How to Handle Photos of Your Ex

What do you do with family photos that include your ex? Toss them? Tear them? Digitally remove your ex? Here's some advice.

It’s time to address the bogeyman in almost every photo collection: the ex-spouse. If you haven’t been married before, chances are your siblings, parents, children or best friend have, so this still might apply to you.

I’ve helped many other families deal with their own collections that include an ex-spouse, and I’ve seen the range of emotions that come with photos of ex-family members. The process seems to be complicated by three main factors:

  • How fresh is the split?
  • Were there children from the marriage?
  • Did you part ways amicably?

At some point, everyone finds at least one picture that makes them ask, Is there a way to erase him out of the good photos? There’s so much that you can do with Photoshop these days! Ha!

Organizing your personal photos when they include your ex is like any other photo organizing project. Stay focused on the story you want to tell. Your organized photos are your chance to tell your story the way you want it to be remembered.

When I went through my own photos from the 80’s and 90’s, I decided that I wouldn’t want to erase my ex entirely, even if I could He was part of my story for many years. He’s in my prom photos, graduation photos, holiday, travel and family reunion photos. And that wedding was a big event for me, at the time! Why would I want to eliminate that from my story entirely? I wouldn’t!

I don’t recommend going through your photos in the middle of a split, or right after a divorce. You might make some decisions you regret. However, I did work on a photo-organizing project with a woman who got a divorce while we were working together. Looking at the past twenty years through the lens of these photos and seeing her happy children in the photos helped her realize that the time with her spouse had been mostly happy, and produced three wonderful kids.

Here are some good guidelines when handling photos that include your ex:

  • You need not keep photos of his parents, grandparents, and his friends who weren’t your friends. You have my permission to toss them.
  • Don’t tear photos in half just to remove him or her. You’ll always have a bad feeling about that photo. Either pass it on, toss it, or digitally crop the part of the photo that is still meaningful to you.
  • Be kind and return any one-of-a-kind historical photos of previous generations on his side. Don’t be spiteful. Someone in his family might like to have those for genealogy research.
  • Don’t stress if you choose not to return shared photos if he (or she) hasn’t asked for them. You are under no obligation to make more work for yourself.
  • If you are still negotiating your separation, include a clause about who will end up with the physical photos from your time together. If you both want copies, arrange for an APPO professional photo organizer to scan physical photos into digital files and provide the appropriate files. There will be a cost for this, which you would be wise to negotiate into your settlement.
  • Consider professional portraits differently from family snapshots. If there was a big investment made in professional portraits, like a wedding album, you may want to discuss that with whoever made the investment, whether that is your ex or another family member.

In most cases, including my own, actually organizing photos from my first marriage was a lot less difficult than I thought it was going to be. I tossed about 75 percent of the photos from that time of my life, not because he was in them, but because they were bad shots, duplicates and included people (and pets!) I’m no longer in touch with.

But now that you’ve been burned, here’s a very practical tip from one of my clients … until you are sure that the new boyfriend or wife added to the family is a keeper, make sure that they stand on the right or left side of the lineup of family gathering photos. That way, if they turn out to be a dud, they’ll be much easier to Photoshop out.

And yes, we can Photoshop him out of a really important photo. What good would all of this technology be if we couldn’t do that for you? (Call me, and we’ll make him disappear. Shhhhh)

If you’ve been stressing about organizing photos that include your ex, with some passing of time, you’ll probably find it’s much easier than you think.

Darla DeMorrow is a Certified Professional Organizer® from Wayne, PA, who also blogs at, where this post originally appeared.

Categories: MomSpeak