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Talk, Don't Track: How Technology Can Hurt Trust and Communication in Your Relationship

Andrew McNaughton LCSW, CADC, Symmetry Counseling Chicago

To share or not to share? This is the question in the mind of couples in our modern times. There is always a desire for assurance of trust in a romantic relationship, so naturally, there is sensitivity to any potentially untrustworthy behavior. Is the expectation of personal privacy an antiquated notion, especially for a romantic partnership? If there is nothing to hide, what is the harm in sharing phones, tablets, location, and account passwords with romantic partners?

Two recent articles have broached this topic, specifically regarding round-the-clock location sharing between romantic partners. One article from the Lifehacker website spotlights the benefits of this, highlighting the strong bond of trust formed, the increased comfort level, and even the practical convenience of negating the need for texting updates on whereabouts and ETAs. The other article from Gizmodo sees this as an invasion of privacy.

Although the benefits may be genuine, tracking every move or searching through your partner’s personal devices and accounts (with or without their consent) is damaging to the relationship. If you look at their phone, there’s a chance you will eventually see something that raises concerns (e.g. What were they doing at the park last Monday? Why were they on Facebook at 3 am last Saturday? Since when did they start watching horror movies? Why are they playfully texting co-workers first thing in the morning? Why did they bookmark PornHub?).

If you feel compelled to track your partner’s every move or hack into their devices, the relationship already lacks trust. No amount of reading texts, posts, emails, etc., or tracking location or browsing history is going to reduce that mistrust. It is more likely to fuel suspicions. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1: By accessing your partner’s cell phone, your suspicions are confirmed. There is indisputable evidence of flirting, sexting, or an all-out emotional or physical affair. If reconciliation is attempted, the suspicions will likely linger even if they turn over all of their devices and accounts to you.

Scenario 2: You search through your partner’s phone, but there are no glaring signs of outright infidelity. You should probably just put the phone down, but instead of respecting privacy, you dig and dig for text messages and IMs from months or years ago, or search location and movement histories, web browsing histories, etc. Eventually, something will catch your eye that may seem questionable, suspicious, or even catastrophic.

The problem with this type of snooping is that it can become an obsession and a full-time job. Consider that any information gathered may be seen out of context and be highly subjective. Text messages are meant to be communication between two people, not a larger audience, and those texts, emails, or instant messages from months or years ago do not necessarily reflect your partner as they are now. Location tracking is not 100% accurate either, so before your thoughts and emotions jump to extreme conclusions, consider that uncovering such information does not automatically equal deception or infidelity. Also, keep in mind that technology is constantly evolving, so there will always be the potential for further trickery with the latest app or device upgrade.

There are many ways to work to restore that trust; searching through your partner’s phone or tracking their movements is not the answer. Technology will never provide true assurance and is no substitute for open dialogue between a couple experiencing doubts. With the aid of one of the relationship specialists at Symmetry Counseling Chicago, we can help you deal with deficits in trust and communication in your relationship.

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