Snooping: Is it wrong?
Or, is it the right thing to do in marriage?
by Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D.
How would you feel if your spouse were to check your email to see who you've been contacting, and what you've been saying? Or, to check your internet history to determine the internet sites you've been visiting? Or, to look over your texting history and cell phone records?
If you'd be okay with that, let's step it up a notch. How would you feel if your spouse were to install, without your knowledge, a GPS unit on your car to see where you've been? Or, a phone recorder on your cell phone or landline to hear what you're saying? Or, a keylogger program on your computer to know exactly what you're doing on your computer? Or, hire a private investigator to secretly follow you around and make video recordings of your activities?
If you're like most spouses, you would view my first set of investigative methods to be essentially benign, and revealing a possible paranoid streak in your sweetie. But you'd probably consider the second set to be a flagrant violation of your privacy. Does that pretty much sum up how you'd feel?
And yet, I recommend all of the above. So, how can I justify this advice when it goes against the grain of most spouses?
I begin with the proposition that a great marriage is a transparent marriage. The more you know about each other, the easier it is to meet each other's emotional needs, avoid Love Busters, and make decisions with each other's interests in mind.
A related proposition is that none of us is perfect. We all have predispositions that if left unchecked can cause us to hurt others, especially our spouse. But if our behavior is known to our spouse and others, we are much less likely to yield to those destructive predispositions. The public holds us accountable for our behavior, making us much more caring.
In marriage, this destructive predisposition is manifest in a variety of habits that I call Love Busters. But among those destructive habits, there are few as damaging as our tendency to be unfaithful. Yet, I estimate that over 60% of all marriages experience infidelity, one of the most painful experiences a betrayed spouse can have in life.
So snooping is reasonable, especially when there has been evidence of a budding romantic relationship outside of marriage. If Joyce were to check up on me without my knowing about it, it would probably be based on certain facts that would have aroused her curiosity. But knowing now what I know about the devastating effects of unfaithfulness, I'd encourage, not discourage, her -- unless I was really up to something I didn't want her to know about.
What are some of the red flags that would lead a spouse to snoop? The biggest and brightest of them all is for you to claim a right to privacy. If you were to refuse to give your spouse your passwords to your computer, social networks, or cell phone records, or to what you do with your time away from each other, that would trigger almost anyone's curiosity. What's my spouse trying to hide?
There are other red flags. One of them is having a close friend of the opposite sex because that's how most affairs develop. An opposite-sex friend at work, someone you are with recreationally, or someone you simply enjoy talking to about almost anything is the person to whom you are most likely to become emotionally attached. Do you have any close friends of the opposite sex outside of your marriage?
Another red flag is being separated overnight -- or for days, weeks, or months. The longer you are separated from each other, the more likely one of you will have an affair. Jobs that require spouses to be separated are much more highly associated with infidelity than jobs that allow spouses to sleep together overnight.
Other red flags include unexplained absences, where it's difficult to know where a spouse was for a period of time, excessive consumption of alcohol, and a marriage that has lost its spark. These are but a few of the conditions that inspire snooping.
So if your spouse has been snooping on you, and you haven't been having an affair, don't discourage the snooping. Instead, address the red flags. What have you been doing that makes your spouse worry about an affair?
Give your spouse all of your passwords, provide your spouse with your schedule, be available by cell phone throughout the day, and be willing to give a full account of everything you do and everywhere you go. Don't tolerate secrecy in your marriage.
Don't have close friends of the opposite sex. Your spouse should be your best and closest friend. And be sure that your spouse enthusiastically approves of the friends you do have.
Don't be separated overnight. But if it's impossible to avoid, create precautions that would make having an affair while you're apart essentially impossible.
Avoid drinking to excess and going to parties by yourself. And when you go to a party together, stick together throughout the evening.
But if your marriage has lost its spark, if you are no longer meeting each other's most important emotional needs of affection, intimate conversation, sexual fulfillment, and recreational companion -- if you're no longer in love -- start doing something about it today. The greatest risk for an affair is when a marriage is no longer romantic. That's when someone else can step in to fill that void. When that happens, that person can seem to be impossible to resist, regardless of how much damage an affair is to the betrayed spouse, children, and even to the unfaithful spouse. If you and your spouse are not in love with each other, restore that love so that neither of you must choose between a loveless marriage and infidelity.
Snooping usually reflects a spouse's loss of trust. And that loss of trust is usually caused by red flags that should be addressed in a marriage. Even if no affair is actually taking place, the snooping itself should not only be encouraged to help provide evidence that mistrust is unwarranted, but it should also trigger a serious effort by the suspected spouse to remove the red flag.
Consider signing the following agreement: "(husband) and (wife) agree that there is no right to privacy in our marriage and hereby preemptively waive any claim to the same by either one of us until death do us part." Each of you should sign two copies of the agreement, one for each spouse, and keep them in a safe place. If you agree today that there should be no privacy in your marriage -- that each of you has the right to snoop on each other -- you'll spare yourselves considerable grief and sorrow tomorrow.
Don't criticize the snooper. Instead, eliminate the conditions that made the snooping seem reasonable to your spouse.
Note: For information on how to snoop, check out the Marriage Builders Forum topic, "Operation Investigate".
While it's legal to snoop on your spouse in most states, check the laws in your state to be sure that what you plan to do is legal.