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Does spouse have a right to know about partner’s therapy discussions?


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

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

How much right does a person have to know about what a spouse discusses in therapy? I’m speaking generally, not “give me a blow-by-blow of every conversation.”


Your right starts at zero — these are confidential sessions intended solely for the health of the patient — and tops out at “as much as the spouse feels comfortable sharing.” And the patient’s reasons for not sharing can range widely, too, from withholding because the spouse is abusive, to concealing the fact that s/he is spinning the truth or withholding it from the therapist.

Meanwhile, if the shut-out spouse is uncomfortable with the lack of information, then there can be a range of reasons for that, too, from an unhealthy need to control information to a healthy suspicion that the therapist or therapy isn’t legit.

The common denominator in all these is that you can’t make someone share who doesn’t want to. So, while you’re waiting, please give some thought to why you want so badly to know.

Hi, Carolyn:

I’m going through a divorce and thinking it would be nice to start dating. Everyone encourages me to try online dating, but I’m not sure. I hear about people’s great experiences, but I also hear lots of disaster stories. I’m beginning to think there might be people who are cut out for online dating because of certain personality traits and maybe those who aren’t. What do you think? And if it is true, any hints on how to decide which you are?

Online Dating?

There will be people who never warm to it, sure. Beyond that, I think it’s more a matter of opportunity. People who aren’t satisfied with the prospective dates they meet offline will try a dating site, and the ones who are satisfied won’t.

As with anything, if you’re not ready for the new, then stick with the old till you are ready (or at least frustrated enough with the old to revisit your misgivings).

Dear Carolyn:

I have been dating my boyfriend for six months. He says he’s not controlling, but he seems to want to have regular planned conversations, and if it doesn’t happen, then he gets mad. He doesn’t even ask why I wasn’t available to talk; he just gets angry that I didn’t put him first.

I am a single mother with two kids and he lives with a roommate, so he has a lot more free time than I do.

This issue seems to come up a few times a week. For example, if I fall asleep before texting him, he thinks it’s inconsiderate for me not to let him know I am going to sleep. What are your thoughts?


One general thought: that three children sound like more than you care to manage.

A more specific thought is that I’d like to hear his definition of “controlling.” He’s 1. trying to make you change your behavior to suit his needs, and 2. punishing you when you don’t comply, and that fits my definition of controlling quite well.

Thought No. 3: Goodbye, childish, self-centered and, yes, controlling boyfriend. See ya.

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

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