| 11°C Dublin

An affair to forget?

All relationships have their special moments.

The first kiss, the first date, a romantic walk together, a special holiday or weekend away, the first time you tell each other you're in love. It's fun to keep tokens of these happy memories and to bring them out as a reminder of the times you've shared. Unless you're Angelina Jolie or Eva Longoria...Jolie had former lover Billy Bob Thornton's name emblazoned on her shoulder while Longoria had her wedding date to now ex-hubby Tony Parker tattooed on her wrist. Most of the romantic relationships we have throughout our lives are doomed to failure. So, what happens to those tokens then?

It can be hard to let go, particularly if you weren't the one to end the relationship. But how can you move on if you're clinging to reminders of something that is over? A friend of mine, Allison, remembers when she first moved in with her husband. "We were unpacking and I found a large, framed photograph of his ex," she says. "I threw a huge hissy fit, which my brothers, who were helping us move, thought was hilarious. I probably wouldn't have minded if it was a mix CD or something like that, but the huge photo really got me mad. As I recall, it was destroyed."

Relationship psychotherapist Trish Murphy believes that whether or not holding on to tokens is healthy depends on your attitude. "If it is something that reminds you of a nice memory, a time that you were happy in your life, then I think it's okay to hang on to something like that, but if it's something that you're clutching on to, then it's not such a great idea," she says. "Sometimes people use them as a substitute for the relationship and that just keeps you stuck in the past."

It can be even more complicated when you are dealing with the remnants of a broken marriage. I was surprised when I walked into the house of a friend who had been separated for over a year. The place was covered in photographs of her ex.

"I felt so guilty for the kids when their dad moved out that I put up loads of photos of him," she says. "I didn't want them to feel I was trying to airbrush him out of their lives. I was determined we would forge a good relationship for their sake and I wanted them to know that we were both still parenting them together, even though we were no longer a couple."

Murphy acknowledges that it is much more complicated when there is a marriage and children involved. "It may be nice for the kids to have you keep mementos of the relationship between their parents but some people find it therapeutic to light the fire and burn them," she says. "It's up to you to figure out what works best, but, again, I think it depends on the attitude you have when you make that decision. Are you clinging to the past or keeping something to remind you of the good times while moving on?"

Hoarder

Curious to see if there is a consensus on this, I asked the question on Twitter -- should you keep them or move on? The reaction was very mixed, but one male tweeter summed up the thoughts of those who believed you should keep them. "I don't see why you shouldn't. I'm a memory hoarder so I have lots of souvenirs and reminders. Our experiences shape us." A female tweeter agreed: "I have a shoebox with some ex jewellery, mix CDs and photos. I know my boyfriend does too. He has a scrapbook -- no big deal. That said, I don't want to see it. I'm happy knowing it's at his parent's house in a wardrobe somewhere." The Museum of Broken Relationships was established in Croatia by two artists after their relationship broke down. Going through their belongings, they found household goods were easy to split but the objects with personal memories were much harder.

Unopened

They decided to put the pieces into a museum and invite people around the world to do the same. There is a wedding dress given after the couple were divorced, an unopened bottle of Champagne someone had bought to celebrate an expected marriage proposal, which did not materialise, and a man has donated a tiny bottle of tears he had cried after his split.

The exhibition has travelled around the world. Drazen Grubisic, one of the founders, says: "I witness how hard it is for people to give away these tokens that carry the energy of two people. Once it's done, they're liberated from the haunting memory of the past."

There are no hard and fast rules -- except when it comes to engagement rings. Etiquette dictates the bride-to-be will return the ring. "I gave the ring back," says another friend, Louise. "But it was a mutual decision to part. I have a friend who was dumped by her groom-to-be and she kept the ring and sold it for a very nice sum. I don't think there is anything wrong with that either."

A colleague had a boyfriend who used to buy her amazing gifts, clothes and accessories by labels like Prada and Gucci. "I couldn't throw them out because I loved them so much, but I can never wear them because I'm terrified of running into him and him thinking that I still have a thing for him," she says.

"I do occasionally use some tableware he bought me but to me there is no sentiment. It's functional. For the most part, I think if the relationship is done, you should be ruthless and move on." But, those who like a little sentiment in their lives will be glad to hear that romance isn't quite dead. "If you have a memento like love letters, it can be lovely to keep them and read them back every now and again," Murphy suggests. "They can remind you of a certain stage in your own life. Just use your head about it."