The Ex Mementos:
Should They Stay or Should They Go?
By Frank Kermit
I was listening to a radio show where the hosts were discussing a subject that I often see in my practice when counseling couples.
The situation was that the host, who was newly married, had discovered that his wife was in the possession of a ring that had been given to her by an ex of hers.
Some of the questions that came up in the discussion included if he should be worried about it, was it a sign she was not over her ex, should she have gotten rid of the ring when she got married, why he was not told about it, and if he should request that she get rid of it.
Just to be clear, the ring was a gift when she and her ex were dating, but the ring itself was not an engagement ring of any sort.
Keeping past gifts from ex partners can be a very touchy subject for some people.
Some people do not care either way, as they do not read into those keepsake items as souvenirs or reminders of the past.
While others may feel threatened about their partners having relics honoring a past love.
What ends up being a bigger matter than most partners assume, is the issue of a partner feeling like something was hidden from him or her.
When a partner finds out that that items in question may be a memorial to the past, the fact that the partner was not informed about the origins of the token of affection, can lead some partners to feeling suspicious about what other "secrets" are being kept hidden.
In most related cases that I see in my practice, there is rarely anything that is maliciously hidden.
It tends to have more to do with the fact that the topic of ex mementos just never came up.
Resolving this particular issue can sometimes simply come down to whether or not the couple can enjoy the memento together.
The line being drawn is whether or not they both get to enjoy the benefits of the memento.
If they can, it seems most new partners do not seem to mind as much.
For example, if the memento in question is a DVD of a movie, some new partners may not have a problem with it, even if it was a gift received in a previous relationship from an ex, as the new couple can enjoy the movie together.
However, I also see in my practice that certain details associated with such gifts might make even the most open minded new partner and the most seemingly unsuspecting knickknack a relic that has got to go.
For example, if that same particular DVD movie mentioned above was a particular favorite to play loudly to cover up the noises of intimacy in a previous less-than-soundproof-apartment, it could leave some friction with a new partner.
It is those additional details that make ex mementos such a necessary topic of discussion, especially for new couples.
There are different kinds of mementos that factor in greatly to whether or not it might be too much for a new partner to accept.
For example, safety alarm key chains, and photos taken at family social circle gatherings are on a far different level than personal massage units and amateur homemade sex tapes.
Some of the worst examples I see in my practice is that the mementos in question, are not necessarily from a past ex, but instead from an ex affair that took place at the time the current relationship existed.
Although the nature of the actual gizmo may be different, the bottom-line constant consideration is always the same: your memento or your relationship?
The debate is one where the couple is trying to strike a balance between trusting one another (that there are no emotional strings attached to a past partner), and respecting a boundary for each individual in the couple (not to be forced to give up property).
The item may very well be a meaningless trophy of a love past, but if a new partner feels very violated by the retaining of the memento, a person may end up with a very uncomfortable decision.
If something is truly meaningless, then it should be no problem to get rid of it.
However, forcing a partner to get rid of it could create resentment between the couple (which is sad, given that if you are in a serious relationship, holding on to a meaningless mementos based on principle should not take priority over the violated feelings of your partner).
In today's age of dating, the realistic perspective is that the person you date today, whether casually, or even seriously, are likely not going to be the person you end up with as a life partner.
Given the stats on successful marriages can be about 50% it is more important than ever that we all pick and choose our battles accordingly.
Deciding to keep or discard mementos is not as clear-cut as some would hope, given that the new partners you discard them for, may themselves get discarded sooner than later as well.
What I do suggest is that people make an effort to align themselves in romantic relationships with others who have compatible beliefs about how mementos from exs need to be managed.