It’s two in the morning and you’re staying over at your partner’s apartment. She or he’s gone for a shower, leaving his or her cell phone in the bedroom. The phone’s message tone beeps. You look at the time. You look at the phone. You wonder who it is. What do you do next?
In an age where everything and everyone is accessible through technology, how sacrosanct are private text messages and emails in your relationship? A study published by Oxford University in April revealed that one in five of some 2,000 respondents admitted checking their partner’s emails or texts, and 13 per cent to looking at their Internet histories. So clearly, there are many people who believe text messages and email aren’t sacrosanct. And there are others who believe personal space cannot be violated, whatever the circumstances.<b1>
According to psychiatrist Dr Dayal Mirchandani, there are three entities in a relationship – the two partners and the relationship itself. Which means there are two points of view about the relationship. And that’s where there could be problems.
Open and shut
For instance, when media planner Neha Singhana dated corporate executive Amit Makhija, they shared all their passwords and text messages. Says Singhana, “We were completely open with each other about everything and had nothing to hide.”
However, Singhana’s current boyfriend, project consultant Deep Parmar doesn’t share the same notions of openness. For him, the two keywords are “intention” and “interpretation”. He says: “It’s what I perceive my partner will do with my password or phone. If I feel her intentions are harmless and she simply wants to send a mail or check a message for fun, I’d be willing to share. However, if I feel she might snoop I’d never give it to her.”
He also feels that she could misinterpret messages from the opposite sex that might be completely harmless. “Muahs”, endearments, compliments and naughty forwards from the opposite sex are trademarks among the SMS generation who are emboldened by the virtue of privacy that texting provides. “Which is why I hate anyone going through my messages, whether it’s my parents or my girlfriend, lest it cause unnecessary arguments,” says Parmar.
Too much information
Sometimes a bitter experience caused by an invasion of privacy can lead a couple to consciously stay away from each other’s mails and mobiles. One such married couple is Nazia and Sohail Aziz. Having always shared an open relationship, they gave each other their email passwords. Which led to trouble.<b2>
Says Nazia: “Two years after our marriage, we went through a rough patch and I started to share my feelings with one of my ex-boyfriends through email. Sohail grew suspicious and checked my mails where I had revealed intimate details about my marriage to my ex.” A nasty fight ensued and the two have never shared their passwords again.
When spouses share everything from the bedroom to the bathroom, space and privacy are issues that need to be negotiated carefully, believes Dr Mirchandani. “Partners have to work out what is more important to them. Their privacy or their relationship?”
For many couples, ignorance is bliss. Students Tamara Fernandez and Sameer Bansal seem to think so. Says Tamara, “While there is always a seed of suspicion in any relationship, we consciously avoid sharing passwords or leaving our phones with each other.”
Even if they happen to reveal their passwords, they ensure that they change them soon after. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t trust each other or have something to hide,” says Sameer. “But we prefer avoiding any uncomfortable questions that may arise after we snoop.”
Trust is the keystone of any relationship. The partners might trust each other enough to share their passwords and phones. Or they might trust each other enough to not find the need to.
A person’s reaction / response at being probed by his or her partner for passwords or mobiles is, at times, enough to determine whether the person is trustworthy or not. For instance, when production assistant Leena Masand asked her husband if she could go through his messages, he instantly handed his cell to her.
“That’s when I knew he had nothing to hide from me.” Consequentially, Masand did not find the need to go through his messages at all, as her suspicions were quelled by his reaction itself.
In most cases of snooping, there is an element of mistrust on both sides. The person snooping around does not trust his or her partner, and the partner might have shown reasons for the mistrust.
, psychotherapist Garth Mintun states that breakdown of trust in a relationship often leads to one partner ‘collecting evidence’, i.e. monitoring cell phones or checking emails. He states: “Often the partner confronts the other with the allegations of betrayal and both partners feel like the victim. The partner who ‘collects the evidence’ feels betrayed because of the traces they had found of their partner’s intimate communication with another individual and the other person feels violated because of the ‘spying’.”
Sometimes, the issue is not about trust or privacy. Hotel manager James Lloyd is simply possessive of his belongings. “Just like guys don’t like letting others drive their car, I don’t like my partner or, for that matter, anyone fiddling with my cell phone. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m hiding something,” he says. However, his girlfriend, model Deeya Ramani counters this with, “If his phone is such an important part of his life, then so should I be.”
Are we going to let each other into every aspect of our personal lives or are there certain parts that we would like to keep sacred? This is a call people need to take before getting into a serious relationship.
An individual’s personality by itself might be a cause for concern. Psychologist Dr Anjali Chhabria attributes mistrust and suspicion to a person’s own insecurities. She says: “Some people are extremely suspicious by nature and will constantly intrude on their partner’s private communication leading to misunderstandings. Such people suffer from paranoia which must be treated with therapy and counselling.”
Financial analyst Rakshit Pandya was one such serial snooper. He used to browse through his girlfriend’s messages at any given chance, hack into her email and chat from her account, pretending to be her so he could extract information from her friends. Fed up of this constant intrusion of her privacy, she dumped him. “I became even more suspicious of my next few girlfriends,” he admits. His lack of trust actually pushed them to cheat on him. He finally consulted a psychologist to resolve his paranoia.
Confronting the person about your suspicions rather than spying on him / her is the best way to deal with issues of trust, says Dr Chhabria. While snooping might sound easier and relatively less painful than an awkward confrontation, the repercussions of snooping are far worse. Post-snoop guilt and covering your tracks is one hassle. Two, you might find something that is not entirely harmless but not nearly enough to raise a hue and cry about. Then what? Confronting your partner would mean confessing your crime. By not confronting him / her, it continues to nag you for a long time. And three, an entirely harmless discovery, like an old flame’s mail that was sent long before your relationship, might hurt you nonetheless.
So the next time your partner’s phone beeps with a message at two am, think hard before you decide to read it. After all, you can spy another day.