Help! My Husband Has Been Monitoring Me Through My Laptop.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 12 2012 5:45 AM

Spousal Surveillance

My husband has been monitoring me through my laptop. How can I get him to stop?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have been married a little over two years, a second marriage for both of us. Soon after getting married, my husband, who works in information technology, revealed to me that for the prior year he had placed a tracker on my laptop to monitor every site I went to, every search I made. I thought something was wrong when he would ask me about things I didn't discuss with him but had searched for online. I’ve woken up to find him holding my phone, scrolling through my messages. I've told him that this bothers me, that I'm not doing anything wrong, but some respect for personal boundaries is in order. Then he accuses me of hiding things. He recently bought me a new laptop, but I'm worried history could repeat itself. It leaves me with stomach cramps knowing that even this email itself could trigger a fight because he may be tracking me. He does well financially and we do have nice things, but he doesn’t like us to spend time with other people. I try to weigh the good against the bad, and I'm not unhappy apart from this issue. Can you please tell me if I'm the crazy one here?

—Demeaned and Frustrated

Dear Demeaned,
I hope you sent this letter from an Internet café, otherwise he’s going to be very unhappy about your note to me, because I agree with you that he knew what you wrote the moment you sent it—he might even have been watching as you composed the words. You appear to be under tighter surveillance by your husband than members of al-Qaida are by the National Security Agency. From your description, your marriage has less chance of making it to a fifth anniversary than al-Qaida’s No. 3 does of living to become al-Qaida’s No. 2. You say you are weighing the good against the bad. The good is that he has an income. The bad is that you’re married to a controlling lunatic who has views similar to the Taliban about wifely independence. Nice things do not make up for being under house arrest. At this rate, your next gift may be a jewel-encrusted ankle-monitoring device. I can imagine one day, after he sees something he doesn’t like, you waking up to find him standing over the bed with something less benign than a cellphone in his hand. Until two years ago you managed to make your way financially through life without your husband’s paycheck. You can do it again. Start your return to independence by hiring a lawyer and getting out. And as you make your break, dump your existing phone and laptop and get new ones, unless you want to alert your husband about your plan of escape.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My fiancé and I are planning our wedding. My future mother-in-law has multiple chemical sensitivity. This means that she is unable to be around any kind of chemicals or scents—no scented hand lotion, cleaning supplies, petroleum-based products, or perfume. We are looking for venues that are either outside or well-ventilated, but that won't completely solve the problem if a guest wears perfume. As the mother of the groom she deserves to be present and involved during the entire event and not secluding herself away. I am thinking of enclosing a little note in the invitations asking our guests not to wear perfumes and am looking for a cute way to make the request. Do you have any clever suggestions? Or any other thoughts on the best way to alert guests who are unfamiliar with her condition?

—Scent Free

Dear Scent,
Your future mother-in-law is very lucky to have a daughter-in-law who is so sensitive to her sensitivities. No doubt your mother is suffering. But MCS is not recognized as a distinct medical condition by the American Medical Association or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. As you have learned, sufferers have an endless list of substances that can trigger an endless list of symptoms. Clinicians have not found a biological pathway that explains this condition, but many people who say they have MCS also have a variety of psychological disorders. (And surely these patients would say their mental distress is caused both by their physical problems and by the skepticism they endure.) Dealing with a mother-in-law who says she has MCS means you’ll have to approach this if not with kid gloves (tanned hides must be a no-no), certainly with latex-free ones. It is both kind and smart for you to simply accept her illness as a fact and express no doubt about it. But there are limits to how much others have to accommodate someone who is incapacitated by almost every chemical in any amount in the ambient environment. It’s fine if you put a note in the invitation envelope saying something like, “Due to medical sensitivity within the wedding party, please refrain from wearing perfume.” But that’s hardly going to solve the problem. Guests will still be emanating chemicals, from their dry-cleaned outfits to their shampooed and gelled hair. It may be that your mother-in-law simply can’t be very present and involved in the wedding if it requires everyone there to wear hemp clothes boiled in sea salt. It will be best if your fiancé makes clear to his mother that her participation is desired and welcomed, but everyone will understand if there are times she has to be absent because she can’t take another whiff.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I was diagnosed with HIV in my early 20s, contracted from my partner at the time. After our relationship ended I didn't try to date anyone for years. I'm in my 30s now and feel that despite my status, I should "put myself out there.” I've been dating for the past few months and am enjoying feeling normal again romantically. But I have a disclosure issue. I have tried different approaches: before the first date, on the first date—always before anything happened. No one runs screaming, but some back away as quickly as they can. It’s stressful and has been getting me down. Recently, I have been dating a great guy. I put off telling him, as I don't want to destroy the fun we're having. But we kissed the other night, and now I feel that I can't tell him as I've left it too late. I know exchanging a bit of saliva when you take your meds has not endangered him, but I feel I have betrayed him. Have I ruined everything?

—Unsure About Being Positive

Dear Unsure,
Thanks to medical science, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer life-ending. But it remains life-altering, as you know yourself. You were correct to have a rule that you will be scrupulous about revealing your STD status with a potential partner before exchanging bodily fluids. Having done that, you’ve painfully found out that they don’t necessarily respond particularly well. So you made an exception in the case of a guy you really liked. Even though anti-viral treatment is not a cure, it’s had a near-miraculous effect in reducing transmission. But whether to get sexually involved with someone who is HIV-positive is the individual’s choice to make. I don’t know if you’ve ruined everything, but your next step is to have the conversation you’ve put off. Tell him how much you’ve enjoyed getting to know him, but he needs to know something important about you. Then say the words. Apologize for not speaking up sooner, but say he needed to know before things went beyond a kiss. You can have some printed information with you about preventing transmission and the effect of the suppressive drugs you take if he’s interested in finding out more. Whatever happens with him, being relieved of your guilt will be its own reward.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I will be attending a family vacation in August with my parents, brothers, and sisters-in-law. The last time everyone was together, I was upset by the way my mother treated my sister-in-law Amy. Amy is one of my best friends. She is supportive, loving, and kind. She is also overweight and loud, which mother can't stand. Mother makes faces when Amy talks and very obviously refuses to sit next to Amy during meals. She also bad-mouths Amy when she leaves the room. I don’t want to have to watch this again. What is the loving way to handle this situation?

—Joy of Family      

Dear Joy,
Amy must pack a big supply of sunblock and Xanax in anticipation of her fun annual vacation. Or maybe she just says, “I’ll have a double.” It’s time for you to talk to your mother about this. Say not everyone in every family is crazy about each other, and you know she doesn’t care for Amy. That, however, should be her little secret. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly obvious how much she loathes her daughter-in-law. Explain that Amy is one of your closest friends, you feel lucky your brother is married to her, and you don’t want to see or hear any more disparagement from her. Tell your mother she may not be aware she’s making faces when Amy talks, but she needs to cut it out. Add that you won’t listen to her disparage Amy when she’s not in the room. Then act. If your mother starts eye-rolling when Amy gets going, pull her aside later and say it’s making you uncomfortable. If she starts denigrating Amy, leave the room. You should also enlist your brother to make these points to your mother. If he's not standing up for his wife, shame on him. He's the one who supplied this trial of a mother-in-law, so he should bear some burden for trying to reform her.

—Prudie

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