Don’t Ask Your Partner to Erase the Past
I’ve received dozens of letters to the Psych Central advice column with the same problem: The writer has married a man or woman who is divorced and is upset because the new spouse wants to keep old pictures or items from their former marriage.
For the spouse, these things are reminders of happier days with their ex or with the children they raised together. For the writer, they are a distressing indicator that their partner isn’t truly committed. “If he loved me, he would take those pictures down,” they write. Or, “If she loves me, she will never mention her ex again.”
Stop. Please. When you get together with someone with a past, the past comes with them. No matter how much you wish that you were the first love of his or her life, you’re not. Having a good life together does not and should not require erasing past experiences, memories, and growth, whether good or bad. It’s part of what made the person you love who she or he is.
Dealing with the past together:
The past happened. If you bristle with every mention of it, the issue will quickly become more toxic than it has to be. Now and then, your partner will inevitably comment that something reminds him or her of the former relationship; that they used to visit x or y place; that his ex loved this or disliked that. It’s normal and natural for people to refer to past people and events. Let it go by and it will keep on going. Make an issue of it and it can become the central topic of strained discussion for days. Sure, if it happens a great deal, express your discomfort and ask that your partner keep some of those memories to him or herself. Find a comfortable balance.
Stress the positive.
Remember that the person in your partner’s past was once someone he or she loved. Since your lover is not a total idiot, there must be something about the former wife or sweetheart that was endearing or important at the time. Treat that choice with respect, and you’ll earn more of it for yourself.