We have all had the awkward moment in a relationship when you discover your partner’s secret stash of cards, photos and trinkets from a long-lost love. Sometimes the items are not hidden at all but worn every day — or prominently displayed in your sweetheart’s home. You wonder if you should just ignore them, or sound the alarm. Here are eight ways to get those mementos out of your new relationship — often without your partner even realizing that this was your ultimate goal all along!
1. Interrogate your partner about the item’s history
Become overly interested in why he or she is holding on to certain items. Ask about when it was received or inquire as to whether or not that old flame would even be concerned about your partner keeping the item today. By asking these questions, you can mentally trigger the one you love to begin questioning why the item’s so important to hold onto now. Also, it’s a kind of mental trick to let this person know that if he or she doesn’t want the whole evening to turn into a discussion about the “story of the sombrero from the summer of 2008,” it very well may be time to pack it away… for good.
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2. Reverse the situation and see how he/she reacts
Next time your honey’s over at your place, casually mention a few things that you’re holding onto that were gifts from an old love, like a great couch that you and your former flame picked up at a flea market, that body lotion that you still buy regularly today because your first love gave it to you once as a gift, and so on. Sometimes you have to use these subtle tools to place your new boyfriend or girlfriend in your shoes to see how it feels. This will only work if the person you’re seeing gets a bit bothered that these items still play a role in your life. If it works, you now can reach some common ground by putting or throwing away those items that serve as reminders from both of your romantic pasts.
3. Be expressive about how these items are affecting your relationship
Don’t suffer in silence. Instead, let your lover know that certain items bother you, and why. Some things stay around simply because a person may be unaware that these items are bothering you. (Note: Men usually fall into this category.) Sometimes a person views a gift given by a romantic partner as simply a gift and nothing more… and if it was a cool thing that the person it was given to enjoys having or using, why get rid of it now? For example: Your boyfriend sees the pool table in his living room as something he got as a surprise for Christmas one year from his ex, Pam; however, you see that same pool table as a symbol of when Pam loved being with him and was trying to seal the deal for marriage. Clearly express to your partner that his holding onto that pool table reminds you of how close he was to settling down with his ex — and suggest that maybe it should be relocated from the main living area down to the basement.
4. Negotiate a compromise you can both live with
We would all love for our partners to throw out all of their baggage associated with past flames, but the truth is, for some people, those mementos carry no connection to that ended love affair at all. People collect keepsakes from trips they’ve taken to remind them of those places they’d always wanted to go, or save pictures taken during landmark moments in their lives. Not every treasured item is an emblem of the relationship you were in at the time. In this case, a compromise may have to be struck between the two of you. Should anyone have to discard college yearbooks, videos of a first skydive or photos from first day on the job just because someone else happened to be there? Of course not! This is where items can be put away for safekeeping instead of being thrown away entirely. There’s no need for daily reminders that you weren’t there, but be open to letting your loved one keep those treasured memories stored away in a safe spot.
5. Replace the offending item with your own memento
This one is sneaky, but it can also be fun! Help your honey get rid of those old mementos gradually by replacing them with new items from you. Her favorite necklace from her ex gets replaced by a newer version from you for her birthday; his favorite band’s concert tee is tossed aside for a vintage version you thoughtfully scouted out for him online. By slowly replacing the things that bother you most, you can then become the benefactor by providing some of your loved one’s coolest things — and he or she will never know that you were doing it as much for your own sanity as for your partner’s enjoyment.
6. Tell a tale that’s similar to your own situation
One of my favorite ways to get a person on your side without them knowing it is to simply tell a tale of another couple going through the same scenario. Describe a friend who is really going through a rough patch trying to get his girlfriend to discard all her trinkets from past relationships. Relate how you felt for the guy and why you think that the girlfriend was being unfair by insisting on holding onto those items. Explain the answer you gave your friend and how that friend followed your advice, and then mention that their relationship has been stronger ever since. This is a no-pressure way of getting the dialogue going between the two of you about things that you feel your partner may still be holding on to without having a direct confrontation.
7. Get logical in your reasoning for letting go of the past
If your beloved is all about being direct, then be logical in your approach. Holding onto old items shows that, somewhere deep inside your heart, the person they’re associated with may still have a hold on you in some way. It’s only by putting these things away or throwing them out that you know that you’re really ready to move on. Be clear that living in the past — even a little bit — shows that the present isn’t really where you want to be emotionally. If this current relationship is going to have a future, there needs to be a clean break; if not, the relationship’s likely stalled until something changes. This is the hardball, grown-people approach to dealing with this issue.
8. If all else fails… grin and bear it!
Don’t let material things stop a good relationship from growing. If you have tried several of the steps above and the pool table is still there, front and center, you may simply have to accept it. What I’ve seen in my own and others’ relationships is that sometimes, the best way to get these old sentimental items out of the way is to make peace with them being there and let your partner discard them in his or her own sweet time. As the relationship moves forward, he or she will look at such things as having less personal meaning (or possibly even inappropriate) and get rid of them altogether. The truth is that if your relationship is working well now, over time, you’ll have so many new memories and experiences that all of that old stuff won’t have room to survive the journey.