Hi Dr. Buckingham,
I have been married for six years, and my husband and I grew up in different countries (I in the U.S. and he in the Caribbean). He was very honest with me from the beginning about his extensive sexual past. I was a virgin when we married. He keeps in contact with a lot of people from his homeland via social media. And I recently found out he was speaking to someone he used to sleep with (but didn’t consider to be a girlfriend); she was reminding him of the intimate times they had together and sending naughty pictures, and from what I saw, he didn’t tell her to stop. I told him I was uncomfortable with it, and he told me it was nothing serious, he was just “joking around” with her; he has since blocked her on all his social media accounts.
The problem is I found this out by going through his phone (I know it’s wrong). To be honest, I’ve done that on and off since we got married. Because I don’t know all his friends from his home, I felt this was a way to get to know who he was speaking to and what kind of relationships he had with them (male or female). This time though, the issue with this girl really threw me into a dark hole of insecurity, and I am continually pestering him about it. He didn’t change the passcode on his phone. But he has demanded that I stop going through his phone because he feels like he’s constantly being watched when he’s home and because he feels I’m hurting myself more than him when I do that.
I really do want to stop going through his stuff because it has caused other problems in the past. My question is: how can I feel comfortable to trust his word again fully when I feel he is now so overprotective of his phone? My biggest concern is that he will unblock this girl and start talking to her again now that he knows his wife won’t be going through his phone anymore.
Do I have a right to snoop or does my husband have a valid point—Should there be privacy in marriage?
Dear Mrs. N,
Sorry to hear about your husband’s behavior, but your issue is not just about privacy. You all have trust and communication issues. Given that your husband minimized his behavior, I can understand your insecurity and concern for repetitive behavior on his behalf. However, if you do not trust him you should not remain with him. I can promise you that you will not find peace in a marriage that is sustained on deception. If your husband is in the business of being deceptive, you will continue to have the urge to search his personal belongings. This is a bad cycle and destructive behavior because your husband will become more secretive as you become more aggressive.
Now to answer your question, “Should there be privacy in marriage?”
Privacy in marriage is a very subjective issue. Some people believe that some things like cell phones should be off limits. I, personally, do not understand this kind of thinking. My wife has access to my cell phone and anything else she needs access to in order to make her feel comfortable and to trust me. I got married to share, and the only thing that I make personal (my own) is my down time. In marriage, we share money, parental responsibility, our bodies, our minds and even our souls, but place limits on material things. I do not get the restriction thing. We have a no secret/restriction rule in regard to material things or social media platforms. This works for my wife and I, but everyone is different.
As stated above, privacy in marriage is a very subjective issue because each person in the relationship has to define what he or she is comfortable with. Although we promise to be “one” until death do us part, this does not mean that we are not entitled to privacy. Relationships are about setting boundaries and respecting each other. Therefore, privacy and boundary setting go hand-in-hand.
You are only entitled to whatever your husband is willing to share. If your husband does not feel comfortable giving you open access to his cell phone, then you have to respect his boundaries. However, it is human nature to obsess over things we want, but cannot have. Based on your previous findings about your husband’s inappropriate conversations, many would argue that you have the right to invade his privacy. I disagree. Remember that his dishonesty is not a pass for your disrespect.
In healthy marriages, individuals discuss their desires and eliminate privacy issues that create conflict and tension. The right to privacy is not just a physical violation; it is a psychological violation as well. Some people do not feel safe when their privacy is violated. This is not a good thing because people who do not feel safe typically become more guarded and shut down.
In my professional opinion, I believe that you should stop searching through your husband’s belongings. Your searching is not going to change his behavior. The easiest way to rebuild or restore trust in any relationship is to be completely transparent and open. If he still refuses to share his cell phone and remains overprotective, he is probably still doing something wrong. If you do not and cannot find it within yourself to trust him, then move on. No marriage can last without trust and respect. He has to respect you by being faithful, and you have to respect him by giving him privacy.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.