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New Faces in the Frame


Ron L. Deal

Recently a co-worker asked me a question. “I know a divorced woman who is dating a widower. She said it bothers her that his deceased wife’s pictures are all over his home and that he and his family talk about how great she was. She said it makes her feel like the other woman when he kisses her and her picture is right beside them on the end table.” Melissa’s husband shares a similar concern. “He wants me to throw away all the photos of me and my ex-husband—even the ones including our three children. I think the kids ought to get them when they get older so I’ve saved them. What am I supposed to do?”

    Through the years I’ve talked with hundreds of parents and stepparents about this very question and most of their sage advice falls into three main suggestions. I’ll share those with you, but first we have to talk about the insecurity that these two stepparents are demonstrating. Certainly feeling uncomfortable to some degree is to be expected. Pictures of a former spouse represent a former love, sexual partner, companion, friend—a former life! This could make anyone feel like an outsider, a fifth wheel. But if the insecurity experienced rises beyond uncomfortable to jealousy, fear, and moderate to high anxiety, likely something else is going on. For example, the relationship may be a new dating one and simply has not developed enough to put at rest the uncomfortable feelings. In a marriage the insecurity could be rooted in pain, hurt, or isolation in the marriage. The pictures in this instance represent all that is missing in the relationship. It can also be that one or both partners is plagued by low feelings of self-esteem. These individuals never feel worthy of their spouse and live with a constant sense of anxiety about how much their partner loves them.

    If pictures of a prior love handicap your ability to rest in your marriage, strive to “turn down the volume” on your fears. Remind yourself that you are a child of God: approved and worthy by the blood of Christ. Then, attend to any relationship matters that are contributing to your insecurities. Finally, adopt the following healthy perspectives offered by stepparents just like you.

“She Was His First, But I’m His Last!”

    Margaret claimed her rightful place in her husband’s heart, and with it, gained a poise in her marriage. “I might have been his second, but I’m his last,” she declares. “He got it right the second time around.” I love her confidence and perspective. She did, however, go on to admit a momentary discomfort from time to time. “Sometimes I do feel like I’m walking in her footsteps; I just shake it off.” No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase the reality of another love in your spouse’s past (and trying to do so is a bit self-defeating, actually). Instead, acknowledge it and embrace it. Then “shake off” the implication that you are less because of it. There’s something powerful about choosing to believe your significance to your mate.  

“That Was Before My Time”

    Recognizing “that was then, and this is now” is another helpful perspective. Douglas said, “I just try to stay focused on the now, instead of the past.” Pam shared, “I don’t get upset when I see my husband’s pictures with his ex in them. I know that was before my time.” Good point. Like a high school sweetheart or first crush, that relationship is old news.

“Look at it From Their Perspective”

    “Save the pictures for the children. Kids need to realize they aren’t a mistake.” Stacia’s words sure hit home don’t they? You can’t erase a parent from their lives—and doing so will probably hurt your relationship with them—but more than that, erasing their history implies that they were a mistake. On the other hand, honoring and perhaps even celebrating their family story celebrates them—their worth, their value, their talents, their heritage. They need to be reminded of this time and again and having access to pictures and videos help. Look at it from their perspective and whatever it requires of you to be okay with the pictures being visible is worth every bit of sacrifice.


Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, The Remarriage Checkup, and Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.smartstepfamilies.com.


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