Is it ever OK to snoop on your partner?

Posted at 5:36 AM, May 26, 2015

By Kelly Wallace, CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. 

Here’s a scenario to consider: Your partner leaves his cell phone on the dining room table. His texts and emails can be easily accessed with just the touch of a fingertip. Would you look? Have you ever looked?

If you said yes, you are definitely not alone.

In a 2013 study conducted in the United Kingdom and reported in The Telegraph, 34% of women admitted they had looked through the cell phone of a partner or ex-partner without their knowledge.

But before women start feeling guilty about those stats, take a look at the findings for men.

Nearly twice as many men, 62%, admitted doing the very same thing, according to the study of 2,081 adults in the UK who were in a relationship at the time.

The study also found that the stakes of this unapproved snooping could be huge. Nearly a third, 31% of people surveyed, said they would consider terminating the relationship if they learned their partner had been looking over their texts, emails and social media messages on their cell phone without their consent.

Snooping is ‘last straw’ for some

Micky, a mom of two, said that snooping was the “last straw” in a long line of events that led to the end of her first marriage.

Her first husband, she said, never trusted her. “Ultimately, the marriage ended after a big blowup when he confronted me about some remarks to a friend in a private email, revealing that he’d been snooping on me,” Micky said. (We are not using her last name or the last names of other women and men in the story because of the sensitive nature of the topic.)

Much to her disappointment, Micky said, early on in her relationship with her second husband — her then-boyfriend — she read some of his Skype text conversations.

“It was a huge mistake,” she said, adding that she eventually confronted her partner about what she read. “He explained the conversation but was really disappointed in my snooping since it revealed a mistrust on my part. I was so embarrassed and ashamed I had done that.”

Laurie, also a mom of two, said she approached the issue a whole lot differently 10 years ago than she would today.

Back then, she said, she snooped “numerous times,” checking her partners’ emails and even getting into their accounts on various dating websites because she thought they were cheating on her.

Today, she said, she wouldn’t do it.

“Snooping says not only are you insecure, but you also do not have a trusting relationship,” Laurie said. “This is not the type of relationship I would choose to be a part of.”

If partners in a relationship have to snoop on one another, then there is a problem in the relationship, said Janeane, a mother of four who said she has never snooped on her husband.

“A relationship without trust is worthless,” she said. “If you want to know something, ask.”

David, a married father of two, said that if a girlfriend snooped on him during his dating years, that relationship would probably end very quickly.

“Confidence is my aphrodisiac,” he said. “I don’t like drama in my life, and an insecure girlfriend wouldn’t make the cut.”

Are there cases where it’s OK to snoop?

Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist and author of “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making You Crazy,” says communication is key.

“My advice (to patients) is always that you need to talk more with your partner and not less,” she said. Plus, she says, people probably won’t get to the bottom of anything by snooping, because partners could always have other email accounts or could have deleted texts and emails.

“You’re not necessarily going to find what you’re looking for, but you’re certainly opening a can of worms in terms of trust and intimacy issues.”

But are there ever times where it’s OK or necessary?

“If your gut is telling you that something is wrong and you’ve had that moment where you talk about it, and then you still are not satisfied with the answer,” it might be OK to investigate some more, said Leslie Yazel, executive editor of Cosmopolitan.

She pointed to cases, reported in her magazine, in which young women found out that a boyfriend was a drug abuser or a sex addict by looking at their phone or finding a second phone in the house.

“And these girls were able to get out of really bad situations,” Yazel said, conceding that these examples were on the extreme side.

Diane, who is married with no kids, said that if and only if she had reason to believe her husband were engaged in “illegal or immoral conduct” would she feel an obligation to investigate.

But beyond that, she said, snooping shows a lack of trust, personal insecurity and a “complete disregard for the person’s right to privacy.”

She also brought up the unintended consequences.

A friend of hers looked at her husband’s emails and found he had been having an online flirtation with a former girlfriend, someone he had known years before he met his wife, she said.

“There was nothing going on. It was a midlife crisis, and it was over before she found out, but it nearly destroyed a 28-year marriage.”

To some, checking emails/texts isn’t ‘snooping’

Kitty, who is not married, says that in relationships, she and her partner have an understanding that they are always free to read each other’s emails and texts.

“What I do in relationships, I don’t necessarily refer to as ‘snooping,’ as that would imply that I am sneaking to do it,” she said. “If we are operating separately, that means we are not in a monogamous relationship.

“Have I read my partners’ emails and texts? Yes, and they were fully aware I did so. But on the other hand, they were free to read mine,” she said.

A mom of two, who didn’t want to even use her first name, admitted snooping very early on in her relationship with her now-husband.

“I did it in the beginning of my relationship because I did not trust him (or any men for that matter),” she said.

Ultimately, she found out he was not only trustworthy but also a “little boring,” she said. “No porn, no gambling. He was all about work.”

While she said she is not proud of what she did and would never admit it to her husband, she doesn’t regret it.

“Not sure how long it would have taken me to trust him so completely if I didn’t snoop.”