Before I got a smartphone of my own, I used to play games on my boyfriend's iPhone. It wasn't password protected so I would simply pick it up (if he wasn't using it) and continue where I left off in my epic Angry Birds marathon. This meant that I saw the texts as they came in, could have potentially read his emails and checked out who he'd been in touch with last. I didn't -- but I could have. This got me thinking about privacy in relationships and how much should be shared.
To learn more, I turned to licensed marriage and family therapist, Sharon Rivkin (M.A., M.F.T.), and author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy. She shares her advice on the pros and cons of privacy.
Rivkin explains that sharing passwords to access information, such as emails, is similar to having the key to open and read your partner's journal or diary. By doing this you are only getting a partial glimpse of the whole picture. For instance, your partner may write a journal entry that involves some negative comments about you. This can be hurtful and lead you to think the relationship is in serious trouble, when in reality, the entry was only written to let off steam and express emotions related to a particular incident -- not a representation of the entire relationship.
The same goes for emails. It's so easy to misinterpret someone's words if you have no context and jump to immediate conclusions about what they're writing. This can cause unnecessary misunderstandings and fights. People often decide to read emails and other private messages because they are suspicious, but Rivkin advises against this: "If you are unhappy or suspect that your partner is cheating, it is better to talk to them first and try to have an honest communication than to look at their emails or Facebook account."
Even as one half of a couple, you are still an individual entitled to the right to privacy, Rivkin explains. You really shouldn't have to answer to your partner about every email and Facebook posting you make. You don't need to know your partner's every move. "To me, that's a clear sign of a dysfunctional relationship, or you're too enmeshed with your partner, or you're in a controlling relationship," she says.
If one partner insists that they need to have your passwords, Rivkin believes this is a red flag of control issues. "We shouldn't feel we have to give our partner our passwords. It's not because you have something to hide, it's because privacy is important to all of us," she explains. In a healthy relationship there is a good balance between privacy and sharing. "Each couple has to determine their bottom line for each of these issues, and it is the job of each couple to negotiate a balance that works for each of them."
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