118

My girlfriend and I are 27-28 years of age. Recently I have caught her going through my phone when I am out of the room and read my text messages, e-mails, Facebook..., checking who I was interacting with and so on. She must have seen me entering my PIN. I told her I did not appreciate this and would like her to respect my privacy. I caught her twice doing this.

Whenever I confront her she gives me the

"Why does it bother you if you have nothing to hide?"

argument. As someone who works in information security and encryption, this argument sounds nonsensical to me. And I could actually have something to hide! Nothing bad of course, but let's say I just bought tickets to something I wanted to surprise her with.. Or if I have a confidential talk with a friend, my girlfriend would instantly know about their 'secrets'. Apart from this, I hate the feeling of being monitored and supervised.

In any case, I believed I was in the right condemning this behavior until recently when a friend of mine told me his girlfriend did this all the time and he did not make much of it. Of course, this is just an anecdote, and a sample size of 1 means nothing, but I started doubting.

Am I in the right or in the wrong? Did I overreact? Does a partner have the 'right' to do this?

closed as primarily opinion-based by 1006a, Vylix, JAD, Tinkeringbell, Magisch Nov 16 '17 at 9:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 47
    Also, if it came to it. Would she let you go through her phone? – Bradley Wilson Aug 18 '17 at 8:20
  • 14
    @BradleyWilson: location (Belgium) is added. And to answer your question. Yes, she would. When I confronted her she gave me her phone telling me I could go through it. But abiding by my principles (or being stubborn) I told her I would not, since I respect her privacy. – Tom Aug 18 '17 at 8:53
  • Comments deleted. Comments are for clarification about the question; answers should be posted as answers, not comments. – HDE 226868 Aug 20 '17 at 20:31

15 Answers 15

163

You are right to be bothered by this. Not specifically because she goes through your phone, but because you explicitly told her you do not want her to go through your phone, and she did it anyway. The real problem is your partner broke your trust, not the means by which she did so.

The most important parts of relationships are communication and trust.

By ignoring your boundaries and not talking about it, your partner is failing both of those. Some people might be okay with their partners going through their phone, some might not. It doesn't matter. What matters, is that if you say "No", you are able to trust that your partner either listens to you, or talks to you about it openly.

Not that they break your trust and ignore your boundaries and just do what they want. You need to have a conversation with her about personal boundaries, communication and trust. Not about phones.

(The expectation of privacy in a relationship is a common one and most people probably would expect their partners not to go through their phone without asking. So you can complain even when you didn't ever specifically tell your partner to stay out of your phone, but the offense becomes much worse after the boundary has been clearly established.)

  • 22
    I think there is some wiggle room on the initial incident, just because different people have different ideas about what is and isn't appropriate. But once it became an issue of willful violation of a specific request, that is a horse of a different color. – stannius Aug 20 '17 at 15:25
47

You're very much right.

Her going through your phone, to me shows a lack of trust. Which is the foundation of any romantic relationship. I would simply use your information security and encryption magic and encrypt the device, or simply put a passcode onto your phone and change it regularly.

Instead, you could sit down and communicate any information she is looking for (or looking to find) to prove you have nothing to hide (if you have to get your phone out and show proof of any of these things, so be it. But you have control over the device and what she sees).

If you need to know anything, you know you're more than welcome to come and ask me?

If she's throwing out the if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear argument. She would most likely react negatively to this exchange.

You could simply state:

Working in security for technology, I don't feel comfortable with anyone going into my phone and I would very much like my privacy respected, as I would offer you the same courtesy.

and then re-emphasise that any information she needs, you're more than willing to be open about it without her going through your device.


By this point, if she still persists. Then she really doesn't trust you. Beyond that would be out the scope of the question and down to your own reaction to the situation. But no, you didn't overreact and no-one has the 'right' to invade your privacy.


Note: There's an article you could show her from the Telegraph (never really liked citing them, but here we are). Is it ever OK to look at your partner's phone?

  • 1
    Good one! OP didn't say it clearly, but because of the way the question is written, one can think he didn't attempt to go through her phone or any other violation of privacy. Therefore, feeling hurt seems legitimate. – OldPadawan Aug 18 '17 at 8:55
  • 4
    'Her going through your phone, to me shows a lack of trust. Which is the foundation of any romantic relationship.' - any relationship. – marcellothearcane Aug 19 '17 at 15:28
  • 1
    or get a phone which unlocks on fingerprint. but as the others say, it goes way deeper than the phone access. You should be able to talk about what is bothering one of you and come to agreement how to solve it. – Matija Nalis Aug 19 '17 at 22:19
  • 5
    The answer to "why does it bother you?" is simply "Because you've shown you don't trust me, and doing it repeatedly sets a pattern that you won't ever trust me in future, and if you won't ever trust me then our relationship has no future." – Graham Aug 21 '17 at 12:18
  • In a relationship, a response along the lines of "I'm a security professional and it's my job to be bothered by this" doesn't really mean much. A more powerful response is in your first sentence: "Going through my messages shows a lack of trust, and if you don't trust me then our relationship has bigger problems than anything you're going to find in my Facebook messages" – timbstoke Jul 24 '18 at 14:00
22

I think there are three aspects to this:

  • Privacy - there is an expectation in many cultures that your diary, phone, journal etc. are private, so anyone accessing them without your explicit permission is breaching an unspoken rule. (and I'm with you on this - I have been in the Infosec industry for nearly 18 years, and have a strong focus on privacy and access controls)
  • On the other hand, in a close relationship there could be an expectation of no secrets. I share almost everything with my wife, for example. But not everything - if I want to organise a surprise holiday or present for her, I want it to remain a surprise.
  • Trust - if the relationship is strong enough you may feel that you should just be trusted. If she is looking through your phone, could this imply that the trust relationship isn't fully there.

So the implications of these principles are in conflict. My suggestion is that you have a discussion about how her taking your phone to look through it makes you feel, and how an alternative is for her to ask you to show her your phone messages (with the understanding that there may be spoilers of any surprises you are planning for her etc...) but that overall you need to look at how to improve trust until she doesn't feel she needs to look at your messages. Actually showing her a few times may be enough, but this may be a symptom of needing to do more in your relationship to engender trust.

  • 3
    I think you really pointed at the core of the issue her. The issue that OP should be bothered by is not 'Is this a violation of my privacy' but rather 'why does she (seemingly) not trust me'. Trust is the base of a relationship, and if that is missing, I suspect that needs to be fixed first. It could be because of a bad experience she had in another relationship or whatever, but it should be fixed. – Dylan Meeus Aug 18 '17 at 14:22
  • 'On the other hand, in a close relationship there could be an expectation of no secrets. I share almost everything with my wife, for example.' - out of interest, does she go through your phone? probably not, because she knows she doesn't have to... – marcellothearcane Aug 19 '17 at 15:30
  • Your comment that close relationships may have an expectation of no secrets is, it seems to me, the best argument in favor of the OP's reaction. Clearly, they do not have a relationship close enough to presume that kind of access - and really, I think that kind of close relationship, that trust, has to be explicitly chosen and not demanded. If OP had given her the pin, that would be a choice to trust - instead of her spying it out; if they had agreed to an expectation of no secrets between them, that's one thing, snooping after she had been told he did not agree to it is another. – Megha Aug 21 '17 at 1:30
  • 1
    I believe my marriage has no "secrets". That said, I have never wanted to go through my spouse's belongings, wallet, laptop case, phone, etc and I wouldn't. Likewise I'd feel stunned if he went through mine. I would hate for him to read my messages. For instance, I have some that do complain about his mother. I do not complain to him as it's just irritations and talk with close friends that I am trying to sort how to handle. It's not a secret I am irritated by things with his mom at times, but I don't burden him with my petty annoyances, it's his mother. – threetimes Aug 25 '17 at 21:14
11

Adding to the other answers with a point which in my opinion is very important and still missing:

By going through your private messages your SO does not only violates your privacy (which has already been covered) but also the other person's privacy. Just because you may share anything with her does not mean everyone you message with does so as well. If a good friend of yours opens up to you with a secret he does not want anyone else to know, I'm pretty sure he does not expect this including your SO. And something once read is not easy to forget, even if she realises that a specific information is something she should not know without you having breached her trust.

So in my opinion, you are absolutely right in denying her access and this might or might not be an additional argument in your favor.

  • 2
    The OP actually mentioned this in the question. – Octopus Aug 18 '17 at 18:01
  • 3
    @Octopus But it was not mentioned in any of the previous answers -- and many users go straight to the answers w/o reading the whole question, because the first couple paragraphs are enough to know that the question applies to them. – walen Aug 21 '17 at 6:51
  • 1
    Acknowledging in your answer that it is already mentioned in the question would be fair IMO. – YoungFrog Aug 22 '17 at 9:40
7

To add on other excellent answers, ask her

Why do you have to go through my phone? What are you looking for? What do you think you will find here?

This counters her argument; why should she start searching your phone if she doesn't have any suspicion to begin with? Why should she making a problem out of nothing?

If she already have a thought of you cheating, anything can be used as "evidence", even a casual chat with a stranger. This ridiculous behavior should not be tolerated as it already show her lack of trust, and should be remedied immediately if you both are to continue the relationship.

  • 3
    I wouldn't use the word cheating as that may prompt her to think that you thought on that precisely because he is cheating. I think something like What do you think you will find here? What do you use your phone for that I haven't thought in? would be preferable as you are putting the onus on her explaining what she had expected to find. – Ángel Aug 21 '17 at 22:52
  • 1
    By the way, I think pretty much the first thought of people on this thread was that she suspected he was cheating, but for all we know, she could be checking what was the last pokemon he caught in Pokemon Go. – Ángel Aug 21 '17 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Ángel She could be searching the last "pokemon" he caught alright hm... – Human Being Aug 23 '17 at 8:42
  • 2
    Exactly. Next time she rolls out the "Why does it bother you if you have nothing to hide?" line, my approach would be to sit down next to her, look at her VERY seriously, and say something along the lines of "OK, so your real concern is that you don't trust me and you believe I'm hiding something. So let's deal with that. What, exactly, is it that you're concerned about?" Turn the scenario back around to try and establish why she doesn't feel she can trust you. – timbstoke Aug 23 '17 at 15:59
5

Your feeling is correct, there is just that creepy belief in some places that, somehow, trusting your partner to no privacy is okay if you are a woman. It's definitely not okay.

Since it seems to bother you to have no privacy, something has to change.

In fact, it's not even about you, if she doesn't trust you, she has no reason to be with you in the first place. I won't tell you how to handle it, that would be pointless, just keep in mind that you are equals, he doesn't have rights over you that you don't have over her.

If she asks for snooping through your phone again, ask her to give you her phone so that you can do the same. She will be likely to show you her true self.

  • 3
    When I confronted her she gave me her phone herself telling me I could go through it. But abiding by my principles (or being stubborn) I told her I would not, since I respect her privacy. – Tom Aug 18 '17 at 8:54
  • 2
    @Tom You were right, but even if you don't want to let her spy your phone, at least you know that she doesn't feel entitled to a priviledge on you that you don't also have on her. She has insecurity issues but isn't an hypocrite. – ksjohn Aug 18 '17 at 8:57
  • 2
    When this happened to me I answered that I didn't need to do that, since I had faith in the other person and I wished I had the same trust back. In this way you turn the table speaking of something you don't have. – Noldor130884 Aug 18 '17 at 11:07
5

The "nothing to hide" argument is flawed. Are you going to show her your bank statements next? Privacy is privacy, she shouldn't be snooping; there are other women you could be with. Relationships are built on trust, snooping through your phone isn't trust.

  • Boundaries and walls exist for a reason, but not allowing someone to snoop through your phone is far from either of those. Why can't he look through her phone? – LampShade Aug 19 '17 at 21:40
3

Privacy/Trust/Respect, these are all the key words here. But, some people are insecure and do not think in the same lines. You solution here needs to be mutual for your relationship to work. I also would not tend to change PIN because that is a unilateral solution and one likely to lead to a dead end. Your partner feels they are entitled to look, you feel they are not, and the two of you need to agree or you are living in different belief planes, which is a bad place for a relationship.

I solution requires cooperation. Here is a possible suggestion, a starting point for you to think about and if you like massage into something that works for you. Offer, that they can look at you phone. Now, or in the future, but only if they ask. If they ask, you hand them the phone and let them look. But, they do so with the understanding that in your mind, they are asking because they think their is something to look for and therefore you know they do not trust you or they would not feel the need to look. So they understand that by asking, you will hand them to phone to look, but when they find nothing now you will be the one who needs answers as to why they felt the need to look. And if they do look without asking again, they will have broken their word not to do so, making another situation that must be dealt with.

Not ideal, and it will likely take some back and forth. All relationship issued do. It is just an idea of a way to approach it though that allows your partner to also give their input, if they want and are able, as to why they find it important to look, and you to give your feelings of why you don't want it, but that you are willing to compromise. They need to know that the compromise though is not without possible fallout.

2

First of all, I would think if these are healthy relationship and if a healthy relationship could be developed with this person. You could probably talk her out of going through your phone, but it is highly possible that she would still find a way to watch you. Anyway, you should talk to her about trust and privacy in relationships.

If you are OK with the fact she's insecure about you and only issue is your phone, you could try to explain that your phone doesn't only contain your information (which is no secret, and you are totally OK to share), but might also contain work emails, which you are not supposed to show to outsiders, or your friends' secrets, which they shared to you, but wouldn't want anyone else to know.

As for going through her phone, I think it's OK as an argument, or maybe even OK to pretend you're doing that, but I wouldn't really read her texts, IMs or whatever.

And of course, change your pin, or use a fingerprint.

1

Neither!

All the other posts raise good points, but I find them to focused on the "right/wrong" or a "single solutions", so I'll try a different approach:

Am I in the right or in the wrong? Did I overreact? Does a partner have the 'right' to do this?

Neither! It's not that simple and it's not possible to give an absolute answer to those questions. But if I interpret your request correctly the absolute answer is clearly what you want. Unfortunately, the answer depends on what you personally want in a relationship and what the both of you agree on. So your questions themselves are, in a way, "wrong".

Assuming you want to ask for a solution to this problem after I didn't give you a straight answer, I would suggest the following: You found a point where you two clearly disagree on the right to read through the phone messages of the other person without explicit permission. There might be exceptions for you but clearly, this is not s.th. you consider an exception. Even my answer doesn't satisfy your original question, there are still options:

a) you continue this way and argue if you catch her (e.g. tell her that you don't like it and what the consequences will be if you catch her doing it again)

b) you respect her need to look through your phone and let her do it (e.g. don't use your phone to store secrets)

c) she respects your need to have your privacy (e.g. ask her why she must look through your phone and try to accommodate her differently)

d) you differentiate a little be more a find a compromise (e.g. you agree on letting her read your phone messages only when you are present)

e) you end the relationship

Surely there are more options I haven't thought of. So as I stated earlier, it's all relative. You decide what you're relations ship should be, not the other way around.

Even with this out of the way you will run into the same problem the next time you have different implicit expectations. So get to know one another. See where you are on the same page concerning your "rights" and "responsibilities" in a relationship in regards to when you are not in a relationship. And don't look for an "absolute answer". Even if you find it, if your girlfriend doesn't agree, what doesn't matter?

Good luck!

1

So you have nothing to hide, right? When you write:

And I could actually have something to hide! Nothing bad of course, but...

I am not convinced. As for your explanation of what might be disclosed, so what? If she spoils her surprise, it's her loss. If she reads another person's secrets, hopefully, she has the sense to keep it between the two of you.

If not, deal with that issue (or some other issue) when it happens. By "insisting" on a blanket rule, you are forcing a one-sided rule into your relationship, where she doesn't even get the chance to be trustworthy.

Also, using "condemning" is a strong word to use to describe some communication with a girlfriend. Generally, you condemn your enemies.

  • English is not my native language, so it's very much possible that I am not using the correct (or too strong) words for what I try to confer. – Tom Aug 20 '17 at 12:04
  • I disagree on the "one-sided rule"-bit, since I too respect her privacy. I would never read her messages, open her letters, take her calls. This 'trust' in my opinion is very much a two-way street – Tom Aug 20 '17 at 12:06
  • 5
    To elaborate on "things I might want to hide"-part. To be clear, I am not talking about cheating or other any dubious activity. What I am talking about are private conversations. If people talk to me in confidence, they do not expect my girlfriend to know it. Their privacy should not depend on 'hope that a she keeps things secret'. Or maybe I am having a discussion about my relationship. She could find this very thread for example. Even though I already talked with her, reading something like this could ignite another discussion. Another example could be confidential/secret work data.. – Tom Aug 20 '17 at 12:18
  • 5
    If she reads another person's secrets, hopefully, she has the sense to keep it between the two of you: regardless of whether she has the sense to keep it between the two of them, it isn't fair for the other person that she knows their secret. OP made a choice to trust his girlfriend, the other person did not. – Fodder Aug 20 '17 at 21:51
  • 1
    @user3169 I could see your point. But if she herself does not see the problem, why would she do it in secret and not in front of me? I'm sure even the first time she realized she was doing something wrong – Tom Aug 21 '17 at 6:16
1

As someone who works in information security and encryption

I hope this was not your work phone. While I'm sure you're smart enough not to send root passwords via SMS yourself, not everyone uses best practices, so you might occasionally receive text messages which contain sensitive information.

Customers will sometimes make you sign some sort of NDAs and some people liberally interpret "confidential proprietary information" as "we gonna sue you if anything we say including comments on the weather gets out". So, if your girlfriend perused through your work phone, any NDAs you signed with your blood become a liability. Not only to you, but to her also. I don't know the exact law term, but since she looked at the PIN over your shoulder, she was not authorized (good for you, you don't get sued except for negligence).

So, if this was your work phone, your colleagues really don't need to know your girlfriend just had a bit of "unauthorized access to confidential proprietary information"...

Now, I'll assume it was your personal phone with photos of puppies and the like. Let's review the facts.

You caught her twice going through your phone. You don't know how many times she did it unnoticed. Maybe she does it every day, maybe never, who knows.

Now, she made the choice to look into your phone, so what kind of tradeoff does that decision imply?

She gains: potentially information (but there isn't any), soothing her anxiety (can be important), and also she tests your response to her invasion of your privacy.

She loses: your trust, also you get annoyed, and this screws up the relationship.

She knew you would be hurt when you found out (because you told her) yet she did it anyway. This means she assigns more value to whatever benefits she gets by looking into your phone than she assigns to your feelings, or the status of the relationship. If this was not true, she would simply have thought "If I look through his phone, he's gonna feel hurt, and I want him to be happy, so I'm not gonna do that."

You, on the other hand, assign more value to your privacy than to her being reassured by not finding anything in your phone.

So, I proposed two hypotheses, the first in which she has no actual jealousy and is just acting like a jerk, and the second hypothesis in which she sincerely worries. You can invent many others, until you find the right one...

But she did not say she was sorry for looking into your phone, instead she seems to behave like she thinks she has the right to do it and disregard your feelings, which is a major tell.

In any case, I believed I was in the right condemning this behavior until recently, when a friend of mine told me his girlfriend did this all the time and he did not make much of it.

  • 5
    I like your bluntness :-) but this will backfire badly – Tom Aug 19 '17 at 5:39
  • 9
    This is good advice for everyone who wants to be in relationships defined by lack of trust, antagonism, the desire to outcompete and belittle the other, etcetera. Some people appear to be wired that way but I'd make sure it's by mutual consent. – reinierpost Aug 20 '17 at 12:08
  • 1
    Just that bit "... are things women do to test you" generalization deserve a downvote. For the rest I'll agree with @reinierpost comment. – Jeffrey Aug 21 '17 at 14:04
  • 1
    @reinerpost - The relationship is toast, hard boundaries have been smashed, it is too late. But red lines are crossed because they have not been clearly set. The advice I give is preventive, for his next relationship. It is very important to make it very clear where the red lines are. Weaseling out is not an option. – peufeu Aug 21 '17 at 19:50
0

Relationships might be built on trust, but building walls and boundaries is not the way to build that trust.

Most likely your girlfriend got cheated on in her past. Have a conversation with her and figure out what the deal is. If she is carrying around some baggage and trust doesn't come easily to her, then do what you can to support and help her, including not being bothered when she snoops on your phone. She might just need that extra boost.

  • 6
    This is terrible advice. – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 20 '17 at 11:48
0

Am I in the right or in the wrong? Did I overreact? Does a partner have the 'right' to do this?

A lot of this depends on how mature your relationship is and your mutual values.

It sounds to me like she is feeling insecure. That may or may not be because you've given her reason to doubt you, but while your boundaries are important, how you approach this should be based on her rationale. It could be emotional baggage from prior relationships, or maybe she had dysfunctional role models. On the other hand, maybe you have given her reason to question your faithfulness, even without knowing it.

Assuming this woman is important to you and you want the relationship to last, if her insecurities have nothing to do with you, you may need to allow her unprecedented access, until she realizes how stable and faithful you really are. A lot of people have never experienced that and it can be hard to believe. The flip side, which you may or may not come to realize, is that having one person in your life to whom you provide complete access can be very special, too.

So, it's not exactly a matter of whether she has the right to "monitor" you. It's about whether you're ready to be in a relationship where you have absolutely no secrets. I trust my woman to respect the confidentiality of my friends, so her seeing a private conversation with a friend about the problems he's going through will never be a problem, and I don't have those kinds of conversations with other women – or if I do, my baby knows the whole story.

I'm not going to get into the scenario about how you keep her out of your business if you do have secrets you don't want her to see on your phone. I'll just give you the benefit of the doubt that that's not the case.

-1

You've used the word partner but it sounds more like a friend you have an exclusive (I assume) intimate relationship with. A partner is a step on the road to life partner.

Shifting the emphasis to "life partner". I imagine you would be comfortable to give free access to all of you to your life partner, which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Is your BEST friend
  • career planning
  • holiday planning
  • retirement planning
  • children planning
  • home planning
  • health management
  • Last will and testaments
  • Winning lotto
  • Shared bank accounts
  • Joint mortgage
  • Common and individual interests

If you can see, and are excited about, a future with this person as your life partner then I recommend sharing phone communications while you collaboratively focus on your future mutual benefits.

Otherwise, continue to leave the barrier in place.

  • 7
    This shows an extremely black and white-view of the word relationship. You say that either you are friends or either you are one being that actually formed by the fusion of two individual people into one blob that now has no idividuality anymore. Maybe this is cultural, but that is how I interpret this answer. Many people have very different takes on relationships. I mean, how on earth would you explain Long-distance-relationships? Those people are also just friends? – Tom Aug 20 '17 at 12:31
  • Thanks Tom. Please note that my strong is view on "Partnership" where "A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests." – Tai Paul Aug 20 '17 at 21:19
  • @TaiPaul You agree to co-operate and advance mutual interests without losing your individuality. I agree that the things you listed above are important in a life partner, but you can be on the same page about all those things without having to give up your privacy. – Fodder Aug 20 '17 at 22:04
  • Yes. I agree. I'll modify my answer a bit. – Tai Paul Aug 20 '17 at 22:11
  • I have a "life partner" as you label it, but I don't think it's mutually beneficial at all for us to have no more privacy and we don't go through each other's phones or email or whatever. – Erik Aug 21 '17 at 15:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.