With the explosion of social media platforms in recent years, our partner's past sex lives have become more visible and accessible to us than at any previous point in history.
Pictures of ex-lovers are no longer confined to dusty photo albums at the back of a closet. Thanks to social media, they're online for the world to see. Contact with former sexual and romantic partners are no longer cut as soon as the "arrangement" or relationship ends. Now it's common practice to continue as Facebook "friends".
"So what?" you may say. "My partner's past has nothing to do with me". While this may be true, could there be a downside to the fact that ex-lovers are able to remain, on some level, in the present? Or that we can now piece together the sexual history of anyone we date?
When many of us meet someone new, it's often hard to resist having a snoop around their Facebook profile or Instagram feed to try to find out as much information as possible about their past. Usually, though, we end up finding out certain details we wish we hadn't.
Some people are able to see photos of their partner draped over an ex-lover, or read messages between them, and just shrug it off. Others become unsettled by feelings of insecurity, fear and judgment.
These feelings can develop into a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder known as retroactive jealousy -- in which the person becomes obsessed with thinking about their partners sexual or romantic past. (I should know, as I used to have retroactive jealousy myself.)
When it comes to social media, the symptoms of retroactive jealousy can involve:
- snooping around, checking out photos and reading explicit messages
- becoming moody whenever an ex-lover's message pops up
- starting arguments over who your partner is "friends" with
- asking them to delete certain ex-lovers/partners
Much of this rise in retroactive jealousy, can be blamed on social media platforms and, needless to say, it can be extremely destructive to the wellbeing of a relationship.
So, how do you handle it? How do you stop a partner's sexual past seeping into the present without getting angry, judgmental and jeopardising the relationship?
If you have issues with your boyfriend or girlfriend's sexual history that are being exacerbated by social media, there are a number of steps you can take to help alleviate the pain.
1. Change perspective
Rather than trying to force your partner to delete things on social media, try to cultivate a mindset that sees things from their perspective. The reason they may want to stay in touch or hold onto memories may not be because they still have a soft spot for an ex-lover. Very often someone will keep a tenuous hold on their past online because, for one, they don't like being told what to do.
Ask yourself if you would like it if your partner insisted you delete certain photos, or if they got upset every time they saw a message from someone you couldn't care less about. Use your answer as the basis for moving forward with a more open, less judgmental, mind.
2. Realise you have a choice
This may be a challenge, but it's important to realise that you do have a choice when it comes to how you react to your partner's sexual past on social media.
As author Stephen R. Covey says: "It's not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us". There's probably not a better piece of advice out there than this when it comes to how to overcome retroactive jealousy.
It's not your partner's romantic or sexual past that's causing you pain, it's how you perceive it and react to it that's causing you pain.
3. Go cold turkey
Make a pact with yourself that you're not going to engage in any of the destructive behaviors associated with social media for at least a week. No more snooping. No more sarcastic remarks. No more demanding that your partner "unfriend" anyone.
Committing to a jealousy free week is a great way of letting your fears and judgments begin to fade as you force yourself to break the cycle of negativity. At the end of the week, set yourself another goal -- one week, two weeks or more -- and see how much better you begin to feel as you complete each jealousy free milestone.