Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

If you believe people in a relationship have a right to some privacy, how does that play out exactly?

Asked by JLeslie (60826points) July 10th, 2011

Fluther has had some Q’s in the past asking what the collective thinks about SO’s going through emails, or having to always tell your SO where you are at all times. I recently had a conversation with someone about topic, well not exactly a conversation, it was like she was angry at me, and basically she accused me of judging her because I think everything should be open and honest between SO’s, and she feels not everything has to be. I have never said anything directly to her on the topic? I did not even know she felt privacy was such a big issue? Going as far to say that if an SO asks something that crosses the lines of privacy, it is ok to lie. First, I do not judge her. I think each couple makes their own rules for their relationship. But, it made me wonder, the people who don’t feel like they want to share everything nor be open books to each other, do you consider the relationships you have had to be good ones? Were you happy? Consider them successful? Have they lasted a long time. Did you really trust your SO?

I know the wording of this question probably sounds like I am judging people who get angry if their husband looks at their emails, but I am not. I sincerely am just wondering how those relationships go? You both just know or have discussed what will be off limits? I don’t have anything off limits with my husband, so I am just curious.

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30 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I am with you in terms of being completely open and the like but let me tell you about my mother who’s all about ‘a woman’s heart has many secrets’ and all that jazz. See, not only do couples have different concepts of what’s too much to share but they also have different concepts of successful relationships. My mother and father stayed together ‘for the kids’ and because divorces was looked down upon and then because ‘she needed him’ and he ‘liked her serving him’ and then because they ‘were used to each other and too old to leave’ until he died. When I asked her if she thinks her marriage was successful, she says ‘Yes!’ very confidently because ‘at least she wasn’t beaten much and he never left her or whatever’ so she’s comparing it to relationships which she knows her friends are in, which of course I consider to be sad because why on earth would we settle for crap in our relationship just because our friends tolerate more crap? But anyway, as I read on the internerd often, there is ‘advice’ all over the place on keeping certain things to one self in order to have a successful relationship but I assume most of that has to do with never saying you’ve felt attraction or feelings for another which keeps up the illusion that that kind of thing never happens in relationships. Which, of course, is bull.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I don’t feel that not knowing everything someone does means I don’t know them. I feel like you can know someone very intimately without knowing what they had for breakfast that day or how work went. I would be incapable of being happy in a relationship where someone thought I was hiding something if I didn’t want to give a play by play of everything that happens in my day. I am not a suspicious person, and in my opinion, every good relationship has it’s secrets. I respect other’s privacy and I hope that they respect mine.

john65pennington's avatar

Like you stated, “I believe each relationship has its own rules and regulations”. I agree with your statement.

My wife and I have nothing to hide. She reads my emails and vice versa. I would say that this is probably not the norm for most couples today.

The key word is trust in any relationship.

YARNLADY's avatar

The only time we need privacy is when one is feeling too tired to interact.

Oh, one other exception is the private counseling that my husband does. His communication with his clients is totally confidential.

Jeruba's avatar

Before we got together, my husband and I each lived alone for many years and enjoyed it. Moving in together was a big act of trust, and one part of that trust was knowing that each of us respected the other’s privacy and territory. To this day I will not open his wallet and he will not open my purse. I don’t look in his pockets except to check that they are empty when I do the laundry. If I have to get something from his desk, I open the drawer no further than necessary and don’t poke around. He never gets anything from my desk. We don’t turn each other’s computers on or sit down at them except in response to a direct request.

And all this was never a rule agreed upon or even discussed. We both feel the same about not intruding on someone else (anyone else). We never asked one another to stay out of our stuff. We didn’t have to because we both know.

We have separate e-mail accounts. We each have a bank account that is joint but that only one of us manages (the other could if necessary). I never look in his checkbook. He never looks in mine. I would not dream of picking up his cellphone and looking at his messages or records.

And I don’t think there is anything in my husband’s wallet, pockets, desk, etc., that he wouldn’t want me to see. If I asked to see it, he would show me. I am certainly not hiding anything. I don’t need to look. He doesn’t need to look.

How is it a sign of trust that people feel free to snoop in each other’s stuff? To me that’s what mistrust looks like.

JLeslie's avatar

@jeruba Not snooping. I never go through my husband’s stuff either. But, if he needs some information from his email and I am home, he has no problem asking me to look it up, he is not worried about his privacy. If I were low on cash I would ask, “do hou have some cash I’m running low?” he would probably say, “yes, in my wallet,” and I would take some. Or, I might grab some money out of his wallet without asking first, but always tell him I did it. I might go to his phone to get a phone number I don’t have, it is no big deal, but I never think to pick it up to see who he is calling. It’s more a premise that we have nothing to hide, are not concerned about privacy, but we still respects each others things.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I think that there is a big difference between being open and lacking privacy. I do not actively hide anything from my boyfriend, but I do not want him checking my phone or computer in general, but that’s usually because there are things I don’t want anyone seeing, not just him. For example, I’m very cagey about my writing and I don’t like anyone to read what I’ve written, unless I have worked up the courage to show it to someone I’ll have to get over that when I send a book off to get published, of course.

I am also a firm believer in the idea that people are not the same with everyone. I do not think that means that we are two-faced, but I think different facets of our personality come out with different people and, without context, a text or an e-mail can seem strange or jarring which might not be the best thing if someone was looking without my knowledge.

It is also very important for me to maintain my independence. I do not think of my boyfriend and I as being two halves of a whole which I know many people think means our relationship is not serious, though it is and I know he feels the same way. One of the ways I maintain my independence is to keep some aspects of my life to myself by default, which includes my communications with other people. I also plan on keeping a bank account of my own when I enter into a permanent life partnership.

JLeslie's avatar

I am starting to realize there might be miscommunication or different definitions in the words and/or concepts when this topic is discussed. Very useful.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I believe in it. However, experience has shown me the people who raise my radar are the ones who had something to hide from me I’d find very objectionable and the ones I trusted in didn’t.

An example is an ex who’d get angry at me and rattle off about how easily he could go out and replace me or find someone to cheat on me with. For some reason, I just never believed he really wanted to and so never had the urge to question his phone calls, his alone computer time or even to be threatened when I knew he looked at porn.

Each relationship has it’s own barriers, bluffs and red flags.

bkcunningham's avatar

@JLeslie, we don’t usually agree on alot of things here, but on this one I agree with your next to last post one hundred percent. My husband and I have respect but no secrets. He knows that I was cheated on in my previous marriage. My mother was on her deathbed and I was staying with her during her last 31 days. I was still keeping house and taking care of his children and sleeping nights at the hospital with my Mom. My husband understands what that did to me and that I had some very serious trust issues when we met. He told me to snoop all I want because he’ll never keep secrets from me. What’s his is mine and what’s mine is mine.

Coloma's avatar

My idea of privacy in a relationship these days is, simply, separate houses. lol

I agree with no snooping and violating personal boundaries, with the basic concept intact, of course, that those that have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

I think that everyone has boundaries….some people’s boudaries in a relationships are non-existent and other’s feel more comfortable with set boundaries and privacy.

As a child, I grew up in a fishbowl. My family was known in the community. There was no hiding. My mother would snoop through my diary, housekeepers stole things from our house (and my room), I have been betrayed by trusted friends…so, boundaries are important to me. I also believe like @Coloma that at this juncture in my life, I would want a separate house from a potential partner. Or for us to live in a semi-detached with adjoining doors. It’s not because I have anything to hide…but because I value my space and my privacy because it has been violated too many times.

Jeruba's avatar

@JLeslie, that’s a very useful perception. Sometimes definition of terms is all it takes to resolve differences. Without it, people may carry a discussion to great lengths without even knowing that they’re not all talking about the same thing.

Plucky's avatar

I believe openness in a relationship is extremely important. I have no problem with my partner going through my wallet, mail, email, etc. She has no problem with me doing the same. The reason? Because we trust one another fully and have no reason to go through one another’s things in the way the OP states. There is no hidden information between us (other than her clients/work – she’s a psychologist). We communicate a lot. We are almost always aware of where/whom one another is at/with (work, visiting family/friends, shopping) – not because we have to know out of mistrust. It’s just how we are.

Do we ever go into one another’s stuff? Certainly. We go into eachother’s wallets to get money, credit cards or points cards. We open one another’s mail if we need to. She rarely goes into my email but, if she did, I would have no issue with it because I know it would not be for some hidden suspicion. She has trouble finding time to check her own email, let alone mine. I go into her personal email (not her work email) all the time because it accumulates too much. I will spend the time marking spam, deleting spam, deleting old ones that have obsolete links, etc. I’m certainly not looking for anything she may be hiding – the idea doesn’t even occur to me. She trusts me with that task. We have nothing to hide from one another.

Of course, there are exceptions. We won’t go into one another’s stuff around Christmas and birthdays. That’s just out of respect for the occasion and experience of gift giving/receiving.

If either of us had a personal journal, wanting them private, that would be fine with us as well. The thing is, I have a lot of personal writings but she’s never asked or tried to read them (even though I’ve never stated if they were private or not). The reason? There’s no need or desire to. We are open enough that she has no need to go searching through my written thoughts.

Believe me, I have plenty of reason to be private in my life. I’ve been violated in pretty much every way possible. I’ve had my own personal writings turned against me from others, in front of others and practically spat on. I’ve been betrayed by people I trusted – haven’t we all? Do my partner and I have privacy? Of courses we do. Just because we share practically everything does not mean we don’t respect the need for personal space (which is, in itself, a different form of privacy). Everyone needs personal space at times. I just believe privacy can be attained in different manners and situations.

I’m aware my partner and I tend to be the exception to the rule though. Certain things work for certain people.

I’ve seen too many people around me lead really screwed up lives because of the need of, almost militarized, privacy. My mother, for one, has a few different emails for this very reason. She has one that her partner is allowed to see. And a couple others he is not even aware exist. The reason? Because she hides things from him like a packrat – but with secrets and lies. She lies about and hides purchases. She hides online affairs. To her, privacy (in her relationship) has the utmost importance because she has so much to hide. Sometimes, I wonder how she manages the stress of it all. Obviously, the privacy is not why she’s so unstable at times; it’s the constant lying. But, the privacy she requires because of it is tortuous in itself. My brother is similar but even worse.

There are different views/opinions on what privacy is – what it means and/or doesn’t mean. And, of course, there are different extents of privacy. I forget where I’m going with this, lol.

I just wanted to say that my partner and I are extremely open. And, that privacy is attainable even when you share everything – just in different ways. It may not work for others but it does for us. I think there is a certain freedom and acceptance in it.

I do not think privacy is what most people have an issue with. I think it is the reason for the privacy that is most important to people (in healthy relationships) – also, the reason for going through someone’s stuff is equally important (going into your SO’s email for an address vs going into their email looking for possible lies). Again, there are unhealthy exceptions. Obviously, a controlling spouse has issues with privacy because, well, they’re controlling and so on. I think you understand my point.

I apologize if it seems like a rant – I think this issue is important.

JLeslie's avatar

I think I was equating privacy with secrecy, and respecting someone’s property and space as totally separate.

Plucky's avatar

@JLeslie I understood that is what you meant in your question. However, after reading the different responses, I ended replying regarding both ideas (secrecy vs space). It’s a GQ though. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@Plucky Yeah, I could tell in your answer that you were thinking about it the same way I do. I was kind of clarifying regarding what I said earlier about miscommunication and @Jeruba‘s comment to me.

Plucky's avatar

@JLeslie I know. I was clarifying that I understood your clarification. :P

athenasgriffin's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus You just helped me realize why my privacy is so important to me. My mother never felt I had any right to privacy because I was her child. Obviously, as I am a part of her, I would have no need to be separate from her. I never, until reading your answer, related my need for privacy with my mother’s complete lack of respect for privacy. At four on Monday morning, I have had an epiphany. Thank you for that insight.

Aethelwine's avatar

I’m an open book. My husband can look at anything I write, I don’t care. He’s my best friend and I have nothing to hide or no need for “privacy”.

We share passwords as well as a checking account. No big deal.

augustlan's avatar

Privacy and secrecy seem like two different things to me. In my marriage, a certain level of privacy is expected (like, no snooping – unless there’s some major “I’m cheating” red flag or something), but there is no secrecy or lying allowed. Obviously, I’m not talking about hiding gifts or good surprises, here.

We don’t mind the going into the wallet/purse thing (for legitimate reasons, not snooping), and I handle a lot of his computer stuff just because he isn’t very technologically inclined. We know each other’s passwords and such, but not for any nefarious reasons. We go out of our way to tell each other when we’re flirty with people, just to avoid potential misunderstandings.

We’re not joined at the hip, though. I don’t feel the need to know every detail of his day or anything.

cookieman's avatar

This is a shot in the dark, but maybe it has to do with when you enter into the relationship.

If you’re older, have been on your own for a while, or had been in previous relationships -maybe you want more privacy. I often see this is the case with seperate bank accounts.

In my case, we have been together since we were teenagers. We share everything including passwords, bank accounts, computers etc. Privacy is never a concern.

JLeslie's avatar

@athenasgriffin Interesting. I feel like in terms of privacy I am the same as my parents were with each other, and how they treated me. Of course I did mot know everything in their marriage growing up, but in terms of being able to go into my moms purse, I always could. I would never try to read her private thoughts if she wrote them down, and she never went through my things to snoop. Even now I know some of my dads passwords, I set up some og his phone and online stuff for him. My husband and I know the passcodes we typically use, I manage some accounts for him. I basically just continued how my life has always been in terms of privacy. I guess since your mom amd @DarlingRhadamanthus didn’t respect much of your space at all, you crave more of it as adults, one extreme to the other. I wonder do you have children? How are you in terms of their privacy? More moderate? Or, mimicking what your mother did?

@cprevite I think money definitely matters regarding what age the couple got married. I think if you marry young you either have everything shared, all funds together, and build wealth 100% together, or some people have separate accounts because they want control over their own money, or have been warned to maintain separate accounts. I think if people marry when they are older, and have built up consderable savings of their own, before entering the marriage, that money tends to stay separate, and so it is more natural to have money more separated. I would be like that I think if I had a second marriage, even though in my marriage now everything is combined. But, still, I think things like privacy outside of different bank accounts would be just as open for me no matter what the age. Even on the money front, it might be in my name only, but I cannot imagine trying to hide how much I have, or worrying about if he saw a credit card bill.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Gadzooks, I see privacy/secrecy, secrecy/privacy comes down to the communication of the parties at hand. I maybe in a partnership and in dealing of the business I expect that the partner(s) need to have privy to certain information on me, but they don’t need to know if I wear boxers or briefs or what jam I used on my toast. We don’t want government knowing every detail about us even if it would logically make society safer. People are by nature private people. How can you really say you have ownership of yourself if you have nothing that is truly yours? I say couples who feel they have to be able to wonder around any areas of their spouse is less trusting, and probably gotten that way because someone in the past burned them, or they felt they were. So they want to have as much control over the current situation so they can ”see it coming before it blindsides them”. Even as children, did you tell your parents everything? Did you share every last, inner most thought and secret? I can bet my dollars to anyone’s donuts very, very few did if any.

I don’t feel the need to know every syllable of my fiancée’s emails, letter, or anything. Some might say it makes it easy for her to carry off an affair etc. It might, but I believe if I am attune to how our relationship is going and mindful of out avenues of communication I would have a fairly good ideal, I have 89% of the time in the past. From my experience only the most calculating of conmen, or women, can fake it that great that long. If not anyone enjoys your company if you read the tealeaves it is fairly obvious, at least to me. Unless I catch her in any deception I see no reason not to trust her.

Having the need to poke around uncontested to me is a fake trust. Just because you could peek all through someone’s files, emails, phone record, do not mean you should. If you really trust them and them you, it should not have to be earned or conditioned. To prove they love you and you them would you need a manifestation of that as well?

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central It isn’t that my husband and I poke around, it is that we don’t worry if the other sees something, we don’t lock everything up so to speak. I see it the opposite of you, we have complete trust and openness. I don’t need to see any of his emails to trust him. He does not tell me daily who he is having lunch with, and I do not call him every time I leave the house. But, if I went somewhere out of the norm I would probably let him know, and I certainly would call if I was going to be late.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Like @jonsblond, I feel comfortable with transparency with omy partner. I have nothing I worry about him finding and don’t go out of my way to hide anything because of that. To me, it’s a conscious effort of respect to not do anything in the first place that would need to become a secret or to keep out of his view. That’s how I like to live my life and that’s what I most want from a partner in return. I’ve always felt a serious relationship deserves no less in order to survive.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@JLeslie….First of all, I absolutely admire the transparency you have in your marriage. As you know, I have been an admirer of your relationship with your beloved hubby. Actually, I hold it up to be the sort of marriage that everyone should have. So, I am not against that if you have a partner that is in integrity. Unfortunately, I have not fared as well in the past with exes. Amazingly intricate betrayals happened right in my own space and I was not aware. All of a sudden,openness and trust are violated and you don’t know what is true anymore. This has probably coloured my perception more than my mother snooping through my diary (though I am sure it had something to do with it.)

I have never gone through my (now grown) child’s stuff. We had a really open relationship. There were some tricky times (adolescence) but nothing ever prompted me to snoop through her private writings or sharings. Though I must admit there were times when I was surprised…like finding “teen fan magazines” stuffed under her mattress once when I was putting a fresh sheet on her bed. She was very precocious and was reading Tolstoy at 12, so I think she felt that having a crush on some teen idol would be too embarrassing! (lol) I thought that was cute and never said anything.

Honestly, I think I would be more open with a partner. It’s all about trust and integrity. In other words, having a private life is not necessarily something I cling to out of some diehard principle. I cling to it (now) out of habit and because I have not been shown the sort of transparency borne out of a relationship that is whole and healing. I would love to have the sort of transparency that you have @JLeslie. Unfortunately, it has, to this day, eluded me.

Hope that makes sense.

JLeslie's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus I hope I did not come across in a way that sounds like my way is the right way. I had a horrible cheating boyfriend for many years, you might remember, could not trust him as far as I coul throw him, and I would not be able to even pick him up. Cheated, lied, the whole thing. Where I am a little confused is, I was not a cheater and a liar, so what did I have to hide, nothing. So, even with him, I did not feel a need for privacy. Are you saying your SO’s used private information of your against you?

Also, I wanted to add, I in no way have a perfect marriage. We have our difficulties and dissapointments, just not in this particular realm. Or, at least regardng this we are on the same page.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@JLeslie,....No I had nothing to really hide in that way. What happened in my case is that they were skillful prevaricators. They hid things from me. And when that happens (to me anyway) I close up. It doesn’t feel safe to share things with prevaricators. And yes, at times, I would share painful things out of my past, only to have them spewed at me in venom during a row.

No one has a perfect marriage, I know that. It just restores faith in me that there are people out there who are willing to do the work….because they value what they have….like you and your husband seem to do.

I wasn’t at all offended….you did not come across to me in a self-righteous way at all. I know what you went through, so it restores hope in me that perhaps one day I may be able to trust again. That was all I meant.

JLeslie's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus I understand now. How the dynamic changes in the relationship once one person is untrustworthy. It makes sense.

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