We've all been there. You're laying in bed. Your significant other is in the shower. His phone is sitting on the nightstand next you. You know the password. It would be so easy to take a peek without him ever knowing. Just a quick peek to make sure you can trust him. So what do you do? To snoop or not to snoop, that is the question.
Everyday social convention would argue that looking at someone else's personal devices without their permission is a major breach of trust and a big no-no (not to mention potentially illegal and punishable by jail time). Nevertheless, this doesn't seem stop people from doing it. I recently polled my friends on Facebook about their thoughts on this topic and the responses were strong, but varied. People's opinions ranged from "Absolutely not okay under any circumstances" to "I'm so grateful I checked my partners email because I found out he was having an affair and I left him." Interestingly though, a lot of people responded that even though they felt it was "wrong" to check a partners phone or email without his or her permission, they admitted that they still did it anyways. So one's beliefs about snooping may not actually influence their actions.
I believe that when we are tempted to engage in this behavior we are really trying to address some larger issues in the relationship or in our own psyche. While I really understand the temptation, as I've felt it (and in my younger days even acted on it), I'd like to share a few arguments as to why violating your partners privacy could be far more hurtful to you, and the relationship, than it is helpful. Additionally, I'd like to present some alternatives that might help you better achieve your long term relational goals.
The Downside of Being a Snooper
1) It's addictive
Checking someone's phone is like scratching a rash. It itches so you believe that by scratching it you'll get some relief. But instead, the more you scratch the more it spreads and the more scratching you need to do. The best policy is to never start scratching at all. Even if you don't find anything suspicious when you check, the act of checking has now become associated with the feeling of relief. So every time you seek relief, you may feel the urge to do so through snooping.
2) It's a lose/lose situation
If you check your partners phone or email you are faced with the dilemma of having to deal with the outcome of your actions. If you found nothing, the relief you feel will quickly be replaced with guilt and now you are stuck with the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that you violated the privacy and trust of the person you love and they've done nothing wrong. If you actually do find something that indicates wrongdoing you have to decide whether to confront the person (and admit the fact that you did something unethical/illegal) or sit in silence while the knowledge eats away at you. Both of these sounds like pretty awful situations to be in.
3) If you want a trustworthy partner, be a trustworthy partner
If you suspect that you can't trust your partner and you check his or her devices, now you are the untrustworthy one. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If there is a quality you value in a partner, you should come to the table fully with this quality.
4) You may put other confidential information at risk
Many people have confidential work-related information on their phones and computers. If you are snooping on your partner's communication devices you may cause major problems for them professionally. In certain professions it could actually be a securities violation or put protected health information (HIPAA) in jeopardy. Is satisfying your curiosity worth putting your partners job or professional credibility at risk?
So next time you're tempted to snoop here are a few things you could try instead:
1) Differentiate between idle curiosity and a nagging feeling deep in your gut that something is wrong
It's natural to be curious about what your partner is up to. We have minds that seek information. We also have the ability to exercise impulse control and make decisions aligned with our own values and morals. If it's just vague curiosity, understand it as normal, and then anchor to your values and channel your willpower.
2) Address your concerns head on
If you have a strong feeling in the pit of your stomach that something is really wrong, you are probably onto something and you need to discuss it. Say "I'm having these fears that _____." Approach it calmly, in a non-accusatory manner. Express your worries and how they undermine the sanctity and safety of the relationship. Open communication and the ability to work through problems together is a huge component of healthy relationships. If you can successfully navigate a tough discussion like this one it says a lot about the strength of your relationship. If your partner gets super defensive when you express your concerns, rather than trying to reassure you, I'd encourage you to keep the dialogue going until you feel like you have all of the information.
3) Ask for what you need
Oftentimes we act out in relationships when our needs aren't being met. But the only way to really get what you need is to ask for it! Do you need commitment about not seeing other people or clarification about your relationship status? Would certain actions help you feel more safe? Would it be helpful if your guy or gal stopped taking phone calls in the other room, introduced you to more of his/her friends, or was more affectionate with you in public? Figure out what is missing and let your partner know just how helpful it would be to fostering trust and intimacy.
4) Create a policy/understanding about these kinds of issues with you partner
Some couples in serious, long-term relationships share passwords and agree that it's okay to look at anything at any time because there "nothing to hide." Coincidentally, it's likely that these couples rarely check each other's stuff because the open door policy eliminates the feeling that there is anything to be "found." Some people may not have that luxury due to confidentiality of work related information, but perhaps you can have an agreement that if you are having suspicions you can talk to your partner about them and they can show you parts of their phone that don't compromise any work issues.
The bottom line is that when you are having concerns, speak up! Communicate, rather than investigate. This approach is the best way to respect yourself, your partner and the relationship.