Ask Page: I Can’t Stop Snooping Through My Partner’s Messages

it's a person standing and looking through text messages on a cell phone
Image by Angelos Konstantinidis / CC BY

Hi Page,

I’m not usually the type of person who writes in to an advice column, but I’m in a bind. I don’t know who else to turn to. I don’t want anyone in my life to know what I’ve been up to.

My partner has a habit of leaving their phone lying unguarded around the house when they’re going out jogging or taking a shower. And I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’ve been snooping through their messages. All of them. Their dating profile messages. Their texts with my metamour. Everything.

So far, I haven’t seen anything that’s all that shocking… so it’s been a relief. But I’ve been doing it A LOT.

And no, I don’t have their permission.

Background: I’ve been polyamorous for about 5 years but have only been with this particular partner for about 3 of those years. I had people cheat on me in the past when I was monogamous. Not my current partner. They’ve always been good to me. But if I had to guess why I’m doing this, it would be related to that, those relationships where I was cheated on. That part of me can’t accept that I’m not being lied to somehow. 

Poly life hasn’t been without its ups and downs, but for the most part, it’s been pretty good. I think part of me just hasn’t accepted that I’m seeing someone I can trust now. I keep expecting to get cheated on. 

What do you think? I know I probably deserve a talking to, but please be gentle. I feel bad enough as it is. 

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You’re right — you shouldn’t be doing that. Unless your partner expressly gives you permission to look through their messages, you are violating their privacy by doing so.

And even then, even with your partner’s permission, it’s a bit ethically dubious since the person on the other end of the messages likely didn’t give you their permission to read those exchanges.

Even beyond the kinds of things I suspect you’re snooping for (signs that the relationships have progressed further than you’ve been made aware of, anything critical/disloyal said about you, etc.), you might very well stumble onto something else that would be inappropriate for you to have access to. For example, vulnerable moments where someone is sharing information about their past or struggles that are perfectly suitable for them to reveal to your partner — but would be odd for you to know, as someone who isn’t as close to that same person.

So for starters, this behavior is incredibly rude. And invasive. Which you know.

But even setting all that aside, it’s not going to be particularly helpful to you. Because what do you do if you DO find something untoward? Something you found objectionable, immoral, or unethical.

It’s not like you can confront your partner with it — at least not without sacrificing the moral high ground.

Many a snooper has found that their “gotcha moment” has been quickly diverted into a (well-deserved) criticism of their methods of obtaining the incriminating information.

So the best you’re going to do here is find nothing that contradicts what you already know.

There’s no way for your partner to really ace this test and a thousand ways for both of you to fail it.

Your Partner Deserves Better Than Snooping– and So Do You

That said, I get why you’re doing it.

As someone who was also cheated on quite extensively in the past, I understand how humiliating the experience can be. How much it can undermine your ability to relax and trust future partners.

You’re doing this because you’re scared. You don’t want to open yourself up to that same experience again.

And as bad as you feel about what you’re doing, the prospect of not snooping on your partner is more terrifying. Because it opens you up to being betrayed again.

But honey… you need to let go of this. You need to stop doing this. Sure, you’re finding some relief short term, but long term you’re not doing yourself any favors. And all snooping is doing is reinforcing hypervigilance and a sense that you need to be on guard.

Snooping is not your friend. Your partner deserves better — and even more importantly, you deserve better than to feel like you need to do this all the time.

Let it go. Remember that this person isn’t the person who betrayed you. Stop looking for the early signs of cheating. And trust that you’ll be able to deal with it if you’re cheated on again.

Note to Readers: Yes, It’s Possible to Cheat in a Polyamorous Relationship

Just wanted to include a quick note that it’s possible to cheat in a polyamorous relationship. Depending on your specific relationship agreements, what this looks like can be quite different, but here are couple of typical scenarios:

    • If you’re required to inform your other partners about new sexual and/or romantic partners and you fail to do in a timely manner (or outright lie about it).
    • If you’re required to use barriers for certain sexual acts with others, and you do not.

Basically, any time you violate the terms of your relationship agreement — especially if you are quite dishonest about it — it can be a large betrayal of trust.

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

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My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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