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Relationships, Former Lovers, and Trust

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Relationships, Former Lovers,  and TrustDoes 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:

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=advice&id=8861&at=7&cn=289#ad8861

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