Dear Prudence

Help! I Found My Husband’s List of Every Argument We’ve Had.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Woman rubbing her temple, a graphic of a computer screen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Roman Bykhalets/iStock/Getty Images Plus and BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome to this week’s chat. I hope your week is off to as good a start as possible (I think we’re at another pandemic moment that makes it safe to assume nobody is having a great time). Let’s get started.

Q. Totally destabilized: I am married to a very smart, very calm man. We get along well, I’m a stay-at-home mom at the moment, and we have a lovely toddler. I, like a lot of moms, feel like a lot of my efforts are unseen, and it resulted in a fight the other night. It was nothing particularly toxic, but when he left for a meeting, he left his computer on.

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It didn’t take much to find a list that he’s been keeping for a year of every quarrel that he has with me. He’s kept a list of things he feels I bullied him into, times when he felt like he was in the right…it’s all there. This whole time, I’ve asked him explicitly “are we okay?” and he says we’re fine, but…there’s a list!

And now I have no idea what to do. I was snooping, so do I acknowledge that as well as the fact that he’s keeping an active list of grievances? Do I go through the list and try to address each time I was wrong and just pretend that I’m doing this by chance? There are things on there that I’ve always been super insecure about and convinced myself he wasn’t bothered by. I’m honestly so thrown off by this. What should I do? Is this divorce territory?

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A: Oh no. I’m sure that list was hard to see. But I don’t think this is a crisis, and it certainly isn’t divorce territory. You’re going through a difficult patch as a couple and as parents, and we now know that his response has been … to write things down. That’s not bad! He didn’t cheat, he didn’t talk horribly about you behind your back, and he didn’t remove you from his life insurance policy. In the same way you wrote this letter to me about what was bothering you, he wrote down things that were bothering him. Should he feel betrayed by this letter? I hope you don’t think so! What you saw was documentation of his thoughts—thoughts that are similar to the ones I’m sure you’ve had after you’ve bumped heads.

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This does sound like an important sign that you need to be having more conversations—not just fights and disagreements, but check-ins about how you’re doing and feeling, and more than “Are we okay?” You don’t have to tell him you saw the list to initiate this (I think that would just open up another set of issues around trust; just promise yourself you won’t snoop again). Maybe that means couple’s therapy or maybe it means a good sit-down conversation in which you tell him you want to make sure your relationship is strong and would like to know if there’s anything you can do better. The important thing is that you should let him know it’s okay to open up when something is bothering him. And of course, you should do the same.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Dog-sitting demands: I’ve been dog-sitting for several years now and generally like it. I’m pretty picky with clients I don’t know. I tend not to take low-paying or high-maintenance jobs, but I generally give a discount to my family.

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During the pandemic, some of my family members got dogs and have asked me to dog-sit over the past few months. Some of these dogs are just too high-maintenance. It’s clear my family members have not trained them well and, on top of it, these family members do not pay me well. Only one has ever offered to pay me more than the rate I gave them. I just don’t want to dog-sit for these poor behaving dogs anymore. I know if I tell half my family members this while continuing to dog-sit for the other half, feelings are going to get hurt and my family does not deal with hurt feelings in a healthy way. They will continue to make passive aggressive comments to me in an effort to get me to do what I want. I’ve thought about just telling them I’m not available to dog-sit, but they are busybodies and if I don’t actually have dog-sitting lined up, they will bug me about why and won’t take an answer like “I need some weekends off” (I’ve already tried that one). Do you have any advice on what to do?

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A: “I need some weekends off” is a completely reasonable thing to say. So is “I’m only sitting for low-maintenance dogs these days” or “I’m not up for taking care of high-energy dogs,” or simply “I’m not available.” You can’t stop your relatives from making passive aggressive comments, but you can train them—yes, like dogs!—to understand that these comments don’t get results. Keep repeating yourself, or stop answering their messages. Yes, this will be a little uncomfortable. But remember that you’re not doing anything wrong. They are the ones who are being inappropriately pushy, and they are the ones who should feel self-conscious. Hopefully if you stand your ground the next couple of times your relatives make demands, this problem will be behind you soon.

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Q. Feeling split: When my girlfriend and I started dating, I noticed that she never reached for the check when at dinner, bars, etc. I found this unusual because in my previous relationships, my partner and I would split every check. When I asked my girlfriend why she didn’t pay, she said because of the damage men had done to the world (through rape culture, violence against women, the wage gap, “boys clubs,” and the patriarchy in general), I should pay for her. She didn’t use the word “reparations” but that is essentially what she was saying.

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I understand her point at a macro level. However, from a day-to-day standpoint, though I earn more than her currently, she comes from a wealthy family who subsidizes her lifestyle, while I am actually sending money back home to my parents. She went to private school, I went to public school. It seems to me that from an “intersectional” lens, we both have some sort of privilege.

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I also don’t understand why this issue in particular is so salient. I asked her if she paid for her Black friends because of the structural racism Black people face and the corresponding wealth/wage gap, and she said that “didn’t feel as personal to her.”

We are at an impasse here. How should this be addressed?

A: Dating is a time for noticing when you’re at an impasse and decide not to get more serious. It is not a time for insisting that every difference and personality conflict must be resolved. Here, you’ve learned that you and your girlfriend don’t share values about who should pay on dates. But more than that, you now know that she’s not interested in being a team player when it comes to expenses—even though she’s wealthier than you are—and either doesn’t care much about structural racism, or only cares about structural issues that provide a basis for her to do whatever she wants. Do these things make you like her a bit less and feel a bit less compatible with her? Ask yourself that, rather than trying to figure out how to change her.

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Q. Judgmental friend: A close friend is back in town and wishes to meet; I’m not sure I’d like to. She’s wonderful, but she sometimes makes comments about her own appearance or the attractiveness of other people that make me hesitate. For example, she has often remarked to me about how terrible it is to have single blemishes or zits. I listen, and hopefully offer her some comfort, but I have very bad acne. It’s been this way for a few years, and the state of my face is not good now. It’s similar with relation to other things, like weight. I gained weight over the last while, I have braces now, and my other skin condition is acting up, too. I know it’s likely that I’m not even on her mind when she makes these comments, but I don’t want her to look at me poorly. How do I… act more maturely about this?

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A: Someone who is this insensitive to you (it doesn’t take a genius to realize that complaining about a single blemish to someone who has bad acne is cruel) should be removed from the “close friend” category. Absolutely skip this. I really believe that if spending time with someone makes you feel bad, you should just not do it. It doesn’t mean she’s a terrible person. It just means she leaves you feeling self-conscious and you don’t want to feel that way. Feel free to be busy, or sick, or extremely COVID-cautious, and use the time you would have spent with her to connect with someone who you feel good around.

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Q. Re: Totally destabilized: Prudie, are you kidding? He kept a list FOR A YEAR of things she did that he didn’t like, never talking to her about any of it. This is deeply weird behavior. This merits a convo starting with WTF and leading to serious counseling.

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A: I really don’t think it’s that much weirder than keeping a list in your head—different people process things differently. Those were his private thoughts. And it’s definitely not weirder or more damaging to the relationship than snooping.

Q. Re: Totally destabilized: Jenée’s answer papers over an important issue here: the snooping. The letter writer should not have been snooping in her husband’s files. The fact that she transgressed those boundaries is VERY worrying for the state of their relationship.

A: I felt like I mentioned that? If it wasn’t clear, let me say it again: Don’t snoop!

Q. Re: Totally destabilized: I journal, it’s part of my yoga practice. Sometimes I work things through about my husband. Sometimes they’re … not very nice because I haven’t “digested” it yet and I’m feeling raw. It doesn’t mean we’re not “okay.” This is most likely true of what your husband wrote.

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My journal is sitting out on the table where I write/work at the computer. My husband once said to me, “I flicked through it and then thought—maybe it’s private.” I told him he did feature—it’s nothing he doesn’t know about, but sometimes in harsher words.

It doesn’t sound like you have this sort of a marriage, my point in bringing it up is that Prudie is right—it would be good for the two of you to communicate either more or better.

A: Yes, it seems that to some people, writing is a way to process thoughts and to other people, writing a thought down somehow makes it more official or consequential. Journaling people get where I’m coming from—and what the letter writer’s husband was likely doing. I agree that the problem is that the writing seems to be happening instead of communicating.

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Q. Re: Dog-sitting demands: The line “Only one has ever offered to pay me more than the rate I gave them,” implies that you feel your time and energy are worth a lot more than your relatives are paying you. That’s totally valid, but you should let them know what rate you actually want instead of wishing people would pick up on it!

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Not to mention, if you raised your rates to the price you actually feel your work is worth, a few relatives might stop asking on their own.

A: Great point. And if there is a price that would make caring for their pets worth it (or even rewarding) to you, feel free to let them know.

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Classic Prudie

I met my boyfriend David on Tinder five months ago, and it was a match made in heaven. He’s compassionate, attractive, and a bombshell in bed. Recently, at our physical, I learned something. David is 5 feet, 8 inches tall. On his Tinder profile, he lists himself as 6 feet. On our first date, I asked him [if he is] really 6 feet. He got agitated and said yes. I feel lied to and betrayed—why is he so insecure about his height? 

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