Apple’s newest iPhone features a fingerprint sensor that can recognize up to five prints. Will your partner’s be one of them? It's a very modern quandary to be sure, but the cellphone has become an undeniable symbol of trust in relationships—or the lack of it.
Many people struggle with how much information they should share—or want to share—with their partner. Letting a boyfriend or girlfriend scroll through your phone or have access to your key passwords has become something of a relationship milestone. It implies trust and may symbolize intimacy and connection as well. Handing over control of your phone to allow your partner to look through your photos, text messages, and call history may show him or her that you have nothing to hide, that there are no secrets between you.
At the same time, though, if partners truly trust one another, is there any reason to want to look through each other’s personal correspondence?
Such smartphone and email privacy issues have given rise to wildly debated “do you or don’t you snoop?” questions on relationship websites. Many partners who haven’t given each free access to each other’s phones or email accounts apparently do snoop: A new study from the UK found that 34 percent of women in relationships, and 62 percent of men, admitted to snooping through a partner’s phone. Among those who snooped, 89 percent admitted that they did it to determine whether a partner was cheating—and in nearly half of those cases, their suspicions were correct.
The takeaway isn’t that joint smartphone access signifies a healthy, monogamous relationship. Nor is it that any partner without something to hide should be willing to hand over his or her phone. There is a place for privacy in loving, trusting relationships, and it’s important to remember that a person’s request for privacy doesn’t mean he’s up to no good. Similarly, putting your significant other on your shortlist of those with access to your info does not necessarily mean you have intimacy or connection. It can be an extension of trust in a relationship, but it doesn’t create trust or connection when it’s not really there.
In the end, the phone is just a symbol of something much larger.
The key is in not sacrificing openness for privacy. If your partner wants the password to your e-mail account, she should be able to have it, and vice versa. At the same time, you might have a conversation about why there’s no need to go poking around. One policy may be to decide to live your lives together offline—and vow never to exchange passwords, or fingerprints, or otherwise access one another’s emails, texts, or photos. In cases where either partner feels they need to have that access, agree to talk about the underlying issue instead. Feelings of jealousy is normal; so is feeling left out of the other person’s life. But reading through messages—authorized or not—won’t make you feel any more connected, just as having access won’t prevent infidelity.
What could? Trust and respect.
Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University, and author of two books about modern families and the children they produce. Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy at www.peggydrexler.com