Her Past Makes Him Jealous

Q: I am totally in love with my current girlfriend. I'm only 22, and she's 25. We've been dating for only 6 months, but she's my best friend. I love spending time with her, talking to her, looking at her, and I wake up every morning with a sincere appreciation for her.

However, she was married for two years at age 18, and that really bothers me. I get this feeling deep down in my gut, where I feel like everything that she and I do together in life is a repeat of things she's already done. For me, this relates to things at a sexual level, but as well in terms of the interpersonal or emotional relationship we share. She has never done anything to imply that I bore her, but sometimes I fear that I do or will. I wish she hadn't been married so that she and I could experience things together for the first time. I feel like our experiences would be more special if this was the case. In addition, when she tells me about some of her past experiences -- they weren't good ones -- I actually feel physically ill. I find myself staying up at night thinking about them. I fear that if I share these feelings with her she will be generally less inclined to share personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings with me. Is my reaction irrational? -- Max

Dr. Susan: Poor Max! You've found the love of your life and she's not as brand-new and innocent as you might have liked. That can be hard to get used to. Jealous reactions to a mate's previous sexual experiences are not all that irrational, but what you do from here on out is what counts. Let me assure you that if you keep working at building a solid relationship, those negative feelings will eventually fade and finally disappear. My own husband was eaten alive by retroactive jealousy when we first got together, since I'd been married for 13 years and had two kids. He assures me that time and growing trust between us healed his discomfort completely.

But even more salient is that fact that every couple is unique. What you and your girlfriend share is nothing like what she shared with her ex. Making a life together is about the interaction between you. Every couple is a whole world composed of just those two people. What you two share couldn't be any more special than it is. Take it from me. Although I had a lot of life experience before meeting my current husband, to whom I've been married for 20 years, it's as though I've been reborn with him. Everything in the past fades over time so that the only thing that means a thing is NOW and US. And of course, there are also plenty of ways to "break new ground" with your girlfriend, to find stuff to do that's new to her as well as you. Get a sex book, plan a trip, find some joint project that is utterly new to both of you.

One more thing: tell her about your feelings. Don't accuse, of course, but let her know you need a little extra reassurance. That will contribute to the sort of deep intimacy that I bet she hasn't had with anyone else.

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