Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about what to do when your man still has photos of his ex on Facebook and still has some of his ex’s belongings.
Does it mean that he hasn’t moved on?
In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this question, including clarity on why he still has her stuff, how to assert your feelings around this issue without him getting defensive, and the easy way to tell whether he’s really moved on or if he’s still dwelling on the past.
I’m dating a divorced man.
We’ve only been dating three months but we have gotten serious about each other quite quickly.
Things are perfect for me and I’m very happy but I am upset about him not clearing out his ex-wife’s stuff.
I saw this as potential signs that he had not moved on.
We have discussed it now and he reassures me it was just idleness on his part, and that having stuff around doesn’t bother him at all because he’s totally over it.
I pointed out I felt disrespected and after his brother’s wife told him I had a point, he set out to put things right.
Until then he just didn’t get it or see what the big deal was; that in itself is upsetting and frustrating.
He hadn’t deleted old Facebook photos, including a main picture of him and his wife and a cover photo of a sunset taken on their honeymoon; he said he hadn’t used Facebook at all and didn’t think of it.
He had a painting in his bedroom painted by his ex-wife and which doesn’t fit any other wall; he’s now taken that down completely.
He has photos on his phone which I’ve asked him to archive somewhere more appropriate, but which he hasn’t done yet.
He said he will clear out the house which will take some time, and he hasn’t done that yet either.
He moved houses after their separation and she left a lot of stuff behind.
He said he spent a lot of time having to donate and throw stuff away.
Last night though I found a pair of women’s boots under the bed, apparently they were hers.
I was very upset, thinking, why keep them, pack them, unpack them, and keep them still?
He said he can only imagine they were the one thing he neglected to ditch as maybe they had some resale worth; he didn’t know they were there.
I have no reason to distrust him; his family all know about me and are apparently very excited about us.
They live abroad and I was supposed to go visit them with him recently but I couldn’t as I ended up having to finish some work.
I’m thinking I should now insist he do as he promised and clear out the house and his phone, but how assertive should I be?
Or should I wait to see if he does it, as a test of how much he cares for and respects me?
Should I be worried about all this stuff or is it me?
Do I have a genuine right to at least not like this, would most women feel the same way?
It is annoying me a lot that I have had to fight to be heard and get him to see this isn’t really ok and that he should have dealt with it all earlier.
I don’t want to have to fight for him to do as he said he would.
Note: I haven’t asked him to burn or delete photos, only that most of my divorced friends state they archive and clear out before they get with someone new.
I’m frustrated that I can’t get him to understand why ex-wife’s stuff and photos is an issue.
-Frustrated by reminders of the ex-wife who is long gone
I feel you.
I really acknowledge you for reaching out and wanting to be conscious about whether to go into deeper levels of commitment with your man after this experience.
I totally get why this would frustrate you.
This is a very common issue that comes up when you’re dating a guy with baggage.
You see remnants of his past and it makes you wonder why he still has all that stuff.
And you’re wondering: Does he still have feelings for her? Has he truly moved on?
I know it’s confusing and can really make one feel insecure and make you question where his heart is.
I wrote a couple of articles very similar to this topic that you’ll also want to check out:
But there is an easy way to tell whether he’s really moved on or if he’s still dwelling on the past: Observe his emotional energy around the topic of his ex and her belongings.
Is he keeping them out of sentimental value?
Or are those things still around because of convenience, inertia, or utility?
What’s happening here is that he’s relatively recently divorced, within the last two years.
Depending on how long they were married, there’s a lot to unravel and let go of after the end of marriage.
My husband and his ex have been divorced over ten years.
His ex, who remained in their marital home, still brings things over that she finds once belonged to him like photos or kitchenware or old clothes — years later.
Why is his stuff still at her house?
Not because she feels anything in particular about keeping them, to her the stuff is just stuff…it’s just that other things took priority over getting rid of the stuff.
In the same way, like the old photos on your man’s Facebook profile, if he says he doesn’t really go on Facebook, to him it’s kind of like having photos in a box in the garage – he’s not really aware that they’re there because they’re not readily visible to him.
But to you or his friends or his ex’s friends who spend more time on Facebook, seeing old photos on there might feel odd or questionable because people who spend a lot of time on Facebook tend to regularly update their status or profile.
So the reason why he doesn’t seem to get why you’re so upset is because to him his exes belonging are just objects.
To him, it’s a non-issue because he feels those things don’t interfere with your relationship.
To him, they’re just “things;” they don’t have any particular meaning or sentimental value, they’re there in the house and slow to move because it’s not a priority for him to get rid of them quickly.
But I understand where the conflict is.
You’re feeling disrespected because he’s not getting rid of these objects from his past.
He doesn’t attribute much meaning and significance to having those objects and photos in his possession.
But to you…those objects and photos carry an entirely different level of meaning and significance, and that’s why it offends you so much that he still has them and is so slow to get rid of them.
It’s not that he still has feelings for his ex.
From what you told me, it sounds like he’s pretty much over her.
So I wouldn’t worry about that.
The real issue is that you disagree on what these objects mean and this is where you two are clashing.
How Assertive Should You Be About Insisting He “Clear out His House and His Phone”?
You should absolutely be assertive about how you feel about this issue.
Your feelings and needs matter.
So it’s really important to communicate any issues you have so resentment doesn’t creep in and poison your relationship.
However, HOW you do it is key to getting the result that you want from your man.
My approach may be radical to some.
But my recommendation is to NOT insist at all.
Don’t even suggest or request or ask that he “clean out his house and his phone.”
The reason for this is that it actually works against what you are trying to achieve to insist that he do these things, and it risks pushing you farther apart than bringing you closer together.
The reason is, anytime you insist or suggest or ask or tell him to do something, it’s going to feel like you’re trying to exert control over him, and so he’s going to resist the request because he’s going to resist being controlled.
But by telling him what to do, especially when he’s been resistant, you’re implicitly sending the message that he’s wrong and you’re right. This method works against you.
Rather, I recommend you communicate how you FEEL about the fact that he still has his ex’s photos and some of her things.
“I’m feeling insecure. I’m feeling left out. I feel sad. I feel excluded…” whatever you may be feeling — that’s about you and your experience — is important for him to know.
Then ask him for his help with this issue.
Tell him how much his help means to you.
By this approach, you’re still being assertive about your feelings and your needs, but without trying to control (which is ineffective for your cause).
In my work with my clients, I support women in asserting their needs from their feminine power from a place of inspiring action (rather than coercing it) through teaching communication techniques and tools that help lower tension between partners between partners, deepen connection and understanding, and ultimately help women get their needs met.
It takes practice, but that’s where the coaching support comes in.
So you should absolutely assert your needs, at the same time be mindful of your approach.
It’s about getting to the heart of what the issue is really about, and talking about and communicating THAT to your partner, not about trying to get him to change or control his behavior.
Trying to change a man’s behavior is always a losing game and will always frustrate you because we ultimately don’t have control over our man; we can only control how we respond to the issue.
Should I Wait to See If He Does It, as a Test of How Much He Cares for and Respects Me?
Early in my relationship with my husband, I really took offense that he wasn’t as “health conscious” as I was.
He liked his diet coke, his fried chicken, and considered walking to the train station (all of 7 minutes) his “exercise” for the day.
Every time he opened a diet coke, all I could think about was all the artificial sweeteners and colors and additives in the soda and how it could be lowering his lifespan and how he didn’t care because he was still drinking the stuff.
And because he was still drinking the stuff, that meant that he didn’t really care about his health.
Which meant that he didn’t really care about having a long life and being there for me and his family.
Which meant he didn’t really care about me.
(No offense to those who love their diet coke. I have my own vices). :))
Anyway, this was the story that I had going on in my head for the longest time.
He knew how I felt about it.
Yet he still bought it.
I felt disrespected.
We’d constantly clash on his issue about him and his food choices because I made his food choices MEAN something about his devotion to me.
But it really wasn’t about his devotion to me at all.
He just liked diet coke.
He just liked fried chicken.
He grew up in the south.
It’s comfort food for him.
But I made his drinking diet coke mean an entirely different thing!
What Are You Making It Mean?
What I’m trying to say here is: How slow your man is at getting rid of his ex’s stuff and the fact that he still has photos of her on his social media likely has nothing to do with how much he cares about you or how much he respects you.
But it bothers you because of what you’re making it mean.
So should you “test it”?
I wouldn’t because you and he don’t have a shared understanding or sense of significance of what it means to get rid of stuff or posting your picture on Facebook.
So even if he did get rid of the stuff and photos, doing those things doesn’t have the same significance to him as it does to you.
So it’s not an accurate measure of how much he cares for and respects you.
INSTEAD, what I encourage you to do is first get clear on what exactly it means to you to be cared for and respected, share that with him and why it’s important to you, and observe how/whether he takes it to heart.
Questions to reflect on for yourself:
What does care and respect look like in action for you?
How would you know that you are cared for and respected?
And does he share that perspective?
Because maybe he does really feel like he cares for and respects you, but you simply differ on your perspective on what care and respect look like in a relationship.
Should I Be Worried About All This Stuff or Is It Me?
My honest perspective is: I wouldn’t worry.
It’s just stuff.
It doesn’t sound like he has them for sentimental value.
He just has them out of inertia; they’re just there and, to him, it takes too much energy to get rid of them and he’d rather spend that energy elsewhere.
But he knows you don’t like it, so he’s (slowly) getting rid of it.
You’re asking for my advice. My recommendation is to focus on your relationship and your vision as a couple together.
Focus on the things that really interfere with your relationship, not on the stuff that he hardly notices is there.
Yes, it’s annoying that it’s there.
But he’s getting rid of it, slowly.
And the bigger issue may be what you’re making the stuff mean.
This reminds me of a client I spoke to who was really upset that her boyfriend still had his ex’s bike and computer.
She worried that her boyfriend wasn’t over his ex because why would he keep her old bike and computer?
But after asking him, he said it was a perfectly usable bike and computer, so why give it away?
To him, he was keeping those things for their utility, not out of sentimental value.
So, I would look at the reasons why he still has those things….he’s keeping it for its resale value, he didn’t know it was there, he doesn’t go on facebook.
Yes, those are excuses.
But they’re the reasons why he’s such a slowpoke about the stuff.
This doesn’t sound like a man who still pines for his ex.
Do I Have a Genuine Right To At Least Not like This? Would Most Women Feel the Same Way?
Of course you do.
You have a right to feel what you feel.
You are always entitled to your feelings.
You feel the way you feel for a reason.
You’re feeling that way because you feel like a need isn’t being met.
Your feelings and needs matter.
You’re also in charge of your perspective and how you feel.
So it’s important, internally, to get to the bottom of how you feel.
Years ago, when I was visiting my husband’s work, I saw a photo of his ex on his desk.
Albeit, it was a photo of her with his kids.
But still, her face was there.
I couldn’t help feeling upset.
I wondered why her photo was on his desk.
I felt left out.
I felt insecure.
I felt like somehow it was a slap to my significance in his life.
I brought up to him later (maybe it was days later) in tears.
He was surprised!
He didn’t realize how much it affected me.
He assured me it was just because his daughters were in the photo and he replaced it (eventually) with a photo of only his daughters.
The point is, you feel what you feel.
You’re not wrong for your feelings.
In the same way, he’s not wrong for his feelings.
They’re simply the reality of how the experience is affecting you and him.
What’s important is to acknowledge how you’re feeling, get to the root of what’s triggering those feelings for you(really understand internally why you’re feeling the way you feel), and communicate how you feel to him.
By talking about how you feel you’re deepening your connection because you’re simply sharing your experience (as opposed to criticizing his behavior).
This is issue is deeply contextual.
It depends on:
- Why he’s keeping the stuff and why he’s slow to get rid of it (Is it sentimental value, resale value, utility, etc…)
- How long he’s had the stuff, (If he’s recently divorced and they were married for a long time, I would give him time…there might be a lot of stuff to wade through to get rid of. If he’s been been divorced for a while, I’d have a bigger issue with it)
- What the stuff is (Example: Her old bike and computer value versus her panties and stilettos)
However, ultimately, if you’re uncomfortable with it, that’s what matters and a man who is attentive to your needs will make moves to get rid of it.
I hope this helps provide some clarity and guidance.
Please feel free to reach out if you need any other support.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.
If you want step-by-step guidance on how to overcome your relationship challenges, stay true to who you are (and what you want!), and create a deeply fulfilling long-term relationship, download my free GUIDE “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Dating a Divorced (or Divorcing) Man.” Simply enter your email address BELOW to access it now: