The other day my boyfriend used my phone to send a work email because his phone was dead and charging in another room. He has my passcode, I have his, and neither of us flinch when we reach for the other’s phone. I assumed this shared openness was healthy — until I took to Twitter.
The social poll collected over 350 votes, and nearly 70 percent of people said your S.O. should absolutely not have access to your phone. This passionate bunch was outright angry that I would suggest otherwise. “Who in the world said yes to [giving your partner access]?” one Twitter user responded. “If you need access to his/her phone to keep your S.O. honest, why is that person your S.O.?” asked another.
Still, these opinions don’t erase the fact that 38 percent of men and 24 percent of women ages 18-35 admit snooping through their partner’s phone without permission. Given the dichotomy between statistical evidence and the passionate response to my poll, an investigation was in order. These are the results.
The Argument For
More guarded than those against, people who believe their partner should have access to their phones messaged me in private to avoid attacks from the verbal naysayers.
Adam, 25, thinks you should have access to your partner’s phone for convenience. “If I am laying in bed or on the couch and his phone is nearest, why can’t I use his phone?” he asks. “What’s the point of keeping any big secrets? There should be a level of trust in a relationship.”
Every person, including those in a relationship, is entitled to privacy, but Adam believes that when he gives access to his phone, his partner won’t abuse this privilege by snooping. Lilith, 26, agrees. “If you’re in a committed relationship, knowing each other’s passwords isn’t crazy,” she says. “But if you’re snooping or hiding something from your S.O., you’ve got issues.”
Behavioral relationship expert and host of the “Deal With It!” podcast Tracy Crossley maintains that in a healthy relationship, you need to trust yourself and trust the relationship. “My partner has my passcode, and he’s shared his passcode with me. I have zero interest in going through his messages. If you do, then you need to check yourself and your fears.”
Dan, 23, and his girlfriend have access to each other’s phones because they’ve both been cheated on in the past. In this case, access is not given out of trust, but a lack of it. “The rule is we can go through each other’s phones whenever, no questions asked,” he says. “It’s worked great for the past seven months and has made our relationship stronger. I go on a ton of business trips, so it calms my girlfriend’s worries.”
Although that’s understandable, ideally, Dan would have faith in his current partner since she wasn’t the one who broke his trust. “I believe that until there is suspicion, people should have their own lives and right to privacy,” says clinical psychologist Samantha Rodman, Ph.D. “Once there has been a breach, then things may change.”
If you’re trying to repair things after your partner lied or cheated, there can be a period when you check their phone if — and only if — they consent, Rodman says. But it should not turn into a long-term surveillance project, or you risk establishing a parent-child dynamic in your relationship.
The Argument Against
If the argument for sharing access was a whisper, the argument against was a roaring scream. The comments came rolling in. “Emphatic no! Your S.O. should trust you enough not to need to know what’s going on on your phone, computer, bank account, or anything that has a password on it,” Ian, 29, says.
Ryan, 27, adds that the nothing-to-hide argument used to defend sharing access is backward, because it suggests we are all worthy of suspicion until proven otherwise.
“My phone is an extension of my mind. Being my S.O. does not make you privy to its depths,” Mikhail, 28, says. “If I say ‘I love you,’ then I do. If I say you can trust me, then you can. If I catch you on my phone without my permission, there is no question that we are going to have a conversation about breaking up.”
“Unless there’s an actual reason not having to do with your insecurities, then share away if you’re comfortable,” Crossley says. But if it is your insecurities, Crossely recommends you instead examine how the person you’re dating is triggering these feelings. “This does not mean it is up to your mate to fix it, but you need to be clear about owning your baggage,” she adds.
Many, including our experts, believe someone who asks for permission to access their partner’s phone is exhibiting controlling behavior. “Everyone is entitled to privacy, even in a monogamous relationship,” Anthony, 25, says. “If someone’s idea of trust requires verification, they need to rethink the relationship in general.”
If you’re uncomfortable giving access, be direct. Rodman recommends you say something like: “I feel disrespected that you think you need to spy on me. I tell you everything that’s important and I’ve never been unfaithful to you. Why can’t you trust me?”
It’s All About Communication
Whether you decide to share access to your phone is entirely dependent on how you think of trust. On one side, people trust their partners with their phone because there’s nothing to hide, and sometimes it’s just convenient. On the other, it’s believed wanting access to someone’s phone suggests an accusation.
In a way, both parties are correct. In healthy relationships, according to experts, open technology equals open communication. If you and your partner have strong communication skills, access to a phone may just happen as you scan Seamless or request an Uber.
But what about other technology? “My phone is one thing, but if they start asking for my social-media passwords and email, that’s when I throw in the towel,” Carissa, 24, says. “Like, sure, you can take a look if you’re casually glancing over my shoulder, but explicitly requesting my personal information feels…icky.”
Crossely believes that no matter the technology, the same rules apply. Besides, it’s fairly simple to determine if your partner’s request is reasonable or sneaky. For example, if they want you to share your location while travelling abroad solo, that’s a reasonable safety measure. But if they want to track you while they’re at work, that’s a different story.
Ultimately, the compulsion to check on your partner in search of evidence of something deceitful is a reflection of your own insecurities in the relationship. Someone in a healthy relationship doesn’t feel that compulsion no matter how much activity is going on in a 6-inch screen. The phone — and technology, for that matter — is often referenced as a “black mirror” for a reason. If you feel a desire to snoop, consider taking it as a cue to reflect on your relationship.