Obsessive Thoughts About My Girlfriend’s Sexual Relationship With Someone Else

Reader’s Question

I am a 28-year-old male with a successful career and plenty of relationship experience, but I have recently become plagued by thoughts about my girlfriend that I realize are juvenile and wrong. I learned too much information about a previous sexual relationship she had with some guy who “didn’t mean much” to her. She said sleeping with him was a mistake, although she continued to sleep with him multiple times. The rational side of me knows that nothing she did in the past matters, and her past is nothing in comparison to mine, yet I cannot stop obsessing about her having sex with this guy over and over again. Explicit images flood my thoughts on a daily basis, making it almost impossible to function. This is driving me close to a breaking point, and it is definitely damaging our relationship. I love this girl and I NEED to break free from these thoughts before it is too late.

Psychologist’s Reply

Let’s look at the “mechanism” and mechanics of your symptoms:

  • the thoughts developed recently,
  • they are intrusive into your daily routine,
  • they include images,
  • you have no control over them, and
  • they are making it difficult to function.

What you are describing are obsessional thoughts related to a high level of stress or depression.

When we are under a high level of stress for a prolonged time (even success is stressful), we can gradually deplete our brain chemistry, especially a neurotransmitter called Serotonin. As our Serotonin level decreases, we develop sleep problems (e.g., 4:00 am awakening), appetite problems, chronic fatigue, emotional sensitivity, social withdrawal, racing thoughts, crying spells, temperature flushes, poor concentration, and loss of sexual interest. Low Serotonin is also associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and for some people, they suddenly develop obsessive and intrusive thoughts — as you did. These obsessive thoughts are tormenting and never have a calm or positive theme. In fact, the brain selects a theme that is specifically selected to be your worst thoughts. This is very common. In post-partum depression, good mothers are tormented by thoughts of harming their children, that kind of thing. Low Serotonin is likely the source of your obsessive thoughts. What can you do?

  • Select depression and OCD from the list of popular topics in the sidebar and read other questions about those topics. You’ll find that obsessive thoughts are very common.
  • Take a few depression screening tests on this website. If you are scoring in the depressed range, consult your family physician. You may be a candidate for an antidepressant medication. Be sure to mention that you are having obsessive thoughts in any and all discussions.
  • Read my article on Understanding Depression on this website. Depression is very common, and excellent treatments are available.
  • Remind yourself that your girlfriend and the relationship are not the cause of these obsessive thoughts. Your brain has selected those thoughts because they are upsetting. Obsessive thoughts are rarely pleasant.
  • As a couple, develop “cues” and physical signs to use when you are having trouble with the thoughts. If she notices that you are fading away in your thoughts, a humorous touch or comment can be used to return your focus.
  • Thoughts change our emotions because your brain doesn’t know if your thoughts are real or imagined. To deal with that aspect of obsessive thoughts, read my article on Emotional Memory. To counter your troubling thoughts, you can add humor when they surface such as labeling all such thoughts as a visit from “GORP” (a Ghost Of Relationships Past). The idea is to pay little attention to them and control their influence.
  • Your brain is working overtime, so do some research on stress reduction.

There’s an old song about always hurting the one you love. This is especially true when obsessive thoughts intrude into a relationship.

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