Many GOWs who have been with their Ws for a long time (over a year) state with wonder that they feel they are taking two steps back to gain a step forward, especially when it comes to their own insecurities regarding LW.
In the beginning of a dating relationship with a W, we don't mind hearing about LW, looking at her pictures, etc. We are curious about a woman we never knew (in most cases) and whom W loved. In a weird way, we hope the information we need to know about her will help us understand ourselves: what W sees in us, why he is attracted to us, etc. All the data we collect about LW is just that: dry data...and rather benign and inconsequential...UNTIL we invest more and more of our hearts into our Ws. Then, all bets are off and all the rules change. Suddenly, instead of being a list of character traits, she becomes more and more real - and more and more of a perceived threat to our own happiness with W.
As GOWs, over time, we battle these insecurities in stages: We learn that letting LW go is paramount to W's grief recovery, and are pleased when he detaches enough to stop the LW chatter and put those pictures away. It means he is starting to live more in the present. This is comforting to us, and we learn to allow him his past as long as we are confident in his growth in the present....so we become agreeable to his keeping a few LW things & pictures for his own memories, believing that he will some day let these few go, too....when he is ready.
Time passes, and months turn into years...and our relationships and love grow....and again, we look to the pictures that remain to gauge his recovery. The ones we were once agreeable to his keeping are once again perceived threats, because we now view them as a blip in his grief recovery. We worry that he might be stalled in his progress if he still hasn't removed every piece of evidence from his past. We rationalize, "OK, buddy - it's been a few years now. I've given you the best love & care I can. So where's my reward?" We want a return on our "love investment", and truly believe it should come in the form of knocking LW off her da#@! pedestal once and for all.
We tire of his grief triggers, thinking. "He should be over this already!!!" and forgetting that grief has no timetable. Our impatience leads to resentment...and the relationship takes a bad turn, mostly because neither the GOW nor her W is communicating anymore about GOW/W/LW issues. They believe they, as a couple, should be beyond that by now...but what neither realizes is that GOW/W/LW feelings DO change, and sometimes, they take a step backwards before they go forward!
A GOW in this situation - perhaps you yourself - feels that mentioning the LW pictures at this point, years later, would be perceived by W as verrry petty and inconsequential. After all, "He's still here, he's a good man, he's really grown in his grief journey, our relationship is pretty solid, and he shows me he loves me all the time...so why do I have this sudden need to erase LW completely from this house and this life we share?"
I'll tell you why: because you're NORMAL! It's OK to want to be #1 in his life and in his heart, especially since you've worked soooo hard and given soooo much. And really, a GOW should NEVER become a WOW if her W still hasn't let go of his past and his LW and made her ( the GOW) his life's priority. But instead of allowing the picture issue to breed resentment, GOWs should always be "taking mental inventory" of where W is at on his grief journey....for as long as the journey takes! That means....talk, and lots of it. Communication about LW issues between a GOW and W isn't just for the infancy of their relationship - it is something that a couple will constantly and consistently need to be practising, so that years later, there are no misunderstandings based on assumptions.