You might think it's harmless, but it's not. It's different for everyone, but as a general rule, keeping photos of your ex around is not healthy or helpful.
If you’ve ever been through a break up, you know that it’s not always easy to make smart or even healthy choices. It’s much easier to do whatever makes you feel a tiny little bit less miserable during this horrible time, which is why you end up eating your entire body weight in junk food, drinking until you throw up, and hooking up with people you don’t like or even find attractive. Basically, depending on the level of brokenness that you feel, you partake in a number of various activities that can only be described as masochistic.
This is where your ex’s photos come in. When you compare looking at old photos with harmful and excessive behaviors like drinking, you might think that it’s not as bad, but is it actually? In some cases, keeping these photos stored away somewhere in a special “ex” box in your closet or a secret “ex” file in your computer can be even worse than the occasional binge or regrettable hookup. Just how bad it is depends on how important these photos are to you, what they mean to you, and why you want to keep them in your life even though the relationship is over.
First things first, it’s not the end of the world if you keep them for a while immediately after the break up. The number one problem with keeping photos of your ex around is that they won’t make it easier for you to get over them, but when it’s only been days or weeks after the break up, nobody is expecting you to move on just yet. If you do, that’s great, but if you’re a normal person who needs time to mourn their relationship, it’s okay to hang on to things like photos, gifts, clothes, and songs. Especially if you didn’t see the break up coming, you might need more time to process it and say goodbye to that person that meant so much to you, even if that goodbye is you crying over photos of your last vacation together while listening to that song that reminds you of when you first met them.
However, you shouldn’t keep them around in your place or your phone for too long. There’s a reason why “out of sight, out of heart” is so true. The longer you keep photos of your ex in a place where you can find them easily (your phone wallpaper, bedroom, social media, among other places), the more you’ll see them throughout the day, and the harder it’ll be for you to forget them. Isn’t it enough that you remember them when you walk past a place you used to love going to together or that you think about them whenever you see something you know they’d be interested in? When you keep photos of them around, even if they’re hidden away somewhere, it’s the same thing as keeping a space for them in your heart. Do you want that person in your heart forever? No, you don’t.
You might want to keep these photos because they’re the only memories you have of a special moment, trip, or period of your life, and, if so, it’s okay to keep them. However, you need to be honest with yourself and make sure that the real reason why you want to keep these photos is because you really want to keep the memories of this moment/trip/period, not because they’re pictures of them. You also need to make sure that when you see these pictures, they bring you the happiness you felt at that moment, not all the feelings related to that relationship. If this isn’t the case, then you really shouldn’t keep them. Try finding other photos that don’t include them or keep other objects that serve as reminders, and make a point to remember this moment/trip/period as a chapter in your own life, not the life you shared with that person.
Last but not least, if you start dating someone new, you really should get rid of old photos. It should be common sense: you’ve finally moved on and found a person who loves you and is better for you than your ex, so you want new photos with them, not old photos with the person who broke your heart or whose heart you broke, right? For some people, there’s no conflict here, and they get rid of the old photos without hesitation, but for other people, it’s not that simple to let go, so they hide the photos from their new partner, but they keep them stored somewhere only they know. If this is you, you need to find out why you want to keep these photos. Unfortunately, it’s probably a sign that you’re not completely over your ex. It might not be, but it definitely means that there’s a small part of you that’s still hanging on to that person, and that is not good for you. (If you still think it’s harmless, how would you feel if you discovered that your partner kept pictures of their ex somewhere?)
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t keep these photos if they make you feel worse or if they don’t let you move on. What you should always keep in mind is that the relationship ended for a reason, so you shouldn’t do anything to hold on to it. As cheesy as it sounds, your future is more important than your past, and the best way to make room for new things and people in your life is to get rid of the old.