Relationships, Former Lovers, And Trust

Does your boy or girlfriend, husband or wife, keep hidden pictures on the computer of former lovers?

A reader posted a question to "Ask Dr. Schwartz" entitled:

"My Boyfriend Saved Pictures of his Ex-Girlfriend on His Computer."

Following is a sample of two responses to this question that was posted back on January 13, 2010. The initial question dealt with the fact that this woman found photographs of her boyfriend's former girlfriend saved on his computer. What is interesting to note is the large number of reactions since the initial posting. The original posting and all responses can be found at:

E. Mail Question:

"I just found out recently, after being with my boyfriend for more than a year, that he keeps a folder on his computer with recent pictures of his ex-girlfriend which he downloaded from her Facebook account a couple months ago. I found this really weird because it means that he looked her up on Facebook and saved the pictures even though we were together at the time he created the folder.

I had no right to look into his computer and understand this was wrong. I looked into it in the first place because he keeps to himself a lot and I feel as if he's hiding things from me. I feel really uncomfortable and sad about the situation and would like to talk to him about it. What should I do?"

Two of many reader responses:

1. "After an on again off again 2 yr relationship, my boyfriend asked me to move in with him. I couldn't help myself and went snooping on his computer only to find that 100% of the photos we had taken during our relationship had been deleted (probably during our last break up) but....... there was a file of naked photos of his ex wife who he has been separated from for 3 yrs!! The wife has always been a thorn in our side and I do think he still has feelings for her despite the fact he tells me he doesn't."

2. "I still keep photos of my ex wife, and it has nothing to do with my girlfriend being not good enough or anything like that. She doesn't know I have the pictures and I don't want her to know because I don't want her to be hurt by it. I love her to death and would never cheat on her with my ex wife or anyone else, but its just hard to let go of the pictures. I don't know why but, it just is. But you should ask him about it, and if he acts nasty because of it, drop him. If he tells you he doesn't know why he still keeps them he's probably telling the truth."

As adults, it is always correct to assume that the individual with whom you enter an intimate relationship had former lovers. Of course, the question that most people ask is, "Are these past relationships over or not?" Most people want to feel assured that past loves, romances and marriages are over and done. Naturally, the one exception is if a man or woman has children that makes contact with the former partner inevitable.

Why has this question generated so much interest?

The answer to that question is not difficult and is partially answered by the second posting. The man wrote the response clearly states that he is aware of the fact that if his girlfriend found his photos of his ex wife she would feel very hurt.

The success of all intimate relationships is based on a foundation of trust. In most of the cases cited on the web site, pictures were clearly hidden on the computer and were uncovered as a result of snooping. Of course, snooping does not encourage trust either. However, that is the major point being made here. When one of the partners begins to keep secrets there is a strong likelihood that the other will come to feel uncomfortable and try to uncover what they sense may be hidden.

While it may seem harmless to keep pictures of former boy and girl friends or husbands and wives, it is inevitable, in my opinion, that it will provoke feelings of jealousy, betrayal, mistrust and anxiety in the other member of the pair.

Some of the postings on the site state that their partner hid nude photos of their former wife, either having sexual intercourse or posing nude. Keeping and hiding such pictures is guaranteed to undermine any current relationship. In fact, I cannot think of a more skillful way to destroy a relationship than to keep nude photos, much less ordinary photos of former lovers.

Perhaps the fact that some people do things like this explains why they have former relationships. It takes no great leap in thinking to surmise that poor relationship skills causes someone to go from one partner to the other. Keeping such photos is an example of poor relationship skills.

I do want to leave the reader with another question: Is it only men who save these photos or do women do this as well?

What do you think about this?
Your comments and opinion are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

  • Leona

    It is hard to talk about trust when so much is at you feel about yourself, the stage and state of your relationship, your experiences with loss of trust in the past, your partner's experiences and how your partner feels about himself.

    My sense is that you are disturbed because your boyfriend downloaded them AFTER you started your relationship - rather than already having them on file as a part of his past.

    I can also hear how you value trust and honesty and so you are saddened (and somewhat ashamed?) by your own actions of looking in his computer without permission. I am guessing you were working on a hunch that something was amiss and feeling vulnerable. And, this part is a question, were you feeling that you couldn't trust his answer about what was amiss if you asked directly?

    I wonder if acknowledging what is triggered in you first will help you work out how to move forward. Acknowledging your fear, insecurity and getting to your needs that lie underneath your feelings - which will be beautiful...needs like honesty, trust, respect, safety??

    Then when you are connected to what is really going on for you and what you want and need out of a relationship it may be possible to have a conversation with your boyfriend. In fact you may need to flag that is more than one conversation. You will need a conversation about how it is for him to know you "snooped" in his computer and, if you can, really hear how this is for him.

    Then, after he has been heard, you will need a separate conversation about the impact, on you, of the photos being downloaded during the time of your relationship is another conversation.

    Then, quite possibly, another conversation about what you both value in relationships, what is your business and what is his (boundaries) and how you both will handle it if another difficult situation arises.

    I know it will be easy to caught up in the content (the why's) of this...but that only goes around in circles. If you can get someone to support you both in this conversation that would be wonderful. I recommend Nonviolent Communication as a way of staying connected but there's lots of interpersonal support out there... good luck.

  • Cathy

    Oh, my gosh, I totally agree with you Allan. My dad had a picture of his ex-wife (3 month marriage) and it drove my mom crazy but he seemed to feel "entitled" to keep it if he wanted to. (People that feel they have "entitlements" despite the feelings of those they supposedly love, well, just that "supposedly love".) My husband had a picture of an old girlfriend which he did get rid of after a short time. I didn't keep any photos of my ex-husband except for one where he was in the background of just the cutest picture of my older son when he was playing with a birthday toy - I enjoyed destroying the photos of my ex-husband. But, I have heard that now with the web that a lot of people are looking at those old flames and reigniting them despite being in a current relationship. Women are definitely doing this too - it has to do with a sense of "entitlement" and selfishness - basically not caring enough about the person that they are with but just about their own self and who really needs someone like that in their life if they have a choice - trying to change someone will never work, never, never, never.

  • Anonymous-1

    If something must be hidden then maybe it is wrong.

  • Anonymous-2

    Q: Why did that question generate so much interest?
    A1: Because the emotions the issue involves are multiple, raw, and primal.
    A2: Most people who come across the topic will have found it because they are searching for it. Why are they searching for it? Probably because they are concerned about a similar scenario in their lives.

    Years ago, I found pictures my (then boyfriend) husband had of his ex-girlfriends and a love note. All of the photos have mini love notes scrawled on the back, basically begging my husband not to break up with them. I asked him to get rid of them and he said he did.

    We just moved to a new house. We have been together for 12 years. I just rediscovered the photos in a box as I was unpacking. One of the photos was sent to him shortly after we started dating (by a woman he recently re-friended on Facebook). She lives a continent away, and is married with two kids, so I'm not worried about anything physical hapenning, it's that something emotional is clearly going on. I'm sitting here wondering what else I don't know about. And I feel like I don't even know him, because I never would have expected this from him.

    His dad had an affair a few years ago and lied about breaking it off when caught. I'm sitting here wondering whether the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. If you had asked me yesterday whether I thought my husband was capable of cheating on me, I would have said "no," but now I'm not sure. I also thought he wouldn't have lied/sneaked about something like this either.

    Do girls save stuff? Yes, until we're ready to commit. Case in point: For a while I saved stuff from my exes, but I got rid of everything when we became serious. The one exception was stuff related to an ex who died while we were together, because it feels borderline sacriligious to destroy some of the few remnants of his short life. I would feel that way about destroying that stuff even if we hadn't dated (for example, I also keep the carrier I used to use for my first pet rabbit, even though I can't bring myself to use it for another pet). I keep the dead guy's momentos in a box in the back corner of our shed, and my husband knows about it. If he asked me to get rid of them, I would probably welcome the excuse to clean out that box. The only reason I haven't before is that I would feel guilty because he is dead. Honestly, it troubles me that my husband doesn't care that I have them.

    So (in summary) why do I care? (1) He can't let go of his past, (2) He is willing to lie to sneak an emotional connection to other women, (3) It makes me wonder what else he is capable of, (4) It makes me wonder how invested he is in the present relationship if he puts that kind of effort into dwelling on past relationships, and (5) He made a fool of me before by not throwing out the photos, and my pride is wounded by my blind trust. I'm sure there are others, but that's the jist.

  • Nick

    I've been married 30 years and my wife some times rejected me sexually and then would tell me to go on the computer,look up porn and beat myself off but one day she saw I was watching porn and got pissed-off and then she started bringing up prior relationships I had before we were married but she knew of 1 other girl I had sex with but the other half dozen girls I dated.My wife makes stories up where I take them in a motel room and have sex with them all the time.I use to work in a motel and had keys to rooms but I never,ever took a girl in any room.I don't have pictures of my exes,I don't go on Facebook or try to contact them.I'm happily married but my wife is driving me crazy with this crap!If I had pictures or contact with any ex girlfriends,my wife would leave just like I did when she told me she wanted to go out with friends.I said that was fine but she said she knew me and if a guy was kissing her on the dance floor,I would start a fight.I was working in Miami and I hang up,packed my bags and drove 90 and 100 mph back to Tampa,grabbed some things and left,she asked me what was wrong.No,married woman needs to be putting his lips on my wife for any reason and if my wife wants another man then go get him but she 3 days latter said I took it wrong but this guy worked at her work and she didn't quit so her past goes into my marriage and she brings up prior relationships before marriage.Jesus become intimate with us at the "Marriage Super of the Lamb," just as a spouse knows things about you and does things to you no-one else does.Jesus knows our hearts,he will know everything your heart desires.The Psalms of songs in the bible is poetry of King Solomon about his new bride and how much love they have for one another.God has that same love for each one of us and more then we can imagine.We will be joined as one to our spouse as we are one with the church and Christ is the leader and the savior of it.

  • Anonymous-3

    I am so relieved to read this. I am divorced with no children and have had 2 serious relationships after that (I eventually ended them). I have always felt (natural) to stop all contact with all of them once the relationships have been over. Not only because I feel that way but also to show respect towards my new partner. This is not something I do in a calculated way. I only feel it should be that way. I have many times questioned myself if this was right or not as so many people remain friends with all their exes, even if in a casual way. I have met people who have gone to parties and get together with all their exes. I have never been able to understand that. I think it is naturally uncomfortable and unrespectful. As for pictures, I do have pictures and keep them in a box. And I don't keep it as a secret either. Those photos are of course not sexual at all.

  • relatestomemorylane

    I am so relieved to have found this blog. I am going through a lot of these avenues in my current relationship and I am relieved to realize that I am not alone on this one. My current boyfriend in which I have been with for FOUR years now and are living together has somewhat of a hard time letting go of his past. When I asked him if he had pictures of his ex on his laptop after discovering other keepsakes from her,... photos and notes that he had kept over the years.. and he said "yes" in regards to the laptop pictures.. I asked him if he was going to keep them and he blatenly flat out said "yes, and don't ask me again, don't ask me to get rid of them because I won't" Made me realize that he did not want to be bothered by how it affects me or better yet, how his selfish ways really hit hard. I want US TO MOVE FORWARD. I have expressed that in order to move forward, we have to NOT think BACKWARDS or dwell on our past by NOT keeping pictures of our past relationships as a form of respect. This is driving me crazy because it seams that this is a struggle for him...AND in turn for me.

  • Sue

    I am recently married to a wonderful man. We have are issues like any couple but I am also having some major issues with his ex girlfriend. The situation is strange because she is his best friends sister so it makes things complicated. I recently was looking at his computer and not snooping may I add. I was watching netflix and his screen savor popped up. There was typical guy pics but also pics of his ex girlfriend. We have had many issues with her because she texts him alot and hes friends with her on facebook. I completely trust him not to cheat on me but all this stuff really hurts and makes me feel like he settled for me. Why would he have pics of her as his screen savor? Why is it not me on there?? Im so confused and sick over this. I love him so much and dont want to ruin it but I also dont know if I can live with these feelings.

  • Heather

    I'm 60 &(I thought)wiser! Pics of hubby's ex's are fine..his ex wife& several ex gf are good women& we get along!I married 67yr old hubby 1yr ago& he tells me he's visiting a *special* ex (24 yrs of torment heartbreak for him!)while I'm in England with family.I'm hurt, shaky(those feelings).7He says I'm unreasonable.I explained my unhappiness & suggested we go together? He said No. It's making me ill, and I suggested I leave. I can't take this on board. Advice Please!!

  • Anonymous-4

    My wife and I have been married almost 12 years and together 20. We met when we were in college, but she was actively dating another man for about 2 years at the time. The two of them eventually broke up (she initiated the breakup), and my wife and I became a couple sometime afterward. At the time, when we first started dating, it was a great source of pain for me that she kept a number of photos and memetos of him in open display, even though we had become a couple. I told her how this hurt me but she did not want to discard them or even put them away from open view for an extended period after we became a couple. After a few months, she eventually did decide to get rid of those items, much to my relief. She confided in me that she finally understood my feelings and admitted that it was wrong of her to keep those things for as long as she did, especially after we began dating. She told me she had gotten rid of everything at that point, and I moved past the issues those memetos and photos had been causing.

    20 years later, while sorting through some old family photos, I came across an album containing old pictures of my wife from a couple of formal parties with her ex. I immediately recognized the photos as they were from some of the same sets that contained her ex all those years ago-- though these are photos of only her, from those same occasions, plus the memetos. She did remove the ones containing both her and the ex himself, but kept memetos from those dates, along with the photos of herself dressed in alluring clothing and wearing hair styles the likes of which she's never worn in our entire time together.

    I was floored to find these things hidden in my own house after all these years, and I asked my wife why she had lied to me and kept part of what she said she had discarded all those years ago. She admited to discarding 99% of what she had in the past, but she now refuses to dispose of these remaining items. Because of the previous pain caused by the original memetos that she was so reluctant to put away for the first few months we were dating, I feel so betrayed and even more deeply hurt that she now forcefully refuses to remove these newly uncovered secrets from our house, knowing that those were explicitly from dates with that very same ex. I feel like I'm reliving the past. I don't know how to deal with the fact that knowing these things are in my house is a perfect reminder of the pain the other memetos caused before she finally got rid of them. Am I being unreasonable to wish she would remove these things from our house?

  • Anonymous-5

    My partner and i have been dating on and off for the past 2 years and he still keeps with him gifts from his previous relationship. A few months into our relationship, we had a huge fight over it, in which he told me he was still in love with her. Now 2 years on and he reassures me that he is 100% over her and that he loves me. Most days things between us are amazing however, a part of me still feels betrayed by him and jealous of her memory. Will this feeling ever go away? He is still reluctant to let go of the gifts she gave him, could that mean he is still somewhat attached to her?