Ex-etiquette: Don’t be afraid of the past

Q. I was going through my guy’s phone — it wasn’t like I was sneaking around; he knew. I found a folder with pictures of his ex, of them on trips with kids, on a cruise, and it made me uncomfortable. I asked him to delete them, and he refused. He said he doesn’t want to delete huge parts of his life and the kids may want the pictures someday. He didn’t think it was appropriate for me to even ask. I’m wondering what you think about this. Is this good ex-etiquette?

A Well, there’s all sorts of questions that play into my answer. First, I have no idea how long you have been seeing “your guy,” or if he feels as if you are “his gal.” If you just found this folder now, it sounds like it’s new. Are you exclusive? Living together?

Even so, I’ve pointed out many times that life with a man or woman who has children is not the same as a first-time relationship. It’s not like you can cut the off body or heads of the ex and display pictures of just dad and the kids around the house. (Although I have had clients complain that the new partner did just that.) Can you imagine how the children would feel if they saw that? And how that would color their attitude about their dad’s new partner?

This is when I have heard new partners dig in their heels: “I don’t really care what the children think. This is me and their dad. They aren’t part of this.” Really? They are a huge part of your relationship because they are a huge part of him. And, their mother is a huge part of it as well. Thinking that it’s just you and dad and these other players are just on the periphery is a big mistake. Those pictures are records of his history. I think going there is overstepping your bounds.

Now, if these pictures you speak of are his screensaver and every time his phone rings, they pop up on the home screen, that’s something else. That’s insensitive. And it is obvious that dad is not ready to move on.

That’s not how you explained it, however. You said he had a separate file tucked away. I think that is significant — a memory tucked away. Granted, it being so available on his phone could be of concern, but that’s easy to take care of if dad is ready to do that. Download them to his computer, save them on a flash drive and put them in a drawer for safe keeping. The bottom line is, it’s dad’s call. Don’t be afraid of the past. It makes both of you who you are.

Finally, more than a discussion about pictures, it may be time for both of you to put your cards on the table. If you haven’t spoken about where your relationship is going, now may be the time to do it. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.