Privacy vrs Transparency in Marriage: should couples go through each other’s phone?

One of the major causes of arguments in modern-day marriages is the subject of phone accessibility. The fact is that, in the context of marriage, phones are not only objects of communication but also symbols of transparency and privacy.

While some argue that transparency is essential for a healthy partnership, others assert that privacy is fundamental and must be respected regardless of marital status.

In this article, I critically examine the phone transparency-privacy dichotomy through my professional lens as a licensed counselor so that couples, or yet-to-be couples, could be guided on what to do when the subject comes up. I have made some recommendations as well.

Arguments for phone sharing

Shared access to phones serves as a deterrent against potential cheating or inappropriate behaviour. When individuals know that their actions, messages and interactions online are monitored by their partner, they are more likely to exhibit responsible conduct. The knowledge that their partner can easily access their phone and view their conversations can act as a powerful deterrent, encouraging individuals to uphold the boundaries of their relationship and avoid engaging in behaviours that could jeopardize their commitment.

Similarly, shared access to phones removes secrecy surrounding a partner’s life. It might not necessarily be about cheating or fidelity. There are times when a partner might be suffering from depression or going through a phase that they have discussed with their friends through WhatsApp, Facebook, or other platforms on the phone. Also, a partner may have started some projects, such as building, travelling, etc that they are holding in secrecy but might have shared with their close social contacts. Accessing the phone will reveal such secrets and help to take the necessary actions.

Also, shared access to phones could prevent certain exposures and dangers that a partner might bring on the relationship. There are some partners that are quick to post pictures, messages and sometimes important confidential messages such as locations, identities, amounts of money, on their social media handles. If such information gets the attention of the public and goes viral, it might lead to the loss of jobs, opportunities, or attract the attention of robbers, ill-talkers, etc. In marriages where each other’s phone is accessible, a partner can spot such sensitive messages in timely a delete or hide them from public viewing.

Moreover, shared access helps to prevent miscommunication. Sometimes couples could see short message notifications pop up on their partner’s phone. Without the appropriate context and access to the full message, the tendency to misconstrue the text becomes high, which could lead to misunderstandings and avoidable conflicts. Sharing access to phones enables couples to understand the context and intent behind messages or social media interactions, reducing the likelihood of miscommunication. By having a comprehensive view of each other’s online lives, couples can avoid unnecessary suspicion and build a foundation of trust.

However, let me emphasize clearly that phone transparency should not be used as a tool for control or surveillance. It should be approached with mutual consent and understanding, with both partners willingly opting to share access to their phones. Trust should already exist as a foundation within the relationship, and phone transparency should be viewed as an additional layer of openness and accountability, rather than a means to invade privacy.

Arguments against phone sharing

Those who oppose phone sharing in marriage place a strong emphasis on personal privacy and autonomy, arguing that each partner should have the right to private conversations and online interactions without the fear of surveillance or intrusion. They contend that respecting boundaries is crucial for maintaining individual identity and fostering a sense of autonomy within the marital relationship.

Privacy is also seen as a fundamental aspect of personal freedom and self-expression. It allows individuals to have personal conversations, maintain friendships, and engage in activities that are independent of their spouse. By respecting each other’s privacy, couples can create a space that values and supports their individuality, which is essential for personal growth and a healthy sense of self.

Critics of phone sharing argue that monitoring a spouse’s phone can perpetuate feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and distrust. Constant surveillance can breed a climate of suspicion, where partners may interpret innocent interactions as signs of infidelity or betrayal. This erosion of trust can lead to a breakdown in communication and emotional intimacy, ultimately weakening the foundation of a healthy marriage.

Furthermore, opponents of phone sharing stress the importance of cultivating mutual respect and trust within a relationship. Respecting each other’s privacy demonstrates a belief in the integrity and loyalty of one’s partner. It acknowledges that trust is something that should be earned and maintained, rather than presumed or enforced through intrusive measures. By allowing each other the freedom to have private conversations and interactions, couples can build a relationship based on trust, where both partners feel secure and valued.

Privacy in marriage also allows for personal space and reflection, which can be essential for self-care and maintaining a healthy balance between individual needs and the needs of the relationship. It enables partners to have a sense of independence and self-reliance, fostering personal growth and preventing overdependency.

My recommendation

 In evaluating whether married couples should go through each other’s phones or not, it’s essential to consider the context of the relationship and the underlying motivations behind such actions. In cases where there is a history of betrayal, dishonesty, or infidelity, the desire to access a partner’s phone may stem from a lack of trust or unresolved issues within the relationship. In such instances, open communication and seeking counseling may be more effective in addressing underlying concerns and rebuilding trust, rather than resorting to intrusive measures such as phone monitoring.

If both partners mutually agree to share access to their phones as a means of promoting transparency and accountability within the relationship, that is good. It will breed trust and foster emotional and psychological intimacy. However, it’s crucial for couples to establish clear boundaries and guidelines regarding the extent of phone sharing and the types of information that are off-limits. Respect for each other’s privacy should remain paramount, even in the context of shared access to phones.

Let me end by admitting that the question of whether married couples should go through each other’s phones is deeply subjective and dependent on the dynamics of each individual relationship. Therefore, a one-off recommendation may pose a danger to some relationships. While phone transparency could be a vital component of a healthy marriage, it must be balanced with respect for personal boundaries and privacy.

The writer is a licensed counselor who guides the youth through his writings.

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