The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: When all the signs say it’s over, why snoop for proof?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Dear Carolyn: When someone is nearly certain that a partner has lied to them about fidelity, and also kept an STD secret while not protecting the unknowing partner, is it okay to look at their phone to verify a communication that would prove the suspicions are true? The partner suspected of lying has a temper and (ironically) believes looking at someone’s phone is an unforgivable transgression on par with stealing or cheating.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Why do you need to prove the fidelity lie when you already know — if I read you correctly — about the STD-related secrecy and reckless disregard, and you certainly already know about the temper, and you seem pretty confident in the irony of the offense taken at snooping, and the trust tank in this relationship is plainly down to fumes?

In other words, why do you need any newer, better or black-and-whiter reasons to relieve yourself of this person’s presence in your life?

There’s no minimum standard of misery you have to meet to “qualify” for breaking up.

There’s also this: You might not find your proof. What then? Will the absence of proof of your partner’s wrongdoing count as proof of their right-doing? Will it make you feel loved and valued? Make the STD, the temper, the irony and the fundamental distrust glow in the warm light of loving acceptance?

Sometimes things are just over and waiting for us to see that. Instead of snooping, spend some thought on what more you really need to know.

Dear Carolyn: Any advice for how to find the willpower and discipline to eat and drink less, exercise more? I need to slim down and I know that’s the formula for success. I am exercising more. I know the right foods to eat … just can’t get the mind-set to make the right decisions.

— Finding Willpower

Finding Willpower: What works is liking your life the way it is. Willpower and discipline work only if they feel good to you. If they don’t, then you either won’t adopt them or you’ll be tempted out of them often.

So, you will keep exercising if you enjoy it enough to trade some couch time for it. That’s why working out with friends can be so effective or “working out” as a byproduct of a beloved activity such as hiking or dancing or gardening.

You will stay “on” your “diet” only if it is a way of eating — content, portions, timing — that feels good enough for you not to have to force it. If those “right foods” don’t beckon to you or satisfy you, then find different ones. Or maybe just smaller, less frequent portions of the “wrong” ones.

Upshot: We do what we want. To make peace with yourself and your body, make adjustments toward your goals that are either comforting in themselves, or small enough not to feel like a slap on the wrist, and build — if you want to! — from there.

Dear Carolyn: What is the boundary between genuinely caring for vs. managing for someone?

My wife, for example, thinks reminding me to take my vitamins is not her responsibility. I tend to forget, and I feel that since she takes hers, she can just remind me (out of love or genuine care).

In return, for example, on numerous occasions, I have gone out late at night and put gas in her car, knowing she was too tired to do so, and recognizing her mornings are hard, and a detour for gas will make her late for work.

I don’t think of this as “managing for her,” but caring for her knowing she’ll struggle otherwise. Her point is that this is my choice and she never asks for this. I can always choose not to, but then it’s going to add to her morning stress, which I have seen.

What is the difference between a genuine caring marriage where spouses look after one another vs. living with a roommate?

— Caring vs. Managing

Caring vs. Managing: Specific examples have emotional impact, but out of context they can be short on truth. The context makes the marriage. Are you always as thoughtful toward your wife as you are with the fill-ups? Is she always as dismissive of you as she is with the vitamins?

If your specific examples do reflect the general state of your marriage now, then did they always?

Or are you throwing extra attention at a fear she’s slipping away?

Or is she extra prickly as an expression of fatigue? Stress is a known, coldblooded tenderness-killer.

I could ask so many questions like this. I don’t know where you started or what happened to bring you here. I don’t really know what “here” looks like beyond your two examples.

But you do. You know how your wife shows love, her way. You know whether she has shown it steadily, let it dwindle, stopped altogether. I’d guess you know a lot of the why.

And you know where to find her at a non-stressed time to share what you both need, and want, of this life you chose together.