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Right or Wrong? Snooping on Spouse's E-mail
A husband checked his wife's e-mail and she feels her privacy has been breached. Dr. Karen explores the mistrust and discusses the privacy boundaries in marriage.


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Where is there a line in your privacy within the marriage?


It is quite understandable that your wife feels a trust has been broken since you admit that you invaded her privacy.”
I suspected something wasn't right, and I invaded my wife's privacy and saw an inappropriate e-mail from an old boyfriend. I approached her about it and now she feels I am the one who is entirely wrong and I'm being shunned. The e-mail suggested she call him and possibly see him. He is recently divorced. I've apologized about the privacy issue and asked that she be open with me about things, but she doesn't want to hear it. How do I bring peace back in to the marriage?

There are so many articles written offering tips about what it takes to have a good marriage. And though there are many different factors that will ensure a good partnership, a foundational one is trust. The matter you raise is certainly one that brings into question the trust between you and your wife—from each end.

It is quite understandable that your wife feels a trust has been broken since you admit that you invaded her privacy. From her standpoint, there is nothing going on and so you crossed a boundary.

Even when two people are in a committed relationship, they’re still entitled to have some distance and space from one another. There is a trust that this space will be respected. By going into her private e-mail, she is most likely feeling that you have crossed a line, so to speak. Many couples actually discuss, before they live together, what they believe is appropriately "off-limits" to one another. Obviously this will vary depending on the couple.

That having been said, I will also acknowledge the following: In my practice, I do deal with many marriages where an affair has taken place. Often, the knowledge of such occurred as a result of the partner finding information in the very same way you did (or some variation of it). The betrayed spouse will say that they, too, suspected something, and since it is highly unlikely that their mate was going to admit to the affair, they had to look for proof. So, from that outlook, it is reasonable that you played Sherlock Holmes.

Of course, another possibility may have more to do with a general issue of your relationship. The question really becomes, "Why did you feel the need to snoop?" Though it is difficult to be self-reflective, do you tend to be the jealous type? Is there some insecurity you have about the relationship?

If this were so, there could be absolutely nothing to be concerned about; your wife could have chosen to withhold this information from you for fear of a reaction on your part. This again goes to a matter of trust—in this case, her not trusting that she can share information with you without getting into a major situation.

Try talking to her again. If your wife is still unwilling to speak to you about the matter, it might be helpful to write a letter to her. Let her know that you are truly apologetic and that you realize there are things in your relationship that need discussion. At that point, explain the feelings that motivated your behavior and make sure to listen to hers.

When the two of you have an open, honest talk that is motivated by a sincere desire to learn about your spouse’s feelings and make changes, you will be on a good path for the future!

Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com



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