Welcome to ‘Between the Sheets,’ a new series in which we answer reader questions about sex, relationships and finding happiness in and out of love. Got a burning question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I know you’re not supposed to snoop on your partner... but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my husband had been getting too close to his new co-worker lately. So, I snooped and found what I feared: Suspicious texts. Do I confront him, and also confess that I violated his privacy?”
Technology has made us all sort of crazy. Not only is it easier for a person to cheat, thanks to all the mechanisms of connection (DM, LinkedIn, breezy email), it’s also easy to carry around the evidence of an affair on that good ol’ smartphone we all have on our person.
For the increasingly suspicious partner, it’s so tempting to hack an iPhone or iPad... and a lot of people do. Then, they either don’t like what they find and don’t know how to handle the evidence, or realize they made a big mistake assuming the worst. They also don’t know how to go about confronting the issue—because they know they’re not technically supposed to invade a partner’s privacy like that.
Today, I want to talk about both outcomes. Both are common, and worthy of discussion. In either outcome, I am not as concerned with how to confront your partner as much as I am the level of trust left between you two.
You have no reason not to trust your current partner, but you don’t.
Let’s say you open up that phone, search for the most flirtatious, salacious texts imaginable, and they’re not there. In fact, everything looks pretty innocuous. OK. You need to reflect on what you believe made you feel this way.
Oftentimes, if you seek evidence of an affair that’s not there, it’s not actually about your current partner. It’s about your past. Perhaps a past relationship in which an ex cheated made you internalize negative self-worth, distrusting behaviors and intrusive thoughts about cheating? Did you ever date someone whose stories didn’t add up? Who was manipulative? Emotionally abusive and traumatic events in relationships are real—and to some degree, you can suffer PTSD-like symptoms. Researchers have proposed a new diagnosis for this: Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome.
You have to ask yourself: Do I mistrust relationships in general, or has my current partner given me real reasons not to trust him or her? If the former, it’s best to be fully open about both the snooping and why you think you did it. Tell your husband that you know now that he didn't cheat on you (and wouldn’t), but anxiety over past relationships drove you to do something you regret. Also discuss healthier coping mechanisms you think might work—and don’t hesitate to call a therapist, who can help you work through this trauma.
You have legit reasons not to trust your partner, and you don’t.
So, per our reader question...let’s say you find those incriminating texts, and they're just as bad as you suspected. While I'm not going to say "file those divorce papers," especially if there’s a child involved, I do think you need to ask yourself one pressing question: Can trust be rebuilt?
If you think yes, then it's fair to confront the situation, in a straightforward manner. Yes, you did something wrong by snooping—but so did he, and you both need to own up. Once each of you has come clean, think about ways to move forward in the relationship, and what you'd both need to do so. Is there evidence that your spouse has ended the affair? Is therapy a must for both of you, individually and as a couple? Do you need to work on relationship-building techniques, like words of affirmation or quality time?
Spend some time thinking about how to lay a new foundation with your husband. And make sure that the underlying soil is also your bottom line.
Jenna Birch is a dating coach, journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love.