The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Readers give advice on snooping, an abusive mate and children


While I’m away, readers give the advice.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

On snooping:

I’ve seen so many letters about reading a significant other’s texts or e-mails. I’ve even read a few columns that said a cheater who has promised to reform should give their spouse or partner all their passwords.

What never seems to come up is that you are also violating the privacy of everyone who writes to the person whose accounts are now open books. I’ve accepted that there is a certain amount of slippage when it comes to things I tell friends in long-term relationships, but I find it offensive that someone who is dating a friend of mine and suspects her or him of cheating could easily access e-mails that are about deeply personal issues I’d rather not share with them.

It’s something snoopers should think about when they go onto an e-mail account or phone. They’re not just violating their partner’s privacy, they also may find information that a perfectly innocent person never wanted to share with them. — E.

On dealing with a loved one’s engagement to an abusive mate:

Seeing a loved one get involved with an abusive partner can be incredibly difficult, especially if you see the loved one ignore obvious and repeated warning signs. If they’ve been together a long time, his sense of reality might be even more skewed than he lets on.

I speak from experience. I was engaged to a woman who was abusive and it took the continued efforts of friends and loved ones to see what I was too ashamed to recognize.

A victim of abuse is going to need someone to keep his sense of reality and self, particularly when she really starts to sink her claws into him. I am so thankful to friends and family who cared enough and helped me get my life back. — D.

On deciding whether to have children:

When I was a newlywed, my mom gave me this advice: “If you cannot imagine yourself having a happy future without, have a child. If you can in any way see yourself living happily without, do not.”

This has proved a useful guidepost in countless decisions since: divorce, remarriage, career choices, doughnuts, ad infinitum. I did choose to become a mother — three times — of astonishingly wonderful people. After 36 years of mothering, here’s what I think: If I could have known how wonderful the good is, I would have started 10 years earlier and had twice as many. If I could have known how awful the bad is, I would not have had any. — Life Is Approximate

On being a post-career stay-at-home mom (and on those gauzy images of homemaking):

I was a “trapped” new mom many years ago. I compensated with rich volunteer work and involved my children when appropriate. It wasn’t enough to overcome the loneliness of being home among nannies and housekeepers.

Fast forward to today: I received no credit for highly responsible and skilled volunteer work as I circulate my two-master’s-degree résumé. I’m divorced with no 401(k) for the years I did not work. One child of the two still resents my being so “involved” in his life.

Just one version of an incredibly difficult position to be in as a mom, for what it’s worth. — Unemployed

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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