He saw another man’s nude pics on my phone

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My boyfriend and I started dating last year and things have been fine. During this pandemic, I went to stay with him where he works and wound up living with him for five months. The last week I was there, he was holding my phone and it just so happened that a guy from my past sent me nude pictures with the caption, "I miss u." Things have been tense ever since.

I apologized and told him that nothing happened with that man, as he has a wife and kids. I'm back living at home now, and we do video calls and talk every day – like normal couples – but I noticed that he’s been distant. Eventually he admitted that the pics still stressed him and that he's not over it. He says, "I've been thinking about it, and I know you haven't been truthful with me ... but it's fine."

I love him and I don't want to lose him. We have planned a lot for our future. He is the most generous, humble, and loving man. How do I make him believe me?

– It's not fine

First, I have to wonder why he was holding your phone. Was it in his hand because you needed someone to carry it, or was he looking for evidence of a problem? I guess I just want you to think about whether you went into this experience with trust issues.

Second, what does he know about your history? You don't have to tell a partner everything about your past – you're entitled to privacy – but maybe he'd better understand what happened here if you told him more about what you were doing before the two of you met. Was this married man pursuing you? Were you interested and texting back? Is the married guy a creep – and what exactly does he miss? It sounds like your boyfriend might benefit from hearing the full narrative, if you feel comfortable telling it. You can also ask him what he means when he says "it's fine." Is he saying that he's OK with you protecting your privacy? Or is he being passive-aggressive about the perceived dishonesty? It's time to unpack that.

You ask how to make him believe you, and I think that could happen over time. It might take a while for him to shake off what he saw, to contextualize it, and delete that mental (and physical) picture. But if he can't move on from it and you continue to feel estranged, the relationship isn't what you need it to be. Future plans rely on the ability to talk about uncomfortable things and move past them.

– Meredith

Readers? How long should the LW expect the boyfriend to be distant? What would you think if you saw this on a partner's phone after a year of dating?