The temptation to read your partner’s text messages or look through their inbox or otherwise invade their privacy can feel intense—even if you have no reason to question their trust. Still, when someone leaves a phone right in front of you, and you know the password…that’s basically permission enough to snoop, right? …Right? Well, no, not quite—but the desire itself is natural. At first glance, the need to know how to spy on someone and then go through with it can seem like it comes from a place of jealousy and lack of trust. But that isn’t always the case. So, what if you totally and completely trust your partner but just can’t help yourself when it comes to snooping?
“It’s human nature to want to snoop, to hear what’s going on with everyone else,” says Amy Cirbus, PhD, a psychologist with online therapy platform Talkspace. “There’s a need to identify, and to not miss out.” We want to know all the things our partner is experiencing, thinking and feeling, and since not knowing is tough, and snooping and spying can yield that exact information, it can be tough to refrain. “Managing our impulses has become increasingly difficult in this age of instant gratification. We have a feeling or a sense of vulnerability—even a thought—and we can feel compelled to follow it,” Dr. Cirbus says. And that holds true even if you trust your partner.
“Managing our impulses has become increasingly difficult in this age of instant gratification. We have a feeling, and can feel compelled to follow it.” —psychologist Amy Cirbus, PhD
Beyond being a roundabout strategy for cultivating an increased sense of togetherness, going through your S.O.’s property can also serve you a great adrenaline rush. “Looking at information you’re ‘not supposed to’ can provide titillation to the person, otherwise known as voyeurism,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, who adds that this voyeurism can also cater to those who have a busy mind. “If you tend to run on the anxious side, and controlling your environment is a method of managing your anxiety, you may be particularly prone to this,” she says. Basically, spying—and getting away with it—can give you a rush of adrenaline, which can become addictive.
Still, just because it’s human nature to want to know what’s going on doesn’t make pursuing the knowledge healthy. (But you likely already know that because you’re here, reading this article.) “The effects on the relationship can feed into mistrust where none previously existed,” Dr. Cirbus says, adding that knowing how to spy on someone and going through with it can seem harmless enough in practice in real time, but violating personal boundaries violates trust, and that’s where harm can ensue.
If you want to stop your snooping urges in their tracks, you’re in luck: Dr. Cirbus says to first consider why you feel the need to do it in the first place, and then note whether that need is satisfied post-snoop session. “The impulse lies within you, which means you have the power to dig deeper and find out what’s really going on,” she says.
When it comes to knowing how to spy on someone and deciding whether you should do it, ask yourself the following 3 questions:
1. What emotions can you recognize internally before, during, and after you snoop?
2. What needs will getting this information meet for you? Does it help you feel powerful to be in the know? Is the knowledge reassuring some insecurity deeper inside of you?
3. How would it feel to you if someone was reading your private information? Recognizing this is a violation, and empathizing with the other person could help you stop engaging in this behavior.
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