Many people think that cell phones should be fully accessible to a person’s partner as it shows that there’s nothing to hide. However, completely open access might not be the true path to intimacy: There are good reasons to keep cell phone privacy in a relationship.
“Having open access to someone’s phone does not automatically signify a trusting relationship. There is a place for privacy in all relationships,” said relationship specialist Judith Aronowitz, a New York-based couples therapist.
Here are five reasons to maintain phone privacy in a relationship or a marriage.
5 reasons for cell phone privacy in a relationship
1. Trust in a relationship requires boundaries
If you have the desire to check out your significant others’ cell phone or computer, ask yourself: What are you really worried about here?
“Are you avoiding essential conversations and snooping on a phone? Are you feeling worried and suspicious?” Aronowitz said. “Have a discussion, share your concerns. A larger issue may be looming.”
Having open access to someone’s phone does not automatically signify a trusting relationship. “It is possible that giving someone access to your cell phone is a byproduct of trust but it should not be what creates the trust to begin with,” Aronowitz said. “Healthy relationships require an equal mix of trust and boundaries.”
2. Privacy isn’t the same as secrets
It’s important to recognize the difference between privacy and secrets, Aronowitz said. Keeping a secret involves intentionally hiding information due to the fear of consequences.
“There is a place for privacy in all relationships.This doesn’t mean that a partner is up to something devious,” Aronowitz said. “It shouldn’t be about hiding things. Having a boundary around keeping your phone private is personal to the person who sets it. A partner should be able to set a boundary without fearing negative consequences.”
Maintaining a healthy independence can help sustain the mystery in a relationship. When a couple learns things about each other that they didn’t know before, it keeps the spark going because they see each other in a new light, and gives the relationship room to grow.
3. Snooping itself is a betrayal
If you’ve secretly looked at your significant other’s phone or other devices, you are not alone: A 2020 survey of 1,600 people found half have secretly done so. Yet only 9% thought it “wasn’t a big deal”—meaning nine in 10 are bothered by snooping to some degree. Just under 40% of respondents indicated they got into fights or broke up over phone snooping.
Most common snoops, according to the survey: text messages (78%), social media accounts (42%), photos (41%), call history (35%), browser history (24%) and emails (21%).
Trust is definitely broken when someone checks their partner’s phone and finds something that points to betrayal. But what if you don’t find anything and get caught snooping? This can lead to a host of problems and will require you to have serious conversations about the lack of trust in your relationship. When issues of insecurity, disrespect, and others are brought up, they can reveal that you’re not on the same page.
4. Address the real issues around phone privacy
Sometimes snooping around is a sign of a deeper issue in the relationship. If the dynamic of your relationship has changed recently and you’re having feelings of uncertainty, get to the root of those feelings. For example, you might think you’re worried about cheating when you look through their phone, but you might just be anxious about maintaining your relationship.
If your partner wants to have an open relationship when it comes to digital communication, the key question to ask is, why? “It’s important to understand what’s underneath the request for open access to cell phones or other devices,” Aronowitz said. “Couples must start by having a conversation. What’s underlying this request?”
Deceit can suggest there are issues that are better discussed out in the open than risk damaging the relationship by secretly checking on private communications. “Are you avoiding essential conversations and snooping on a phone? Are you feeling worried and suspicious? Have a discussion, share your concerns,” Aronowitz said.
5. The Golden Rule
“Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” has been an abiding principle in relationships for millennium, whether it’s among playground friends in childhood or more intimate relationships of adulthood. Setting up fair rules and expectations of privacy should be built into the relationship based on each of your feelings.
“Think about what boundaries you want to set. investigate for yourself what feels safe and what you would like to keep private,” Aronowitz said. “Be clear in your communication about what you feel comfortable sharing and what you don’t.”
If you don’t enjoy the thought of them messaging a certain person or using dating apps, let that encourage you to hold yourself to the same standard.
Knowing that you may never know everything your partner is doing on their phone—and being okay with that—can help you put things into perspective and reduce feelings of anxiety. It’s not helpful to constantly be on edge thinking about checking your partner’s phone and analyzing what everything means, so maintaining cell phone privacy in a relationship will help you realize that you can’t force them to be someone they’re not.
“Most importantly it is about communication,” Aronowitz said. “Boundaries (including privacy) are essential ingredients for relationships. They are acts of self and relational care.”