My husband read my journal

There were some pretty unflattering things in there, written before we were married.

Published May 3, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

This past week, my newlywed bliss has turned into a nightmare. My father-in-law has been very ill and is being treated in the critical care unit of a well-known university hospital. This makes his fourth week there, and his third time on a ventilator. The prognosis is not looking favorable at this point.

During this time, I have been supportive and encouraging with my new husband and his family, without being too "Pollyanna-ish." We have all taken turns visiting this family member both together and separately. You can imagine the stress as this situation continues to deteriorate.

But, that is not my reason for writing. My husband made one trip last week without me, and I loaned him my laptop computer so that he could have wireless Internet in the motel.

Unfortunately, he came upon a journal I had been keeping for about a year and a half before we married. It contained all of my fears about our relationship --- many in unflattering terms -- it was basically my place to get my worst thoughts out and then let them go. This kind of journaling works for me. I am able to be a kind and loving person, in part, because I have this outlet.

But as for my husband, he had to read the dark recesses of my mind -- a place where no one should have to share with another unless they want to. We all have awful thoughts, after all. And I forgive him for reading it. It would have taken Gandhi or Mother Teresa to turn away from such a document.

My reason for writing is that I feel guilty that he read these things and knows the worst thoughts I've had now. I'm not sure we can come back to a place we were before. This, coupled with his father's decline, is seemingly overwhelming.

You always have a creative, metaphorical way of looking at complicated issues, and I sure could use your insights now because I'm not sure where to go from here. I love my husband dearly ... I'm just not sure he believes it anymore after reading that journal.

Newlywed Whose Honeymoon May Be Over

Dear Newlywed,

I thank you for your kind words, but I don't have a very creative or metaphorical way of looking at this particular issue. Rather, I think it's fairly straightforward. Couples ought to have secure passwords and protect their data from each other. If it is such a temptation to read your private stuff, then lock it up. Personally, I am not all that tempted to snoop. But apparently many people are. So rather than denounce your husband -- though he really shouldn't have read your diary! -- let's just say that all couples -- all people, actually -- need to lock up their private musings! Password-protect your writing! Password-protect your e-mail! Partition! Encrypt! Protect!

People have weaknesses. They snoop. Perhaps they don't want to, but they do it anyway. They should be better but they're not. Judging from the many e-mails I have received about such incidents, it is safe to say that if you lend your laptop to your husband, there is a chance he is going to read your diary.

That's terrible. That's not the way it should be. But that's the way it is.

When mail came in envelopes -- especially when envelopes were sealed with wax! -- there was a greater psychological barrier to snooping. To open an envelope addressed to someone else, remove the letter and read it somehow seems a greater offense than to casually glance at some type in a computer. But it's the same thing. It's snooping! It's not right! You're not supposed to do it! So I say: Password-protect your journal! Encrypt your e-mail. Lock up your journal! Save your marriage!

I saw the movie "Notes on a Scandal" recently, and I loved the scene where the husband says, basically, "We all have these thoughts! But we don't act on them!!!" This is true. We all have dark thoughts that we don't act on.

But people don't even have to know we're having them.

As for me, I consider it my job to imagine and explore matters that are not pleasant or jolly, to grapple with disturbing aspects of life, and to entertain notions that arise in my mind that I do not necessarily approve of. I consciously work to identify with all kinds of people. I consider it a part of my work. Sometimes it is scary to find how easily I can slip into someone else's shoes. If someone were to read some of my darkest musings, they might think me dangerous or racist or sexist or an unsuitable husband or a traitor or any number of other things. I am not my writing. I explore. I inhabit voices. I take things to the limit. But it is easy to be misunderstood.

Even much of what I do publish is a little suspect! I try not to make overtly offensive statements, but I go to some pretty weird places. I'm always trying to work the edges! I think that what we take for identity is quite fluid, and that we are all capable of entertaining obnoxious thoughts.

Professional writers and artists are not the only ones who need to do this. We all need to do this. We all need to entertain and give shape to our darkest thoughts in order to understand where they are coming from and what they can tell us about ourselves. Everyone needs to imaginatively explore their own psychic world, in whatever medium suits them.

My wife knows and understands this. I may write crazy stuff but she knows that it is part of a creative process. Still, I do not want her reading everything I write, because part of me is just plumb loco! I will write anything! Anything! I have no filters!

So now that your husband knows you've had these thoughts, you need to come to an understanding about what these thoughts mean. After all, this is you. You deserve some privacy, but he deserves to know whom he's married to. You and he need to place this in the larger context of your relationship and your commitment. Especially considering that this has occurred during a very stressful and perhaps sad period, you may find that a counselor or therapist can help you define this larger context and come to grips with some of the ugly feelings you have had. I know that's a little general, but I think you get the idea.

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