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Originally published Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:03 PM

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Is girlfriend's former boyfriend worth trashing own integrity?

Should boyfriend admit he snooped in girlfriend's email and found out she's chatting with former boyfriend?

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN:

I recently snooped in my girlfriend's email and discovered she has, on at least one occasion, contacted an ex-boyfriend who is a known sore spot in our relationship.

What contact there was doesn't really amount to much, and I don't think she is trying to rekindle anything.

I am at a loss, though, to understand why she would write to him, even in a nonromantic way, when she knows the hurt it could cause me and the damage it could cause our relationship.

Also, I am reluctant to say anything to her, in part because of my own illicit action, but more so because I don't know that it will do any good. As odd as this sounds in light of both of our recent actions, I do trust her. I also have no doubt she loves me. I just don't want her talking to this guy on any level.

So what, if anything, should I do? And, what am I doing wrong? Thanks.

— Snoop

DEAR SNOOP:

Snooping, obviously. Serious boundary violation — which you must confess, yes?

What else you're "doing wrong" depends on your reason for drawing an I-don't-want-you-contacting-him line where a pragmatic soul — and one who has any business saying "I do trust her" — would stand back and let trust do its job.

It's like not airbrushing a photograph; the result isn't as tidy, but you see what you're getting. When you do that, of course, you then get to decide whether you stay with her based on what you see.

You didn't choose that path, obviously; you're trying to wipe out blotches. So I ask again, why?

A few possibilities of many: Maybe there's a past cheating incident driving your no-contact request; maybe you know too much about this guy's ethics (or lack thereof) to want him anywhere near you or a loved one; maybe you just have a bad feeling about this guy.

Whatever it is, you need to know your motives. No rationalizing.

Then you need to be sure you actually have standing to draw lines. By that I mean, does your interest in keeping this man out of your orbit — do your feelings — trump her right to associate with anyone she pleases?

I see these exceptions as extremely rare. Associating with a past lover doesn't cut it, for example, but associating with the person she cheated on you with does. Asking her not to hang out with a morally suspect friend doesn't cut it, but asking her not to hang with someone whose suspect morals directly harmed you or someone you love? That does.

And when a partner chooses to ignore this kind of valid request, then you break up. You don't start ordering off the dysfunction menu of snooping, punishing, arguing, accusing, trapping, and lying in wait for the perfect told-you-so op.

I spell this out even though I'm at a loss, too — to understand why you're so exercised by this guy, and why banishing him has become your preferred measure of your girlfriend's affection for you, a measure you'll trash your integrity to take.

Even if your reason is among those few valid, non-controlling ones, there's still this: People show their affection most persuasively when you let them choose how to show it. Do you trust yourself enough for that?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax

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