You unlock your phone. You send a few texts to your friends. You send an email to a coworker and then open Facebook and Instagram, where you like and comment on some friends’ posts.
Next, your partner unlocks his phone and checks emails and social media — yours. He looks over your activity for the day. It’s only 11:00 a.m., so he makes a mental note to check back later.
You know he’s looking. After all, you gave him permission. Still, you’re not comfortable but aren’t sure why. As it stands, you may have a good reason.
A show of trust?
For some couples, sharing passwords and giving each other access to cell phones, email, and social media accounts is a way of communicating that there are no secrets in their relationship. For them, the information on a person’s phone and computer reveals who they are — it shows complete transparency. Providing access, therefore, is the ultimate show of trust.
However, not all couples are so eager to give their partner the key to the kingdom. While for some, sharing passwords shows good faith, for others, it signals the opposite — a lack of it. After all, why would a person want to check their partner’s messages and social media accounts if they believe their partner is faithful and living the life they say they are?
Virginia Gilbert, MFT MFC, a Los Angeles-based therapist specializing in high-conflict divorce, intimate partner betrayal, and love addiction, agrees. “In a healthy relationship,” she says, “there should be no reason to read a partner’s email or look at their social media messages. Doing so may be intrusive and a violation of healthy boundaries.”
But what if one partner has already crossed the line?
Gilbert says there is a time when it’s OK for a partner to have permission to check. “If infidelity is an issue, the partner who has been cheated on should have access to the cheating partner’s email and social media profiles, which they should be able to check when they want. It is the only way to build back trust.”
Not every relationship, however, is plagued with cheating. Sometimes other forces at work may be ignored when couples exchange passwords.
A substitute for communication?
A perceived need to check a partner’s accounts and social media may also stem from a lack of communication. When issues and doubts do arise, it can be challenging to confront your partner and ask about these problems directly.
Instead, you may find it more comfortable to check your partner’s accounts, providing you with, or so you believe, a reliable method to prove or disprove your doubts without having an uncomfortable face-to-face discussion. The thing is, without proper communication, you leave room for potential misunderstandings to occur.
Monitoring your partner’s accounts can lead to too much policing as well, raising the question of how much checking is appropriate during a given period. Is every interaction you see a cause for questioning? No one likes to be watched and have their behavior scrutinized. Resentment can build fast, resulting in even less communication than before the checking started.
What about online privacy concerns?
There is a presumption that text conversations and emails are not for public consumption. By checking your partner’s messages, you invade not only your partner’s privacy but also the privacy of those interacting with your partner.
If one of the people communicating with your partner learns you are reading their messages, that person may no longer consider your partner a confidant. Your partner’s ability to maintain friendships and business relationships with others may be damaged, leading to lasting and severe repercussions for everyone involved.
A serious consequence that comes to mind involves legal communication. If your partner is corresponding with their lawyer, your reading of emails can destroy the attorney-client privilege between them. Elise Buie, Esq., a family lawyer based in Seattle, WA says “it is not wise to share passwords or logins. We need to know that our clients are corresponding with their legal team privately and securely. Safety risks can be heightened if that privacy is not guaranteed.”
Where does your personal information go after a breakup or divorce?
We may not want to think about it, but consider what can happen to your personal information if the relationship ends. Or if the relationship changes, unbeknownst to you, while your partner still has your passwords. A disgruntled partner may use your accounts to send embarrassing messages and share humiliating posts. They may also send pictures as a form of retaliation, a practice referred to as revenge porn.
Access may also do more than embarrass you: it may be used against you during your divorce, affecting anything from finances to custody. Even if you discontinue access, it may already be too late. Buie’s best advice is to “never put anything on social media or in writing that you don’t want to be attached to a court declaration for a judge to read. In other words, if you don’t want it published on the front page of the Seattle Times, don’t put it out there anywhere.”
A final thought…
Of course, there is one more consideration which you should not overlook. And that is if you can’t trust your partner to have interactions respectful of you and lead a healthy, full life outside your relationship, rather than share passwords as a show of trust, maybe think about finding someone who you can trust.
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This article was written by Stacey Freeman. Stacey is a New York City-based writer and the founder of Write On Track, LLC. Her writing has been published or syndicated in The Washington Post, The Lily (Published by The Washington Post), Entrepreneur, Forbes, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Town & Country, SheKnows, Yahoo!, MSN, HuffPost, Popsugar, YourTango, xoJane, Scary Mommy, Maria Shriver, The Good Men Project and other well-known platforms worldwide. Stacey is frequently called upon for her expertise and insights and has been quoted in The New York Times, HuffPost, and SheKnows, to name a few. Oh, and she’s a single mom of three amazing kids. For more information about Stacey, visit www.writeontrackllc.com.