Snooping through our lover’s phone messages and social media accounts. Sigh.

We’ve all been there, chest deep in love and scared to death of finding out that our other half may have broken the rules—and our hearts and minds to boot. The fear isn’t so much about the cheating as is about the anticipation of our own humiliation by deception. No one wants to get caught playing the fool. Ever. And so, we set out to protect ourselves from the pain of love overturned, determined to have a direct hand in bringing about love’s vindication or vanquishing.

I’ll preface this next part with a bit of a disclaimer, if only to clarify what may appear to be a “blaming of the victim” scenario in which a snooping parter actually DOES find evidence of cheating:

I don’t believe that people should NEVER snoop on their partner. Sometimes there IS good reason to suspect that your lover may be coloring outside the lines, and if that’s the case, do what you gotta do.

The purpose of this article is merely a warning: be careful.

Once snooping begins, it can perpetuate an endless cycle of obsessive checking and wanting to check, one that creates a constant state of anxiety about finding anything and nothing. To really understand snooping as a bad idea, we have to examine the true purpose of doing it. Why do we snoop? In the act of spying on our lovers the only thing we want to know is the truth; is our lover seeing someone behind our backs? YES OR NO?

When it happens that we do find clear evidence of cheating, the issue is settled; we know what to do. That’s the easy scenario.

The more dangerous scenario is what happens when we DON’T find evidence of cheating, when a violation of fidelity cannot be found. What then? Well, we’ll just have to keep checking because maybe our partner is very careful about covering their tracks, maybe our partner has two phones, a secret meeting place, or codes we haven’t quite figured out yet. Maybe doom is just around the corner, and if we just keep looking we’ll find it, I just know it.

This is where all the trouble starts.

I once heard a Buddhist teacher speak about the pain of our desires, and when we buy a watch or that new cell phone, what brings satisfaction is not the item itself, but rather, the relief that comes when the pain of wanting it ends. But then we just move on to wanting something else, and so the pain of wanting goes on. So why do we keep on buying as if it helps? When does it end?

This is somewhat similar to the snooping scenario. We snoop because the anxiety of “not knowing” pulls at us. By looking at our partner’s text messages and social media profiles, what we’re really looking for is the relief of knowing that our partner’s love is faithful. But much like how we can always imagine a happier life after buying something new, our obsession for checking up on our partner is equally endless. Our minds are so creative. We can imagine ANY scenario to support whatever narrative we wish, so that even when we find nothing, the search for doom continues. So if the point of snooping is to relieve our anxiety over infidelity, and yet all we find is that anxiety continues over finding nothing, how can there ever be an end? What’s the point?

And so, one of the major problems with snooping is that it rarely makes us feel better and does nothing to make our relationship feel more secure. In fact, often times, it can have the opposite effect. Constantly checking up on our partner to assuage our fear and anxieties only feeds suspicion and contempt, which results in feeling even less secure in the relationship.

The second part of this is the effect that snooping has on our partner when they really are being faithful to us.

Most partners will attempt to calm their fears of infidelity by employing snooping as a precautionary measure—it’s just to “make sure” nothing’s going on, even though no particular suspicion exists. This kind of temptation is absolutely everywhere and almost unavoidable. In today’s hyper connected world, there’s no shortage of resources for a suspicious lover to peruse. And you’ve got to hand it to social media—few tools could ever make our lives both exciting and miserable all at the same time. Never before have so many lasting relationships been created and destroyed than at the hands of the Internet.

Really, it’s what we don’t know tends to keep us up at night. And so, when our partner isn’t around, we snoop to catch even the slightest bit of inappropriate interaction between they and another. The goal is to catch it as early as possible, to either deter our partner from such interaction, or tell them, “now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”

It sounds like a smart strategy: get them before they get you. All things being considered, prevention is a pretty good offense. But in the case of suspecting the misdeeds and infidelities of our lovers, snooping becomes more just than a strategy; it becomes our right. This kind of thinking can be dangerous for a relationship, as suspicious lovers find great affirmation in the logic of what becomes a twisted kind of justice:

“Well if nothing is going on, then there’s no reason to not let me check your phone.”

This logic is similar to that of the military industrial complex and how it justifies listening to private citizens’ phone calls, or putting a camera and microphone wherever the NSA deems appropriate, all in the name of “security”:

“Well, as long as you’re not a terrorist and have nothing to hide, listening to your phone calls shouldn’t be a problem.”

But it is a problem.

There must be a reasonable expectation concerning what first-hand knowledge we have about our partner’s interactions with others. We can’t know everything, and that has to be okay. We have to be okay with not knowing everything because that’s how trust works.

Imagine this:

Every day you come home your partner has a large stack of forms for you to fill out concerning what you did, what you said, and to whom, over the entire course of the day.

Seem reasonable? Of course not.

We don’t come home expecting to have to recite every detail of our entire day to our lover because we expect them to trust us. Snooping attempts to find out everything our lover has said to others without even asking their permission. There’s a problem with that.

Respecting our partner’s autonomy is an important part of keeping trust in a relationship. That is, our partner needs to feel like they are able to make their own decisions—good or bad—without constant oversight from us. If we are constantly “checking up on” our partner’s behavior, there’s an implicit message communicated that says, “I don’t trust you to make good decisions”, or even, “the only reason you can make good decisions is because I keep you in line.” These messages can destroy our partner’s sense of joy and freedom in choosing to stay faithful for their own reasons—not because they are afraid that you are snooping.

There’s no personal sense of integrity and accomplishment for a partner who stays faithful only because they know their suspicious lover will check up on them. And that’s not how we want it either. That’s like telling our partner what birthday present to buy us, and then raving about what a great gift-giver they are. What is the true value of the gift then? We want to know that our lover CHOOSES us, every time, out of their own free will because that’s how real trust derives its value. However, constant, groundless snooping, can destroy the very trust that it means to protect, and being treated as if they are untrustworthy is likely to result in our partner’s contempt for us and the relationship—not greater intimacy.