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Relationships and privacy: How much sharing is too much?
You share everything with your significant other – your fears, your goals, often a bank account – but what about your passwords for things like
Facebook, email or your iPhone? According to a recent survey commissioned by Norton Security, sharing login information might cause more trouble than it’s worth. The survey revealed a large number of couples share passwords (about 50 percent of those surveyed), but 15 percent of those who had access to their partner’s password ended up fighting based on things they found. With that in mind, how much is too much when it comes to sharing with your significant other?
Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman is a psychologist and author of Dating From the Inside Out: How to Use the Law of Attraction in Matters of the Heart. We asked her why it’s so tempting to snoop, the pros and cons of password sharing and where you should draw the line when it comes to what your partner should know.
To share or not to share
An email password is just a harmless series of numbers or letters, right? Harmless until they reveal something you didn’t want to see, that is. "Partners can misinterpret messages to friends of the opposite sex and get overly involved with communications that have nothing to do with them or the relationship," Kouffman says about the perils of blurry privacy boundaries. The main problem with sharing passwords is the implied suggestion that looking at each other’s private information is OK, she explains. But the question is whether or not a shared password is also in open invitation to take a peek. "This should be made explicit so both people agree; otherwise it may cause confusion and fights."
Despite the potential damage it can cause, snooping remains a temptation, whether we have access to passwords or not. For those who act on their urge, Kaufmann explains they justify their prying in one of two ways. Some people believe that if there is nothing to hide, then the other person shouldn’t care. Others feel that if they have chosen to have an open-door policy on their various accounts, their partner’s private accounts should be fair game. Although neither person should hide important information, this still doesn’t justify snooping, Kouffman says. "Trust and a respect for boundaries is also an important part of a relationship."
Setting some ground rules on the next page…
Ground rules for sharing
The degree of sharing that works best in a relationship depends on the couple. Every couple can, and should, co-create these terms together but they need to have an honest discussion and be clear so they are on the same page. "The idea is to foster trust, not insecurity," says Kouffman.
To avoid potential disaster, Kouffman recommends every couple have a discussion to make clear their own rules about privacy and disclosure. Ask each other the following questions to get started:
- Are you going to share passwords?
- Is email off limits?
- Can you access each other’s phones or Facebook accounts?
- Is it OK to ask questions when one of you feels insecure, so your partner can clarify things?
- What are your policies regarding flirtation with the opposite sex if there’s no physical contact?
- What qualifies as friendship with the opposite sex versus an emotional affair?
"People feel differently about these issues so it’s best to discuss it proactively to see if you are on the same page," Kouffman explains.
If you snooped and come across something that upset you, you’re probably feeling confused about what to do. Do you bring that information to your partner and admit you snooped, or do you bring it up some other way? There really is no right answer, but no matter what you found you’re going to have to bring it up somehow to avoid jumping to the wrong conclusion or making misguided assumptions. If something is really wrong, honesty is the best policy – on your part and his, Kouffman says. "Dishonesty and lack of responsibility can snowball into doubletalk on both sides and can quickly lead to a breakup."