Personal Boundaries: Has Your Spouse Read Your Email?
So, you noticed your email contains a lot of correspondence “marked as read” that you didn’t read. When you asked about it, your spouse confirmed that he or she believed your incoming messages were shared information, and read your email at will.
You’re not sure how you feel about that.
In fact, it kind of bothers you. Why? What does it mean to you?
Do you feel micromanaged? Disrespected? Even violated?
Is it really that big a deal?
Actually it is.
The “invasion of email” issue between spouses is more common than you may think, and the resentment you feel is really about personal boundaries.
Personal boundaries are key to healthy relationships and the answer to the question of “to read or not to read” your partner’s emails is “it depends.” It depends on context, permission, and the history of your union.
Despite a diversity of opinion regarding spouses who read each other’s email, it is generally not okay to snoop.
However, when it comes to limits and boundaries, it is important to remember that in your relationship, you both get to decide what works for you. Just be sure to deal in honesty and good faith, both with yourself and with your spouse. Be careful to give each other the personal space and options afforded to all people, even to married people.
Access to your partner’s mail, electronic or otherwise, is a privilege, not a right.
If no precedent was set early on, don’t assume you have the right to go there.
If no negotiation occurred affording you the privilege to click through your partner’s personal messages, it is wise not to do it. If you go ahead unsanctioned, you may damage your relationship. Your snooping may be construed as a violation of personal boundaries and a lack of trust.
As individuals with individual email addresses, you have the right to determine who reads what.
As partners who share a life, together you can work out what bothers you and make your case if you both don’t agree. Also, respectfully discuss when and why it is best that a measure of privacy be retained and consider situations when it might be okay to read each other’s messages.
For example, for couples running a family business, it might advantageous to routinely allow your partner to read your email in an effort to keep track of vendor issues and customer requests.
A person’s prolonged illness or frequent travel might also create a need for email sharing so that affairs are properly addressed. Whatever the reason, it still remains important that spouses give each other the go-ahead to cross personal boundaries.
All that said, there is one major exception to an expectation of email privacy. Infidelity.
In that situation, the faithful spouse is rightfully distrustful. On a temporary basis, the unfaithful spouse may do well to consider allowing his or her spouse to read emails until trust is re-established. Still, that exception would also probably best be negotiated in a therapy session, rather than a heated debate.
Infidelity aside, there are all kinds of marriages, and what works for one couple may not work for another one.
The precedent for personal boundaries regarding email–one way or another–is set early in the relationship. If it is to be changed it should be discussed and negotiated. But consider this: once a precedent is established, it is difficult to negotiate a change.
On the whole, a healthy couple should be able to talk it out until a mutual agreement is reached.
Until an agreement is in place, it is wise to preserve your personal boundaries and presume that your personal emails remain for your eyes alone.
Robert Menuet, LCSW, is a therapist who practices in the Greater New Orleans, Louisiana, metropolitan area. He specializes in Marriage Counseling, Couples Therapy, Relationship Therapy for Singles, Couples Therapy For One, and he consults and treats couples who work together in family business. He has 34 years of experience and has been trained in couples therapy and mediation at the Washington School of Psychiatry and Loyola University College of Law.