Published On: Mon, Jun 10th, 2024

Carolyn Hax: Spouse unwittingly overhears husband’s therapy session

Carolyn Hax: Spouse unwittingly overhears husband’s therapy session
Carolyn Hax: Spouse unwittingly overhears husband’s therapy session


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Earlier this week, I overheard my husband say some really negative, hurtful things about me. I thought he was on a work call but realized he was actually talking with his therapist. I was so surprised, it took me a little while to understand what I was hearing and high-tail it to another area of the house.

Now I can’t unhear what he said and am not sure how to move forward. I know what I heard wasn’t meant for me and was just a snippet of a much larger conversation, but how do I move on since it’s not something I can address with him directly? We have young kids, and life is busy and stressful, but I thought we were okay, relationship-wise. Apparently not, and I’m not sure how much longer I can act like we’re fine with his words in my head.

Blindsided: What a gut-punch, I’m sorry.

I don’t agree, though, that you can’t address it with him. You may not want to, but “can’t” doesn’t apply.

You were not eavesdropping and did not choose to violate his privacy. Plus, your knowing something and feeling bad about it, while he doesn’t know you know, mirrors the gut-punch you just got from him. One of you is withholding and putting on an act as it is; you don’t need both of you doing it. That’s the opposite of intimacy.

So admit you accidentally caught some stray words that were hurtful to you, before you pieced it together and high-tailed it elsewhere.

Then say you’re mentioning it for two reasons: You don’t want to lie to him by omission, about the overhearing or about your feelings, and you do want him to take soundproofing precautions before his next appointment.

Tell him if he’s not ready, you and he don’t have to discuss the substance of what you overheard.

You’re both still better off coming clean to the extent you feel able.

Re: Blindsided: I was seeing a therapist to deal with frustrations in my marriage over little things that I knew did not affect the big important things, but nevertheless left me resentful. I just needed a safe space to sort the wheat from the chaff and decide what issues were worth raising with my spouse. I would have died if my spouse heard me, because these sometimes-petty frustrations did not reflect how much I love him. But I needed a place to unload it all, and with a therapist, I could just say it bluntly and unveil ugly, momentary thoughts. Hope this helps you process what you heard.

Hi, Carolyn: I have a daughter, 27, who has a long-term boyfriend I like very much. Recently, they moved in together, and my daughter is having doubts about their future. He is a real introvert and uncomfortable in any social situation, and she describes him as emotionally unavailable.

My daughter confides in me often, and I try to be supportive but not make recommendations other than that couples therapy might help. Can you suggest how I can best do this?

Not That Mom: Listening and giving her room to figure this out for herself is totally appropriate, as is.

If you sense she wants more from you, then resist the urge to unleash the opinions — because they could marry, and your “Ugh, you can do so much better!” will become eternal. Instead, escalate to leading questions: “What answer do you wish someone would give you?” Or: “What epiphany are you waiting for?” Prompt her to make the stronger recommendations she needs.


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