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‘I am obsessed with my boyfriend’s ex. How can I move on?’

Ask Roe: I know it is unhealthy to be preoccupied with their relationship but I feel irrationally jealous

Dear Roe,
I met my current boyfriend a number of months ago. We are in our late 20s and he spent a number of years with a girl before me. However, I find myself obsessing over their relationship, looking at old photos, and so on. He does not talk about their relationship. However, I know it was his decision to end it and I know the reason why.

I know it is unhealthy to be so preoccupied with their relationship but I am struggling and feel jealousy towards his ex. I find myself scrolling through pictures of them and end up feeling upset. He is an incredibly kind man, and I know if I was to raise this with him he would shut down any fears of mine, but I don’t want to introduce such irrational jealousy into our relationship. How can I move forward?

You write that you “find myself scrolling through pictures of them and end up feeling upset”, but you are skipping over a vital step: thinking. What are you thinking when you look at these photos? What are you thinking about this woman? What exactly are you thinking that is making you feel upset?

This is obsession, and obsession is about thinking and inventing. The more you obsess, the more you overthink and invent. You create a narrative so you feel like you have control over something that you can’t control. When you are obsessing about this relationship, you are inventing things, trying to fill in the gaps of what you don’t know. You are inventing a mystery, a problem, a competition between you and this woman and your relationships, that doesn’t exist.


Start listening to what you are thinking as you obsess. Start listening to the stories you are inventing. Are they stories about you being in competition with other women? Are they stories about your boyfriend not loving you enough? Are they stories about your doubts about your relationship? You are telling yourself a story with your obsession, and you are choosing to tell it to yourself repeatedly, every time you think about their relationship. But your obsession allows you to project your feelings onto another person, instead of addressing the source of it: you.

Every time you are tempted to look at her social media or photos, ask yourself why. What are you feeling and thinking in those moments of temptation, what feelings are you distracting yourself from by projecting them onto her? As ever, I think a therapist would be a great help in letting you focus on you, rather than other people.

And I would consider telling your boyfriend. You don’t want to because you don’t want him to know this part of you. This fear is telling a story too: that you’re too much to handle, that you don’t deserve reassurance, that he won’t accept you as you are. But if you tell him, the new story you’re telling is this: “I get insecure sometimes, and I want reassurance, and I don’t always know why I do what I do – like every other person on this planet. I want you to love me anyway. Because I’m worthy.”

This is your life. Start writing yourself as the main character. Start writing yourself stories with joy, and self-compassion, and self-love. You deserve them.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at