Over the past three years, I’ve put together many articles about what it feels like to suffer from retroactive jealousy (not to mention a guidebook and online courseabout how to overcome it).
At the same time, I’ve written very little about what it feels like when you have a partner who suffers from retroactive jealousy.
This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve never had a girlfriend (or wife, for that matter) who suffers from retroactive jealousy, so I don’t have firsthand experience of what it’s like. However, in both my personal life and through reader e-mails, I think I have gained some idea of what retroactive jealousy is like on the receiving end.
As you can imagine, I think it’s absolute hellto live with someone suffering from retroactive jealousy.
I’m sure this isn’t shocking to you, but I think it’s important for RJ sufferers to think deeply about.
If you have a jealous husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or wife, your life is constantly about “waiting;” waiting for more questions, accusations, insults, conflict.
You can never fully let your guard down, settle in, and enjoy the moment. You can never fully relax; when you’re together, you’re always just slightly anxious, waiting for your partner to start a familiar cycle of questions, conflict, pain, and (fleeting) reassurance all over again.
I’d like to direct your attention to a very raw and unique reader e-mail I received recently concerning a jealous husband.
In the email, the reader (let’s call her Anna) writes about her jealous husband, and how her patience (and the relationship itself) is nearing an end. I’ve received many emails like this before.
What made the email unique is that it came with an attached document: Anna also shared with me a letter she wrote addressed not to her jealous husband, but instead, to ‘RJ’ itself.
“An open letter to Retroactive Jealousy,” so to speak.
In the letter to ‘RJ’ below (shared with permission), Anna details what it feels like when your jealous husband won’t stop harassing you about your past.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re the one struggling with retroactive jealousy, let me be clear: in sharing Anna’s letter, I’m not trying to “guilt” you, or trying to make you feel bad about your own behaviour. (If you’re anything like I used to be, you probably feel guilty about your behaviour already.)
I just think it’s very important for sufferers of RJ to have a better understanding of the damage retroactive jealousy can cause to a relationship, and the hurt it causes to their partners. Looking back on my own experience of RJ, it took me far too long to really understand what I was doing to my partner.
My hope is that a better understanding of what it’s like for your partner on the receiving end of RJ will inspire you to learn from my mistake, and start putting in the necessary work ASAP.
So, without further ado, here’s Anna’s letter to retroactive jealousy:
Dear Retroactive Jealousy,
I’m writing this letter to describe what it feels like to be on the receiving end of retroactive jealousy, when you have a jealous husband. There is a lot written about how the RJ sufferer feels, great detail in fact, but little about how the receiver feels other than the fact that, at its worst, the relationship will end.
I am the victim of RJ. My partner is a lovely, caring, kind considerate man when you are not around. This is the worst bit really—knowing and seeing this lovely person, but not knowing how long he’s here for.
When he’s gone, and you arrive, I can tell.
It’s in the little signs; a look, a certain comment, the distance and the withdrawal of affection. It’s really painful when I say or write I love you and I don’t get the same response back. I know then that it’s you who’s in control, not my husband.
RJ, you forget that I’m a person with feelings—a woman, a mum, a partner, a housewife, a friend—but to you I am just a label.
I’ve not figured out what that label is, but it’s probably something like ‘non-committal,’ ‘untrustworthy,’ maybe even as bad as ‘slut,’ or ‘whore.’ When I’m seen as the label it doesn’t matter what I say or do, I’m not seen or treated like a person with feelings anymore. I am just a label, and it really, really hurts.
You’ve now got my lovely man feeling like he is “faking” our relationship, got him thinking that he wants out.
This makes it really hard to not feel somehow “used” after physical contact, love-making, sex, because you seem to need this to feel secure and loved in the relationship.
But as the cause of RJ seems to be sex, then it’s really hard not to think about what label I’m presenting myself as—am I still a “slut” or “whore” when I have sex with my husband? Without fail, you, RJ, always appear a few days after making love, and until you can feel secure and loved again through sex, and the cycle repeats itself.
The worst part of all this is I’ve told my husband many times that you aren’t real, you make things up, you’re a fantasy, you distort everything. And yet, even though I know you’re not real, I can’t help but still feel deeply hurt, abused, and tortured by you.
I wish it was me who had RJ.
I wish I could take RJ away from my husband. I know I could beat it. I know I would have the strength to face you head on and laugh at you.
Half of the battle is won when you know what you are dealing with—when you know your enemy—but you, RJ, are excellent at manipulating thoughts and feelings and taking control. My husband and I started to win when we figured you out; when my lovely man agreed that he had a problem, and he would stop talking about my past, and would stop making hurtful comments.
That was a small victory for our relationship, but you soon found a way back in. This time, you started discrediting me as a committed partner by telling me I “preferred my past life.” You were wrong, as always.
I wish I could talk to you person to person. I’d punch your lights out! I’d scream at you! But even then, you couldn’t hear me.
I think you are deaf.
Because you, RJ, can only hear yourself. You don’t hear me, and you don’t hear my lovely man. But he sure hears you!
At the moment, you have convinced my husband that he is in the wrong relationship, convinced him that you (Retroactive Jealousy) will settle down and go away if he moves on. Right now, I can see that you might be winning.
The pain you inflict stops my lovely man from thinking of the pain, the turmoil, the disruption, the hurt and the mess ending this relationship will cause, not only to me, but to our children. All he can think about is what a moment of relief might be like. While I pick up the pieces of my own shattered life at least my lovely man might have some momentary peace…
You tell him “She’ll be fine, she won’t be on her own for long, she’s done it before, it’s what she actually wants!”
But you’re lying.
All I want is my husband back, to stop worrying about our relationship, to stop this pain. Enough is enough. Together, we have everything, and yet you, RJ, are telling us “NO! I’m not going to let you enjoy that!”
If only my jealous husband could see what I see, what others see, he’d never feel insecure or jealous again. Only when happiness stops being a destination will love shine through. And only when you, RJ, are a distant memory will peace reign. Until then the war continues.