they recognize themselves in the pages, since most of our “jealousy meltdowns” are based on false beliefs that are just as irrational and can get just as exaggerated.

Billings describes his own descent into the hell of retroactive jealousy, which started on his first date with his now-wife, when she disclosed that she had been single for the past year and was sexually active with a number of different men during that time. For the next several months, he interrogated her relentlessly about these hook-ups, searched endlessly for information on these relationships, and the more he found out, the more distraught and insanely jealous he became of guys she had slept with once while drunk and barely remembered. He realized eventually that it was all based on a belief that if she had casual sex with men in the past, that somehow meant she would do so again, and would lie and cheat on him, and break any agreements they made. 

He realized that this made no sense, because –Hello!- she  was single and dating during that year she had casual sex, not cheating or lying to anyone. That was then and this is now! Get a grip, dude! Even more importantly, the underlying fear was that he was scared to death of losing her to someone else, and that fear was based on the possibility that she would be dissatisfied with him and want someone else instead.

This is very similar to what I often hear when I am counseling couples in open relationships.  Often is it a heterosexual couple and the man has an outside girlfriend, and his wife or partner is obsessed with this girlfriend and constantly thinking about her and worrying about her and being terrified of her. And the man says, “You’re thinking about my girlfriend a lot more than I do,” or “You care about my relationship way more than I do,” “You are much more passionate my other relationship than I am.”  The woman is usually experiencing terror , rage, and despair over someone that her partner  is actually not very  invested in. I gently advise them: Honey, save yourself a lot of suffering by downsizing your obsession with someone who is probably not that important to your partner, and who may not be around next  year or even next month.

Now, here is what I believe is Billings’ most important insight, both for people with retroactive jealousy in monogamous relationships and for people in polyamorous relationships.  At the core of all jealousy is a negative judgement of our partner, their sexual and relationship choices, and their moral compass. Boiled down to its essence, this requires us to admit that we THINK we know better than our partner who they should have sex with and how many people they should have sex with and what kind of sex they should have.  Billings says,“Your emotional preference is that your girlfriend has only slept with three guys, never had a one-night stand, threesome, or sex buddy, and only enjoyed sex within a secure monogamous relationship.” Obviously this is not true for most modern women. So he encourages us to look at our entrenched puritanical views of sex, and how harshly we judge our partners for their past sexual behaviors, when those past experiences actually have no negative impact on our relationship in the present.

Most people in open relationships are loathe to admit that they have some sex-negative bias that is driving some of their jealousy. We mistakenly believe we are more highly evolved than that and are sex-positive tantric gurus. However, the reality is that we are raised with many sick and contradictory messages about sex and love, and we all internalize some of that slut-shaming and sex-phobic programming.

Men in open relationships may be more prone to judging their female partner’s past sex life as making them less trust-worthy, or to believe that if a woman has had a lot of sex partners she is less worthy of love.

However, women in open relationships can be just as jealous and critical of their partner’s sexual choices, shaming them for wanting casual sex, threesomes or other less traditional types of sexual relationships.  Many women say things like “Why is sex so important to you that you would have sex with women you barely know?”  or “When you have sex with another woman, it cheapens our sexual relationship and makes  our love less special.” Clearly statements like this reveal a strong bias against sex and a belief that sex should only take place in the context of a committed love relationship. Letting go of these judgements could go a long way towards reducing jealousy and helping you make peace with your partner’s other lovers.

In both retroactive jealousy and jealousy in poly relationships, we can be way too focused on what we believe we are losing and our sense of entitlement to our lover’s sexual and romantic loyalty. If we try to widen our focus to what we may actually be gaining instead, we will be happier and healthier and so will our relationships. 

Whether you are monogamous or poly, use this link to buy Jeff Billings’ book for some great insights on jealousy and some very helpful techniques to reduce your jealousy.

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