“My Boyfriend Has a Framed Photo of His Ex-Wife on His Shelf!”

My boyfriend is early 30s, I am late 20s, and we have been dating for about nine months. He and his ex-wife separated about eight months prior to us meeting, and the divorce decree was final about five months ago. They were college sweethearts, together for about twelve years total and married for almost six. About two months ago, his ex-wife moved a couple states away with her boyfriend, whom she says is her soul mate, for a fresh start with him. The official reason for divorce was cheating, but my boyfriend says they were a couple that married too young and it wasn’t a great marriage; still, he never would have left her despite being unhappy. He says the divorce was as amicable as possible, and he and his ex-wife remained cordial.

A few days after the ex-wife left, my boyfriend moved a bookshelf that he got in the divorce into his living room. On the bottom shelf was a framed photo of him and his ex-wife when they were much younger and in love, but it wasn’t really on display (bottom shelf, odd angle) and so I thought nothing of it. A couple weeks later I noticed that it was moved to a more prominent position on the bookshelf and has stayed there. It’s right by the table in his apartment so that, when we eat there, I feel very aware of what’s within my peripheral vision.

I’ve never been married. I have kept photos from past relationships, but always tucked away and never on display in my living room. I don’t want to pick a fight over “nothing” or “normal behavior” so, while I’m not sure what I’m asking, I guess I’m wondering if I’m overreacting? Things have felt a little off between us since the ex-wife left a couple months ago and I’m really not sure if I’m reading a lot into something trivial. — Seeing the Big Picture

This isn’t “nothing” and it isn’t “trivial” and you aren’t “overreacting,” especially since it doesn’t sound as if you’ve actually reacted at all (at least not to your boyfriend). So, please start with reacting. Tell your boyfriend how the framed photo of him and his ex-wife displayed prominently on his bookshelf bothers you — how disrespectful to you and your relationship you find it. And tell him that not only are you personally affected by this display of disrespect, but you also are concerned about how it may symbolize his feelings over the ending of his marriage.

Just because he separated from his wife a year and a half ago, their divorce has been final for five months, and they both have moved on with new partners doesn’t mean he has fully processed the breakup and healed yet. It’s possible that he repressed a lot of the grief he felt early on and it’s only now coming to the surface since his ex-wife split town with her “soul mate.” Or, the move may be bringing up some old feelings and what you’re seeing with him is just a small hiccup on his road to fully moving on. Regardless, it seems apparent that he is very much dealing with something and that something is pulling his focus away from you and from his future without his ex-wife (whether that future includes you or not) and is keeping him in the past.

Talk to your boyfriend. Express your concern for his well-being as well as your hurt feelings. You have every reason to be upset. Displaying a framed photo of an ex at the same time she’s moved away and he’s withdrawing from a current partner is not healthy. And it’s certainly no way for him to treat you.


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Hey LW,
    I met my now ex-husband on the first day of my first job fresh out of college. We were together for 5 years and married for 6 years after that. We married too young and were unhappy so divorced amicably. In fact we’re still good friends. I actually consider him to be like a brother – someone I grew up with and someone who knows me well. That being said, I have moved on and am now in love with a wonderful man. We’ve been together for a year and a half and I would never want to hurt his feelings or disrespect what we have together by displaying a photo from my romance/marriage with my ex. I just wouldn’t do it. I agree with what Wendy wrote ~ he has residual feelings and/or issues with the dissolution of his marriage and his ex. As someone who has divorced, it was important to me to heal that wound before I felt able to love someone new fully. You need to have a talk with your man and I suggest he may need to deal with his feelings about the failure of his past relationship. You deserve someone who is able to give you access to his whole heart. Good luck!

    1. Hello,
      I agree. I was married for 20 years and I am happily divorced for 4 years now. I have absolutely no pictures of my ex in my house. All fresh and new pictures of me and our 2 boys new lives.
      It would also creep me out and bewilder me if he had pictures of me on his walls.

  2. There is nothing wrong with the way you’r feeling, LW. It is very disrespectful for him to display the picture so prominently. Yes, this woman was a significant part of his life, but that part is over now and he is with you and that’s what needs to be on display. Not that he should get rid of the picture, you have no right to ask him to do that, but it should be discreetly tucked away somewhere. It could be, as Wendy says, that he’s still processing the divorce, and if that’s true you will need to give him room to do that, even if it means breaking up until such time as he can fully commit to your relationship. But the only way you’ll find out what’s going on with him, and he with you, is to talk about it.

  3. LW….agree with Wendy and the commenters….your boyfriend is totally disrespecting you here….i mean my god did he for one second think about how this picture would make you feel?…talk to him about it, tell him it bothers you and hopefully he will take it down….on a lighter note, when i was in university i hung out with this totally crazy chick and she found her husband’s wedding ring from his ex wife that he had kept in a box in their bedroom closet….when he came home from work she made him swallow the ring!!!!

    1. captainswife says:

      I’d call THAT seriously crazy…swallowing a ring? *shaking head.

    2. Omfg cdobbs, I swear you’ve told this story on here before, & then when we all were like “what WHAT, please elaborate” you, like, never came back to elaborate. haha. So, please. WTF. How did she “make” him ~swallow~ the ring?? (but seriously, that is batshit)

      1. that girl was seriously crazy!!!!and very abusive towards her husband (he is actually a chemistry professor at Arizona State, very smart, nice man, so not sure why he would put up with it)….she did a few other crazy things like internet stalking his ex wife (i think she also taught at a University or possibly college down there)….she actually scared me to the point where i just couldn’t hang out with her (she told me a story about killing a kitten when she was a kid and that was just the last straw….too much potential to turn into a serial killer!)…i haven’t talked to her in years, but I wonder if they are even still married

      2. oh, the part about him swallowing the ring, from what she told me, she yelled at him to the point where he just put it in his mouth and swallowed it! this is a 200 + lb man dealing with a 5 foot 2 inch 100 lb woman! insane!!!

      3. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (X a million) :(!

      4. Oh my! Can you Google them and find out that they’re still together?

      5. wow, just googled and dam they are still together!

    3. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

      I really don’t think a picture is that big of a deal. Maybe I’m dense. I still have wedding pictures. They’ve been there since I moved in. I took them ALL from the house when I moved out because Ethan is hyper emotional and I didn’t want him like crying on the bathroom floor staring at them or anything weird. I actually found Ethan’s wedding ring the other day when I was looking for my birth certificate. I felt no feelings when I was looking at it. Just “oh there’s his ring, I didn’t even know I had that, weird”. Why are people putting all this emotional energy into material things? Bizarre.

      If she doesn’t want it up in the house (if they live together) then just take it down, voila. Or she could be really creepy and take that picture out and put one of them in it together. That would be so funny. And creepy. And weird. I mean it’s a fucking picture. Picture. Just a little 4×6 piece of paper. I bet they were smiling in it. Maybe that means her boyfriend had a happy memory from before he met her – how rude! And then to think back fondly on that happy memory? ASSHOLE.

  4. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    Yes, it could be a manifestation of his grief / feelings / whatever of his ex, but let’s not discount the theory that it’s a picture he liked and he was rearranging his shelf when he moved it and said “Hey, I’m just going to put it up higher because it’s a picture.” He may not have honestly put two and two together and realized what he was doing. Guys are dense that way sometimes. Hey, I have a stuffed animal I got from an ex almost 10 years ago, and I kept it not because I miss my ex but because I like the stuffed animal, and my wife nearly killed me when she found out who gave it to me 🙂

    Seriously, talk to him about it. Maybe he bristles and objects, or maybe he just says, “Crap. I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about it. I never meant to offend you. I’ll move it off of there right now.” But you won’t know if you don’t try.

    1. Yeah, I think it’s LIKELY he hasn’t processed his grief over the divorce yet (just ’cause it happened so recently) but I honestly don’t see the big deal over the picture…?

      Your scenario is pretty plausible (like, maybe he just went, “Oh, let me move this so it’s not all awkward & shit, do do doo”) & if that’s ACTUALLY what happened, it’ll be pretty off-putting to have this woman he hasn’t even been dating that long (especially in comparison to his 12-year relationship/marriage) come up to him all, “You’re disrespecting me!!”

      Talk to him, sure, but I’d recommend that she bring it up in a neutral, open-ended way just to see what he says. Immediately telling him it’s bothering her isn’t the route I’d take, let’s say. And definitely don’t mention the fact that you see it in your peripheral while eating dinner at his place (“I can feel her eyes!!! WATCHING MEEEE”)

      (Okay, okay, I’m being kind of silly & mean; I do understand what the OP meant by that. It just isn’t going to come out well, verbally, I don’t think.)

      1. Yes, this! Sure, the LW has a right to be bothered by this, but I don’t think she has a right to get ANGRY about it. It’s something to pay attention to and to communicate about but I don’t think she should be all confrontation-y about it – do NOT start out with the “disrespecting me” line because that is not likely to go over well. Ask some open-ended questions and get stuff out in the open, but don’t jab at him unnecessarily (even if he did move the picture for emotional reasons, I’m willing to bet his intentions aren’t actively malicious) and don’t pry too deep if he resists. This is not a “put your foot down and stand your ground” issue, it’s an opportunity to communicate and show your boyfriend some love and compassion.

    2. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

      “Guys are dense that way sometimes.”

      This made me giggle and is exactly why I said in the forum to just ask “what’s up with the picture?” It’s not a big to do…it’s a picture! Talk.

    3. I totally still sleep with a stuffed animal from my ex. I also have several t-shirts from ex-boyfriends that I still sleep in. I harbor no feelings for these boys any longer. More than anything, I like the stuffed animal and the t-shirts are comfortable. I’ve thought about buying men’s t-shirts for sleep, but I see no point since these do just fine.

    4. Yeah, maybe he just thinks he looks really hot in the picture? Or he was rearranging things and meant to actually put that pic away but then got distracted halfway through and just left things as they were? If it’s something he’s had forever he may not even really *see* it any more. Happens to me. It’s not just guys that are dense sometimes 🙂

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        Maybe I’m weird, but I’d be more disturbed if he kept the picture out because he thought he looked hot in it than if he kept it out bc he missed his ex wife. Why would you need hot pictures of yourself in your own home?

      2. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

        Ummm why would you not need hot pictures of yourself all over your house?

      3. Avatar photo GatorGirl says:

        I agree. If you’re that hot just put mirrors up!

      4. lets_be_honest says:

        haha, I wish I had written “I know Iwanna will not understand this” because I knew you were gonna comment with that.

  5. Yeah, I would actually maybe just ASK him about the picture and what meaning he attaches to it and it’s current placement before getting all butt-hurt about it. You, Wendy and a lot of the commenters are seriously jumping to conclusions on this. A simple, neutral “Hey, what’s up with moving that picture of you and your ex to such a visible spot?” will get the conversation started. That’s not picking a fight, it’s having a conversation. Listen to his answer, if he stumbles and bumbles you can say that it makes you uncomfortable, listen to what he says about that.

    You can certainly share how you feel about it, and you’re entitled to have your own feelings, but I can tell you from experience that it’s best to try not to jump to conclusions before going off based on your interpretations of someone else’s actions.

  6. fast eddie says:

    I respectfully disagree with some of Wendy’s advise. The LW’s feeling about the photo being prominently displayed are valid but so are his. His marriage went on for 12 years, your relationship is less then 12 months old. In place of resenting her picture, embrace his feelings of loss. That’s going to go one for a while, maybe even years with or without the picture. His feelings about her have nothing to do with you. There’s nothing to be done about it but to let time pass.

  7. Avatar photo meadowphoenix says:

    If you feel something is wrong then it’s a good idea to let your boyfriend know that you’re feeling insecure. Ask him what you need to feel secure, and then see if he can give it to you. Don’t let him tell you you’re overreacting.

    That said, I personally wouldn’t pin my feeling of security on his removing the picture unless on its own it would be a big deal to you. It seems to me that there are other things he is doing that you are getting nervous vibes from, and that the picture is really just an exacerbation. In which case, I would ask for those other things to change before I would ask removal of the picture. But if the picture is part and parcel of your relationship issues, then yeah I would ask that something else happen to the pic. I just think the pic is just as likely him healthily mourning their closeness as him refusing to move on.

  8. lets_be_honest says:

    Well, I have pictures of me and my ex on display since we’re still friends. Sooo, since they are still friends (at least it sounds like they are still friendly), what’s the big deal about him having a picture from good memories with someone he is divorced from? Its not like they are still married, or even like she is single and might reel him back in or whatever people are afraid of when it comes to exes.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      Oh, and obviously talk to him. You can say it weirds you out. Maybe he will have a totally reasonable response.

      1. Oops…my comment below was supposed to be in reply to yours! Ugh…I’m sleepy.

    2. I had a picture of me and my HS boyfriend at his graduation in a heart shaped frame on my dresser until I moved in with Dave. I’m still friendly with the X, and it really just represented a sweet time in my life. We had actually been broken up for like 2 years when that picture was taken!

  9. I completely agree with this. Until she has the conversation, she’ll just be spinning her wheels & getting more & more frustrated. I, personally, wouldn’t be weirded out by a photo of my guy with his ex (unless it was on his nightstand or something – then we’d have a conversation!).

  10. Even though I’ve already commented (read: projected!) in the forums, I’ll comment again to say that I was dating a guy with a similar history, with the added baggage of his ex-wife being a lesbian, until a few weeks ago, and this would’ve bother me. BUT, I also think that being bothered is a symptom of a larger problem they may be having. For example, I wrote on here a few times during the month of September that my ex’s ex-wife moved to a gay-friendly state with the lesbian partner she’d been having a years-long affair with & he started withdrawing from me/filling his time with everything BUT me. At first I was like, “OH, NO BIGGIE, GO GRIEVE!” and after a little more than a month, it was more like, “Are you still grieving or is it something larger?” So. If a photo of his ex-wife showed up during those weeks, I think even more alarms would’ve been going off in my head, but the problem wouldn’t have necessarily been the photo.

    LW, I don’t know what it is about your relationship that’s making you feel like something is “off” but I think that’s the thing that needs to be addressed moreso than the picture. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it makes you uncomfortable, though.

  11. Bittergaymark says:

    Maybe you and your friends should simply destroy it when he is not around? Smash that frame to pieces! Burn her image into oblivion!! But wait — why stop there? Next, cut her face immediately out of all his photo albums!!


    Honestly? I’m shocked at Wendy’s advice here. It is one fucking picture. From happier times, well over a decade ago… GASP! They were married. It is a part of his past. And though it is now over, it wasn’t all bad. This needy, apparently all too typical, need to eradicate all traces of exes — smacks of being tragically insecure. Worse, it’s rather pathetic. Wahhhhhh! I am being disrespected. Oh, grow the fuck up already. If you can’t handle one framed photograph from somebody’s past lurking on a bookshelf — go find yourself a fuckless virgin and be done with it.

    1. I think she should scan the photo, ‘shop her own face in over the ex’s, and then put the altered photo on the shelf and see how long before he notices.

      1. Hahahahahahaha

  12. sophronisba says:

    I think it’s totally fair to express your discomfort that the photo is now more prominently displayed and how it makes you feel, hurt, questioning, etc., without judging. You are conveying your feelings and awaiting his answer. He may not even be aware that he moved the photo and you don’t know what, if anything, it means to him until you ask. I would hold off on jumping in there with accusations of disrespect – it just seems unnecessarily negative and aggressive a position to take before you’ve even heard what he has to say.

  13. Disrespected is a really strong word to throw around here. It’s also possible that this guy just likes the picture. I know I have pictures of myself with my ex that I really like; I kind of don’t even notice that he’s in them. It certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten over a marriage that I ended 14 years ago. It is kind of emotionally dense of him to display the picture, but sometimes people are dense. I wouldn’t come out swinging on this one. Just tell him it bothers you, nicely, and ask him to put it away.

    My husband once stewed for weeks and then finally got all snappy about me displaying a photo of my ex in our library. I had no idea what he was talking about; it turned out the picture in question was actually of a college friend. They don’t even really look that much alike. It was completely hilarious to me; he felt like an idiot.

  14. There’s a big difference between still being in love with your ex and just having positive, amicable, feelings towards them.
    Honestly, I have a lot of respect for people who get divorced and still have friendly feelings towards their ex-spouse. They were once and important part of their life — in fact they were family — and things didn’t work out but they still have fond feelings towards them. That’s a whole lot better than dating a guy who says, “My ex wife was a crazy psycho bitch.” His positive feelings towards his ex wife show his humanity, his heart, and his kindness.
    But if he’s still in love with his ex wife, yes, that’s a problem. Only by talking to him will you figure that out.

    1. yea, it is really sad how remaining friends or having amicable feelings isnt supported in our society. we are very territorial, its weird.

      1. I so agree with you and tech on this. With the exception of really bad things happening in past relationships, I think it speaks volumes of a person’s character when things end amicably. Why carry around so much animosity?

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        I am so grateful to not deal with this. I am close friends with exes, and both my boyfriend and their gfs don’t care.

  15. Bittergaymark says:

    DELETED. I need to stop skimming opening LW paragraphs… 😉

    1. In the forums where this was originally posted, LW clarifies that the cheater was the ex-wife.

    2. That refers to when she left town, not when she left him. 1st para 2nd sentence clearly states they met after the marriage broke up.

  16. Very early in our relationship, M had to deal with the fact that one of my most prized possessions, my acoustic guitar that i still play every day, was a Christmas present from my ex immediately before her. In those days, I could not have afforded another guitar. But even if i could, I had already by that time taken that guitar travelling to both coasts and almost everywhere in between, writing my fractured little tunes. It (not my ex) meant too much to me. By now I’ve been playing it for 27 years and have worn grooves into the neck with my fingertips. And you know what? Even though she knew of its origins, the relationship was over and it was never “disrespectful” to M that I had it. Everyone’s got a past, and your partner’s past only matters when you don’t have a past yet with that person. I think the LW’s insecurities about the relationship are hers to deal with. If she can’t, maybe she shouldn’t be with the guy. If she wants to be with a guy who just went through a traumatic breakup, then this is the price of admission. Everyone carries a bit of damage and being in a relationship means navigating your partner’s rough spots, not trying to erase them in superficial ways like the removal of a photo.

    PS – I hate when i agree with BGM.

  17. I hate gender stereotyping and sweeping generalizations as much as the next person, but one thing has struck me lately as a truism: Women are the QUEENS of reading way too much into things, especially where emotions are involved. We’re symbolic creatures; we don’t see things at face value. Men are capable of this too, of course, but it seems for women it’s a default reaction and we engage in it much more intensely than men. Sometimes this is to our benefit – our intuition lets us know when something is legitimately funky – and sometimes to our detriment – our intuition also makes shit up!

    I gave my advice above so this is just a general comment/observation.

    1. Avatar photo meadowphoenix says:

      I strongly disagree with you. I think personally at least in hetero-relationships, it’s less that men don’t read into things and more that a) men are socialized not to verbalize it, b) when they do verbalize it, society tends to believe they have a good reason, despite similar evidence and c) they tend to read into things in a direction that don’t require them to hold any responsibility for health of the relationship. All socialized things.

      I just feel reading into things is simply a symptom of insecurity, justified or not, and men are as susceptible to that and its symptoms as women. I do agree that men, as a group, have been given less reasons to feel like they should be insecure in relationships than women.

  18. starpattern says:

    I wouldn’t jump down his throat about it or anything, but it’s not like this picture has been on his wall for all eternity and the LW is wanting him to redecorate his house. It showed up out of the blue at a time that coincided with the ex-wife moving away, into a position where the LW sees it all the time. I am pretty blunt with my boyfriend so if this were me, I think I would just say, “Would you put that picture somewhere I don’t have to look at it all the time?” and then if he were stubborn about it, reconsider whether I wanted to be spending so much time with him. I mean, come on. I don’t think the LW wants to erase all evidence of his marriage, but it is perfectly reasonable to be uncomfortable having a visual reminder of your boyfriend’s most recent ex every time you eat dinner at his house.

  19. I agree with Wendy. Photos have symbolic importance. It’s just not coincidence which photos we choose to put on display or not. Putting a photo up to be seen every day is a way of saying “I want to think of this person”. I understand perfectly well that we can want to think of friends, family members, and maybe even exes who have become friends, but this is a photo of them as a couple (“young and in love”), not as friends, symbolizing their past romantic relationship. Now I don’t think this means he’s not getting over the ex, just that the process probably isn’t over. Otherwise he wouldn’t have put the picture back up when she left town (which also suggests it’s not coincidental). If I were the LW I would ask about the photo and see what he says. If he explains why he put it up or just takes it down – fine. If he reacts in a weird way – not so great.

  20. sobriquet says:

    This would bug me, too, but the only thing you can do is ask him about it. My ex’s mom had several framed photos on display of my ex with HIS ex and it made me feel so awkward the first time I went to her house. I thought she secretly wished they were still together. It turns out his mom just really liked those cheesy, pose-y professional photos.

    This reminds me of a funny story. Shortly after I began dating my now-fiancé, I moved into a new house and throughout the unpacking process had propped up a few record albums on top of my nightstand including this one: (sans the text over the image). When my boyfriend came over for the first time, he saw the album and thought that was ME in the photo with some other dude and that I was displaying a photo with a former lover. He eventually picked it up and realized it was an album and sighed a huge sigh of relief and told me he felt really awkward! He still swears it looks just like me, though, haha.

  21. Ok I am currently dealing with this as well. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 5 months and he still has photos of him and his wife in a couple of places in his home. When I stay with him I feel them… I also have to look at a iron name and est 92 picture above the fireplace in the family room. Nothing like snuggling on the sofa watching a movie with an anniversary plaque and photo in your face:) oh and let’s not forget the dresses and nightgowns she left in the closet which are still there! I’ve mentioned it gently before and he took one down…. but there are more! I’ve decided when he comes to my place I’m pulling out the photos of my husband and I to display …. he will see how it feels and hopefully make a change. Otherwise it will continue to impact my moods when we are at his home.

  22. I think a ex and their stuff should be left in the past. Their called exs for a reason. If you have their pics around I dont think your truly over them. Who wants to see their exs pics everyday. Not me

  23. My boyfriend has been separated for 2 years. The divorce will be finalized around July. He is 43 and was with the ex for 27 years and married 20. They were childhood sweethearts. It has been an emotional roller coaster for him and I have been supportive. When we were 1st together he still had their family picture in the bedroom. I did mention the picture and he moved it from the bedroom to the hallway. Baby steps… I find it better in the hallway then her looking at us every time we are intimate.. The picture also has their children with them in it. It took me years to move on after me divorce, even when I was in other relationships. He is remarried and I am now in a relationship which I am very happy in. The man that I am now with I also knew as a child. Lee spent a lot of time together when we were younger. We reunited at a memorial last year to celebrate one of our loved ones. Him and I also have a past and a few memories we can build off. I can be honest and say that being in the picture while he is going through this is not fun but I love him and will support him. Time heals all things. As we grow together we will also build memories and eventually We will have pictures to hang on the walls to show our love. She was the love of his life for many years and I respect that.

  24. My boyfriend has been separated for 2 years. The divorce will be finalized around July. He is 43 and was with the ex for 27 years and married 20. They were childhood sweethearts. It has been an emotional roller coaster for him and I have been supportive. When we were 1st together he still had their family picture in the bedroom. I did mention the picture and he moved it from the bedroom to the hallway. Baby steps… I find it better in the hallway then her looking at us every time we are intimate.. The picture also has their children with them in it. It took me years to move on after my divorce, even when I was in other relationships. My ex is remarried and I am now in a relationship which I am very happy in. The man that I am now with, I also knew as a child. We spent a lot of time together when we were younger. We reunited at a memorial the beginning of this year to celebrate one of our loved ones whom had passed. Him and I also have a past and a few memories we can build off as well. Honestly I can say that being his partner while he is going through this is not fun at times but I love him and will support him. Time heals all things. As we grow old together we will also build memories and eventually we will have pictures to hang on the walls to show our love. She was the love of his life for many years and I respect that. I get to be the love of his life for another 30 or more.

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