Why Snooping Through Your Partner's Stuff Can Wreck A Relationship

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
The allure of your partner's unlocked phone or laptop can be intoxicating, even if you don't have a particular reason to go poking around. But just because the temptation to snoop is very common, that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
Oftentimes, people snoop because they feel like they need to fill in the blanks about what's going on in their relationship, or like they're being left out of something big and important, says Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City. If that's the case, it's usually a sign that there are bigger communication issues going on that need to be addressed, she says.
Or if someone has been cheated on before, they might be prone to paranoid traits like snooping, says Michael Brustein, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. "They might be hyper-vigilant about other people and have trust issues," he says. But there's not always a concrete reason why people snoop, and some people just do it because their own worries or insecurities about their relationship have developed into actual fears, Brateman says.
If you want to snoop, ask yourself if there's a better way to find out what it is you believe you need to know, Brateman says. (Usually there is.) For example, instead of diving into your partner's Instagram DMs, you could say, The other day you mentioned seeing some of your ex's Instagrams. It made me wonder if you're still in touch with them? "If there's some burning question that you have, the best way to do it is to just have the conversation about it," Brateman says. Although it can be scary, talking to your partner about something that's bothering you is way easier than trying to snoop without getting caught — and it's the healthy thing to do.
Ahead are a few more solid reasons why you shouldn't go through your partner's stuff.
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It's disrespectful.

Nosing through someone's stuff is disrespectful, not only to the person you're seeing, but also to yourself, and to your relationship, Brateman says. Plus, spying can equate to mistrust and insecurity in a relationship, says Francie Stone, PsyD, certified sex therapist. But Brateman says that, in most cases, it actually has more to do with someone feeling entitled than someone feeling distrustful: "Sometimes people are just looking for things that they feel like they should know more about, or they feel like they're entitled to know every single thing you do or say to anyone else," she says. "It creates problems often where there are none, and that actually becomes the problem."
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You're going to find something bad.

"Even if you don't know what you're looking for, you will find something that you will use to fill in the blanks and make into something that very well isn't real either," Dr. Brateman says. Or, you might find ambiguous information, like a conversation between your partner and another person. And if something is vague, then people will project their own fears onto it, Dr. Brustein says: "It could be a form of self-sabotage, and unwittingly, somebody may do that really to push people away due to some intimacy issues."
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Something else is usually wrong.

Snooping is a telltale sign that there are other issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, Brateman says. "It doesn't mean the person they're snooping on is doing anything wrong," she says, but the act of snooping is usually a symptom of greater problems. Think about the larger issues that need to be addressed, Dr. Stone says. "If you want to know something, just ask," she says. "Communication is the key to all relationships — and certainly healthy relationships."

One of the most common reasons for snooping is a fear that your partner is having an affair. But if that's happening, there will usually be other signs of infidelity. "If your partner is cheating, you will know and won't need an email or text message for verification," Dr. Stone says. When you actually find something bad, it's natural to then think, The fact that I snooped isn't nearly as bad as what you did, Brateman says. But comparing the two acts isn't worthwhile, because they're both wrong, she says.
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Getting away with it makes it worse.

Doing something taboo like snooping can provide a rush, that's almost akin to the feeling people get when shoplifting, Brateman says. "There's adrenaline, because you're doing something wrong, something taboo," she says. Say you go looking through your partner's texts, and you're discreet enough to not get caught, but don't find anything of interest. Chances are you're going to do it again, because you know you can get away with it, she says. You might think, I didn't find anything before, but that was four months ago, so I'm just going to do this every now and then. That pattern of rationalizing your behavior can continue indefinitely.

"When you get away with something, you tend to do it again — unless you have a close call, almost get caught, and get scared out of the impulse," Brateman says. Routinely snooping is a bad habit because it chips away at the trust you have in your relationship. At the end of the day, you shouldn't have to check on your partner's phone to feel like you trust their words.