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Carolyn Hax: Snoopy wife upset, must tell husband

Dear Carolyn: I am a snooper. The first time I snooped on my husband, it was really just curiosity – he left open a chat window and didn’t sign out. Instead of signing him out, I read it, and when I saw something suspicious with a woman, I went back into their previous chat history and found more communications that crossed the line.

I know they have nothing physical because she lives overseas, but they did once have a very short-lived relationship before he met me when he was traveling abroad. I know I shouldn’t snoop, and I don’t snoop on any of his other messages, and I do feel guilty. However, he definitely has crossed the line with her, and what I found is really upsetting me. How do I fess up and make sure we address the issues of snooping and inappropriate chats separately? I’m sure when I fess up, that will be all he focuses on when I want to talk about what I found.

– Very Sad

A: If he does focus only on your transgression and not on his own, then of the violations of marital trust in this situation, that will be the worst. That’s choosing, to your face, another woman’s attention.

The other two, the chatting and the snooping, obviously are also not good. However, viewed through a lens of compassion – and detachment – there’s a path to mutual forgiveness. Alone, you were tempted by a wide open window into your husband’s thoughts, and your humanity got the best of you. Alone, he was (apparently) tempted by a forbidden shot of adrenaline during the routine of a marriage, and his humanity got the best of him.

As long as you both recognize how your solitary choices betrayed your mutual goals, both emerge humbled and both direct your attention back to each other, you can be closer and stronger for discussing openly what you saw: “I wish I had just closed that open chat window, but I didn’t, and I can’t unsee what I saw.”

If he does what you fear and turns all the blame on you, then state calmly that you assume all responsibility for your actions, without reservation – and you also recognize you needed time to reflect before you were able to do this. Since your awareness of his chatting is new to him, you will grant him that same time to reflect before asking him to discuss it.

This is not the time for a who’s-the-guiltiest contest. Make it clear it’s just about airing and owning your share.

Then be patient. Not indefinitely so, just lovingly so. His eventual response will tell you whether he’s in this marriage or not. Fingers crossed for you both.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.