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‘My husband’s password is his ex-girlfriend’s name. I am devastated. What made him change it?’

My husband’s password is his ex-girlfriend’s name for almost every account, and I am devastated. After a few months of our marriage, I came to know about his past relationship. In the first two years of our marriage we had a lot of fights about his ex, but things eventually settled down when she got married. Good riddance, I thought.

We’ve been married for almost six years and recently I came to know his password is her name. It was a shock. When I confronted him, he threatened to abandon me and take some other woman. I retreated. But I am heartbroken and burning from inside. What made him change his passwords to her name when initially they were different?

Eleanor says: This is a fascinating letter which could go one of two ways, and I truthfully don’t know which one it is. One is that your husband had a fulfilling, important relationship before you. This helped make him the person and partner you love. You experience this as an intolerable betrayal, when there’s no real threat to your marriage – besides how frightened and jealous this makes you. I’m a little troubled, for instance, that it seems you discovered his passwords in a way that wasn’t him telling you.

The other is that those passwords are his ex-girlfriend’s name. What kind of underlining-her-name-and-doodling-hearts-in-the-margins kind of move is that? And maybe when you try to tell him this makes you feel unloved – like you’re in competition with his nostalgic fiction of a perfect relationship – he tells you that it’s perfectly normal, and you’d know that if you’d had any fulfilling relationships of your own. Maybe he makes sure you know that making a scene about this makes you seem less and less worth being with.

What’s so torturous about being in your position is that you don’t know which story’s true either. If it’s the second you should leave or issue several final warnings, but if it’s the first you’ll ruin this good relationship and the ones that come after it too. So you stay and wonder what’s worse, looking jealous and crazy, or being walked all over lately.

The best way to work out which story you’re in is to approach him with total vulnerability about the fears this lays you open to.

Things go sour when we express worry in the language of control. Beware of feeling things like “this makes me think I’m not enough for you” and then saying things like “you can’t talk to her”. All this does is give him something to disagree with and resent. Try talking in terms of aims instead: “If you want me to feel loved and secure, it helps me when you … ” See whether he meets you there: it should not be a burden to make the people we love feel loved.

Every person in a relationship has to have parts of their life that are “ours” and parts that are “just mine”. If your relationship does not leave you much that’s “just mine”, it’s fairly natural to turn to memories of life before your partner as a way to feel the separateness we need to be a complete human being. This isn’t incompatible with loving your partner deeply. Nor is having some nostalgia, “what-if” daydreams, or even some lingering attraction.

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What is incompatible with loving your partner deep is not doing what you can to make them feel unshakeably secure, despite these things. Only you know if your husband will step up.

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