What’s the harm in a little spying? Maybe you know the temptation—your significant other’s cell phone is right there on the nightstand while she’s in the shower; it’s just so easy to scroll through the text messages to see if she’s been chatting with her hunky ex. Or his email inbox is left open on the laptop screen—why not just see if that flirty woman from work is writing to him? With the influx of digital technology—not only cell phones and email, but also Facebook, MySpace, Twitter—changing our modes of communication and our notions of privacy, spying on spouses has never been easier.
And many of us are giving in to the temptation. The odds are 1 in 3.45 that an Internet user 18 or older will report having surreptitiously checked the emails or call history of a significant other. Among those aged 18-24, the odds are higher at 1 in 2.63. Married couples are less likely to snoop on each other, but an Oxford University study still puts their spy rates at about one fifth of all spouses. The good news is that not many find anything incriminating: The odds are 1 in 11.11 that a prying pair of eyes found his or her partner was cheating and ended the relationship. So why are we doing this to ourselves?
The truth is, spying in relationships is probably as old as relationships themselves. Suspicious spouses have always hunted for clues of infidelity, but technology has made the job a lot less difficult. Rummaging through desk drawers, reading diaries, tailing your significant other at a discreet distance—all require far more effort than quickly scanning an inbox.
And who needs a private detective when GPS software—designed to allow parents to monitor their children—can be used to follow your partner’s every move? Or there’s a company called Mobistealth that offers a spy application that can be easily installed on the Android cell phone. It monitors all communications without the user ever knowing it’s there. Cell phone snooping has become so widespread that an iPhone app called iTrust is even available to catch the guilty parties: Once activated, it uses a screen shot of the menu page as a frozen screensaver, then records any attempts to access the menu buttons.
Not surprisingly, experts say snooping on a loved one isn’t healthy for relationships. After all, if you are tempted to spy, there are probably trust issues at play that would be better resolved with a conversation. And there is a very real possibility that sneaking around to see if there is any deceit in your partner’s behavior will be viewed as just that—deceitful.
Research shows that trust broken in the early stages of a relationship can be even more harmful than betrayals that take place after a solid bond is established. So amateur sleuths, take note—whether you’re glancing casually through texts, or donning a wig and dark glasses, spying in a relationship is never as good as maintaining open, honest (and yes, sometimes thorny) communication.