Girl Talk: Why Checking Your Partner’s Email And Phone Is Not Smart

Recently, Jools Oliver, wife of chef Jamie Oliver, and writer Samantha Brick both proudly declared that they check their husbands’ emails and phones regularly, and credit their successful marriages in part to such snooping. Oliver said that even though she monitors her husband’s email, phone and Twitter account, “He says I’m a jealous girl, but I think I’m fairly laid-back, considering.”

While it may work for them, I would caution against following their lead. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should find out everything you possibly can about someone, even someone you’re sleeping with or married to. I know because I once read my boyfriend’s email (while using his computer with his permission) and found out he’d been sleeping with prostitutes while having unprotected sex with me, and promptly broke up with him. Do I wish I’d remained ignorantly blissful for a little while longer? Not necessarily, but it was a harrowing way to find out. With an ex, I read an email that criticized me in a way that I’ve never forgotten, and in that case, I wish I hadn’t seen it, because it wasn’t intended for me.

I talk and email about whoever I’m dating to friends—usually it’s positive, but sometimes it’s not. I also talk about plenty of other things that are, frankly, none of their business. If there’s something I want them to know, I’ll tell them, and, I would hope, vice versa. I believe privacy is important in relationships; that’s not to say you can’t express curiosity or doubt or suspicion if that’s what you’re feeling. If he tells you he’s grabbing a quick drink and is gone for three hours, you have the right to ask about it, something else I also have experienced. But the upkeep of constantly monitoring someone else’s comings and goings sounds arduous, not to mention doesn’t necessarily tell you everything you need to know. What might read as a sexy email may just be how they talk with certain friends. I subscribe to all sorts of mailing lists that don’t necessarily “mean” anything, and have Google alerts on everything from “oral sex” to “Hello Kitty.” Also, what if they want to surprise you with a present?

Daily Mail writer Samantha Brick claims she’s “protecting” her marriage from the threat of other women—it’s them she doesn’t trust, not her husband. “For, as far as I’m concerned, my husband’s emails, voicemails and texts aren’t just his business — they’re mine, too. I read, listen and check all of them daily. And I don’t mind admitting that I open his post, too,” she declares. She prints out any suspicious emails she finds and questions him about them. There’s a logical fallacy to her argument, though. She’s worried about women sending flirty or sexy messages to her husband, but the fact is, there’s nothing she or he can do to stop someone from contacting him (unless it reaches the level of harassment). So what if they are? As long as he’s not encouraging it or engaging with these women, she shouldn’t have to worry. By interfering, she’s making more of out if than it seems like he ever did. I assume her husband is okay with this behavior, and while I’m not in their relationship, this seems like behavior that puts distrust front and center. She cites the example of TV presenter  Vernon Kay admitting he’d sent “racy” texts to five women. I don’t see how checking your husband’s email will prevent them from receiving or sending whatever they want to, save for the fear of being caught.

Brick seems to think that men are somehow more susceptible to come-ons in this electronic age, writing, “emails, texts and messaging on social networks allow women to try their luck with men who would normally be off-limits.” That doesn’t change the fact that their being “off-limits” is up to them; she’s implying that men are more apt to cheat because women are chasing them more often. Social media is another story. By its nature, it’s social, and public (unless it’s locked down). I check my boyfriend’s Facebook page to see what he’s thinking and sharing, not to stalk him. However, I know too many people who get way too hung up on what their partner’s exes are posting on their walls. Even if you think it’s inappropriate, it’s their wall. I agree with Anushay Hussain at Forbes: “Ironically, in the age of TMI (too much information), privacy actually means more than ever. As does respecting one’s privacy.”

Periwinkle Jones says that checking your partner’s email “keeps you on your toes” and, should you find a flirty missive, reminds you that they’re desirable. But to what end? I have enough trouble keeping up with my own email; I have no desire to wade through my boyfriend’s.

The one thing I give Brick credit for is that she’s willing to grant her husband access to her phone and email, just as she has access to his. Of course, if either of them wanted to start a secret email account, they surely could. That’s far better than sneaking around and hacking into someone’s account, no matter how close you are, as Kim Kardashian has proudly endorsed, calling herself the “queen of 007″ and telling her sisters, “you want to know what your boyfriend’s up to.” I don’t think there’s anything you can do to prevent someone from sharing intimacy, electronic or not, with someone else, and I wouldn’t want the only reason my partner didn’t cheat be because I was hovering over them to the point that they were afraid of getting caught. Obviously, if they are suddenly glued to their phone where normally they never check it, that’s something to broach with them if you need to know. I get the temptation to peek or overtly read someone else’s correspondence, but it’s a slippery slope.

The bottom line is, if you don’t trust your partner, that’s a problem. It’s natural to be curious—who isn’t?—but taking that curiosity beyond the bounds of what your partner would be comfortable with crosses a line that could be dangerous for your relationship, not to mention your mental health.