My Girlfriend’s Past Constantly Tortures Me

Reader’s Question

I’ve been with my girlfriend for little more than a month, and I’ve been more or less struggling with feelings of insecurity and jealousy the whole time. I’m not so much jealous of anything in the present as I am about things in my girlfriend’s past. I know she has had quite a lot of sexual partners before me and is very sexually knowledgeable. This seems to play on my mind endlessly. I get constant streams of thoughts about partners she might have had and what she did with them. I once read some stuff she wrote in a message board about sex that both shocked and disgusted me. But after we talked about it I though I probably took a lot of stuff out of context and that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I first imagined. But things like this still bother me and make me anxious about our relationship.

I can’t stop thinking about my girlfriend’s past. I can’t even walk down the street and see another man and not think: “Has she been with him?” And if we’re engaged in sexual play, I’ll often find myself asking, “Where did she learn to do that?” And then I start imagining the dozens of times she’s been with other guys.

I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is actual jealousy or something else. I trust my girlfriend in the present, and I know she truly cares for me and supports me with my problems (I have a slight case of depression), and I’m sure she wouldn’t hurt me with doing things with others while we’re together. My problem is letting go of the things she’s done in the past or possibly even discovering new things about her past sexual exploits. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if I ever met someone she has had sex with.

What are these irrational fears and insecurities all about?

Psychologist’s Reply

You have it pegged correctly when you say you are struggling with insecurity. Insecurity about oneself is most often the underlying reason for possessiveness and jealousy in relationships. And one way a person’s unconscious mind deals with the anxiety and dread of possible loss of control is obsessiveness. So, ultimately it’s because you don’t really have enough confidence in your own worth and your ability to satisfy and keep a partner that’s the likely culprit here.

Another possibility, of course, is that you don’t really trust your girlfriend. You say that you “know” she wouldn’t hurt you in the present, but you’ve only known her a short while and her continually unfolding history of past exploits has both shocked and unnerved you. So, it’s quite possible that although you consciously tell yourself otherwise, you don’t really have a good sense of trust in her on an unconscious level.

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Now, a person can be sexually uninhibited and still capable of a committed relationship. Although you seem to know this at an intellectual level, you might be unable to accept it at an emotional level, especially given your insecurity and anxiety. While you may think it a serious problem that you are plagued by your obsessions, problems could become even worse should you attempt to manage your anxiety with possessiveness. “Free spirits” do not take well to being caged.

You indicate that you are have been struggling with a certain degree of depression. Anxiety and the tendency to obsess often accompanies depression. All of these symptoms can be treated, and it’s best to address them not only with medication but with the appropriate kind of counseling. If you’re not being treated for your depression, you might certainly want to look into it. If you are being treated and you’re not receiving counseling as a part of treatment, it would be a good idea to discuss the benefits with your treatment provider. Your relationship with this girl is in a very early stage. It would be best to address the issues with your therapist now to give your relationship the best chance for success.

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