If you're doubting your partner's honesty, you might be tempted to check their phone or computer. Here, a clinical psychologist weighs in on whether or not it's ever okay to snoop—and what these fears can say about your relationship.
Rational or not, you may find yourself doubting your partner’s honesty from time to time in a relationship. If these doubts become a recurring pattern, you might be tempted to snoop on your partner—check text messages, read emails, look at recent calls—to see if your fears are warranted.
But is it ever reach okay to reach for their phone or dig into their computer if you’re wondering about a partner’s honesty? Snooping won’t solve your relationship problems, says Mary Lamia, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Marin County, California: "You do not want to live your life having to snoop in order to feel safe or loved."
Why do people feel compelled to snoop in the first place? "Someone might snoop because their needs feel unmet by their partner, and they are trying to make sense of the disconnection or rejection they feel," Lamia explains. “Or they may snoop because they imagine they are inadequate, thereby becoming convinced that their partner is attracted to someone else." Snooping can be a subconscious delay tactic, too; you might check your partner’s phone if you’re not fully ready to confront them with a legitimate conversation.
But before you jump to conclusions, recognize that the compulsion to check up on your partner may also “say more about you than your partner,” according to Lamia. Securely-attached people don’t usually assume betrayals in their relationships, but, if they did, they’d have a discussion with their partner about it. So, if you’re plagued by doubt, “you must take a look at your own expectations and hesitations, based on your personal history,” Lamia says.
Here, a few questions to ask yourself if you're feeling tempted to snoop—and the best way to talk out your concerns.
Do you want to snoop because you’ve been lied to in the past?
If you were lied to or cheated on in the past, you might be hypersensitive to your partner’s actions, communication patterns, or changes in schedule, which may in turn trigger a desire to check up on them. Do you now expect an affair when your partner comes home from work late two nights in a row, and think snooping will validate your suspicions? "Emotional memories play a big role in how we respond to current situations," says Lamia. "Overthinking a current relationship, in light of what you have experienced in the past, is just a way in which your brain is attempting to alert you."
Lamia says to take stock of your feelings and see if they actually resonate with what you’re currently experiencing right now. Is it cheating—or, truly, a busy work week? Do you have other reasons to doubt your current partner? Or, as Lamia puts it, “does the possibility of intimacy trigger insecurity in you, based on your past history?"
Far from deception, getting closer to your partner might send off internal alarms that you’re vulnerable and could get hurt again—but your fears could be based on a former partner’s lies, not your current one’s actions.
Do you want to snoop because your partner is manipulative?
In some instances, your fears might be warranted, says Lamia. Maybe your partner is cheating. Or maybe your partner is manipulative, and is using your past, your doubts, or your fears to their advantage. "Some people try to control a relationship by inciting insecurity in their partners," Lamia says. Whether they’re lying and cheating (or not), stirring up emotions like jealousy, suspicion, or shame may make you question your self-worth.
If you find you’re "not yourself" in a relationship—doubtful, suspicious, insecure, reactive—Lamia says to ask yourself if your partner has shown other signs that they’re trying to control you. "Does this person want you to be jealous in order to secure their tie to you?" If you think your partner would seek to incite insecurity in you, that is not a partnership you want to be part of. "Control has little to do with a mature, loving relationship," Lamia says.
How to talk to your partner about what you feel
Whether your partner is being shady or you’re reading way too far into things, the answer is the same: You must have a conversation with them instead of snooping. "Their ability to have a conversation about your concerns will tell you more about their capacity to be a good mate than your snooping will ever reveal," Lamia says.
Start by saying, “For some reason, I am doubting your loyalty, and I would like to talk to you about it.” From there, communicate clearly. Talk with your partner about what you feel and why you think you feel it, and note how they react to your worries. "A worthy partner can have a conversation with you about whatever comes up in the relationship," says Lamia. "These conversations will, or should, help you learn something about yourself and ultimately make your bond stronger with your partner."
If your partner brushes off your fears as ridiculous, responds defensively, or refuses to offer adequate reassurance, then you have to decide if this is a person who can have difficult conversations—or be a trustworthy partner to you, says Lamia.
Bottom line? Never snoop
If you cannot trust your partner, you either need to “take a serious look at your own insecurities or admit to yourself that you are with someone you do not trust,” Lamia says. “If you have to ask to see your partner’s texts or email, you have crossed a line.” So, voice your fears. Talk it out. “Say what you have to say, and express your doubts,” says Lamia. “Yet be confident in who you are and in your value.”
The right partner for you will discuss your worries openly, and help you to feel safer and more secure in the relationship.