Monday, July 16, 2012

Should you read each other's texts and emails?

Jools Oliver with husband and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (© Ian West-PA Wire-PA)
According to an interview she gave to a magazine over the weekend, Jools Oliver, wife of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, trusts her husband implicitly. Jamie is a good man. He would never dream of having an affair.
But just to make sure he wouldn't dream of it, she checks his texts, Twitter and email accounts. "Yeah, I'll check his email. I'll check his Twitter. I'll check his phone. Everything seems fine," she said. "He says I'm a jealous girl, but I think I'm fairly laid-back, considering."
Considering what? That she stalks him on a regular basis, perhaps. But apart from that, Jools' insecurity throws up some interesting questions.
Should we let our partners read our texts and emails? Should we read theirs? Or does the need to read each other's personal correspondence say something a little bit dispiriting about the state of our relationships?
Email affairs
In one way, Jools has it right. New technology has made it so much easier to conduct an affair without being caught. In the old days, a straying partner would have to make illicit arrangements using landline phones at home or work.
Such sordid communication would have had to be brief, practical and decidedly unsexy. The chances of being overheard and found out would be very real.
Sending a quick text or email from a private, password-protected account has made it all so much easier. 'Sexting' has become common. So checking these means of communication regularly, just to be on the safe side, seems - on one level - like an eminently sensible thing to do.
And the Jools method gets results. The papers used to be full of stories of unfaithful partners incriminating themselves with a misdirected text or email, until they became too common to be worth commenting on. For suspicious partners, checking phones or PCs has become a first line of investigation.
"In a world where access to your partner's texts, calls and emails is just a keystroke away, it can be tempting to just take a peek at their phone or PC," says relationship psychologist Jo Hemmings. "Especially if you have any reason to doubt them."
Woman checking a mobile phone (© Miguel Pereira-Digital Vision-Getty Images)
Reaching for your partner's phone may say more about you than it does about them
What does it mean for your relationship?
The thing is, Jools Oliver, and indeed many snooping women and men, don't think they have any reason to doubt their partners. At least that's what they say.
But the need to check your partner's phone is seldom healthy. Relationship therapist Elly Prior believes that, if either of you have this urge, it may be a vestige of past hurt.
"It would be interesting to know if someone who does this has always checked their partner's texts and emails or whether they have detected a change, however subtle, in his or her behaviour at some point," she says. "They may have been 'traumatised' in a previous relationship by the discovery of a partner's infidelity."
In other words, if she checks your emails and texts, she's worried you might be having an affair. If you've given her no reason to believe that will happen, it could be that she's been cheated on before and can't quite believe it won't happen again. Or it could be part of other insecurities.
"It can be a dangerous move for many reasons," says Jo Hemmings. "Firstly, simply feeling the need to look at private correspondence begs the question why? There may be trust issues, personal insecurity or a need for control going on here. All better dealt with in other ways."
If she has the need to check your messages, or you hers, you really need to talk about it. Sorry Jools, but snooping is probably not healthy for a relationship. And there's another reason it can be dangerous Are you on the verge of an affair?
Man caught having an affair (© Jupiterimages-StockImage-Getty Images)
You or she may have good reason to check one another's phone, but it's rarely a good idea
You can't always 'read' a text
The fact is, a suspicious partner can read things into texts and emails that aren't really there. It's easy to do, says Hemmings.
"For example, it's standard practice for women to put an 'x' after texts these days - professional or personal," she adds. But a jealous girlfriend could easily read something into it, and start poring over every word in an attempt to find more 'evidence' of infidelity.
Similarly, texts and even emails are less formal than earlier forms of communication. Texts, in particular, are often jokey and familiar. But when does jokey become playful, and when does playful become suggestive? The rules aren't hard and fast and everyone is different, which again means that it's easy for a snooping partner to put two and two together and make 100.
"Any words that don't have a 'voice' - in spite of smiley faces, exclamation marks, etc are one-dimensional - and therefore easily open to misinterpretation," says Hemmings.
Shocked woman looking at lipstick on shirt of man (© Andrew Bret Wallis-StockImage-Getty Images)
Is it possible you're mis-reading her communications?
Should you snoop on texts and emails?
It may not be true of Jools Oliver, but in most cases it seems that snooping on a partner's texts and emails is a sign that something is wrong. And if you do it, or your partner does it to you, the risk of misinterpretation means it's only likely to make matters worse. If either of you does, it's time to talk it through.

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