Snooping can be extremely detrimental to a relationship of any kind, but especially a romantic one. Whether it's as seemingly harmless as looking through your partner's cell phone while he's in the bathroom or listening in on a phone conversation she's having withher mother, you're still invading your significant other's privacy. "Anytime you're looking information about your partner's life, by going around his or her back and becoming a secret agent, you're snooping," says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert and author. "Additionally, talking to your partner's friends and parents behind his or her back about something you know he or she would rather you not dig up is also snooping."
Plain and simple: Most people can admit that they've snooped here and there in a relationship, but if you find that you're doing this on the regular, it may be a sign of a major problems in your relationship. The most detrimental side effect of snooping is that it erodes the trust you've built up between you—a critical piece for any serious union. "Snooping on your partner may lead them to believe you doubt their ability to be faithful and make the right decisions," says Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship expert. "If your partner believes you lack faith in them, this can lead to an even deeper communication breakdown."
It also encourages ongoing sneakiness. Just as you want to trust that your partner won't go behind your back and do something, your partner wants to trust that you won't do the same. Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship coach, says that consistently going behind someone's back can reinforce that pattern of sneaky behavior, which erodes the foundation of your partnership. "Rather than communicating assertively, you develop patterns of sneakiness, and these are behaviors that can harm a relationship in the long run," he explains.
As the snooper, the act in itself can cause you to become paranoid. Once you get in the habit of constantly trying to find out hidden information about your partner, you may fall into a cycle of finding issues where none really exist, Bennett adds. Ultimately, snooping "leads you down the path to paranoia" and what started out as occasional snooping may escalate into a compulsive habit. In other words, when people start snooping, they often have trouble stopping. "The access to secret information empowers them and they get excited to find out more," explains Masini. "They find themselves waking up early, in the middle of the night, and taking more risks to get more snooping time. Before they know it, many people are prioritizing snooping over what's normally their real lives."
Another side effect of snooping is often a decrease is communication between you and your significant other. "Partners that are often snooped on express feelings of frustration and disappointment," explains Richards-Smith. "As walls begin to raise, having open and honest dialogue can decrease significantly." Luckily, even a relationship that involves snooping can be salvaged. The best thing for the snooping partner to do is discuss his or her concerns. "If you are afraid of being betrayed or being lied to, or if you are afraid to ask questions because the answers might disappoint you, now is the time to disclose these parts of who you are," says Masini. "Relationships can't become intimate unless both people are willing to be honest. Even when honesty causes discomfort, it's important."
Next, you'll need to come to terms with the reason for your snooping. "If you're afraid your partner is cheating, acknowledge that fact. If you're afraid your partner has quit a job and hasn't told you, or is using retirement money to fund a hobby, all secretly, accept this," says Masini. "Understanding the reason for your behavior is the first step towards helping yourself and your relationship."
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that no one is perfect. "Everyone makes mistakes and if you look at everything as 'evidence' proving some kind of bad behavior you're going to poison the relationship," adds Bennett. "If you see strong evidence for poor behavior, don't ignore it, but don't blow everything out of proportion either."