How Much Privacy Should You Expect In A Relationship?

I once dated a woman who firmly believed that when two people reached a point in their relationship that they were living together, they ceased to be two individuals, but instead became one person.

Of course, I didn’t know this before she moved in.

But I found out the extent of it soon enough. If I got up from the couch and went to the kitchen, she got up from the couch and went to the kitchen.  If I wanted to go down the block to get a slice of pizza, she’d have to go with me.  Other than work and the bathroom, she was basically my shadow (I found myself peeing a lot more often just to get a few sacred minutes alone).  Even more alarming, she believed that if she didn’t like one of my friends, then I should be ready to simply stop being friends with that person (and vice versa).

That relationship didn’t last, and clearly this was closeness in the extreme.

But in more typical situations, where fusion at the hip doesn’t happen, it can be tough to determine boundaries, and understand how much privacy each person should expect.

I think most people would agree that going out for nights at a time without letting your significant other know about it or know where you’re going is maybe too much privacy – if you want to do that, you may as well stay single. The question comes up in the more subtle instances of personal space: Is it okay to look through each other’s cell phones and text messages?  Are you expected to divulge your Facebook password? Is it okay to step out of the room to take a phone call?

On the one hand, everybody deserves a modicum of privacy. Just because you enter into a relationship shouldn’t mean you have to give up all rights to your personal space – after all, being in a relationship is supposed to make your life better than it was when you were single.  And ultimately you want a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife – not a warden. On the flip side of that, though, is the basic belief that if you have nothing to hide, then you won’t have a problem with your partner looking through your cell phone or Facebook messages, or listening in on your phone calls.

In a court of law, a jury isn’t allowed to assume a defendant is guilty just because they won’t testify in their own defense or they plead the fifth…but romantic relationships are hardly ever that rational.

“I can’t look through your text messages? Why? What is it that you don’t want me to see?”  At face value, it’s a pretty valid argument.

The reality is though, while yes, some people may be hiding things they shouldn’t be doing, it’s hardly ever that cut and dry. The most important reason to give each other privacy, aside from the fact that we all simply deserve to maintain a measure of our own space, is to demonstrate trust and faith in the person you’ve chosen to be with.

After all, if you don’t feel like you can trust that person, then why would you want to be with them in the first place?  But another reason is that giving our partners that privacy can ultimately preserve our own sanity, and help maintain the quality of our relationships.

When it comes to love, the biggest enemy is often our own imagination, which usually has the tendency to race away in negative directions.  We read a portion of text conversation between our partner and someone else out if context, and our imaginations are left to fill in the blanks. We think and think and think, and the more we think, the more outrageous our conclusions become, and we introduce fear, jealousy and suspicion where it previously wasn’t.

Recognizing each other’s rights to privacy isn’t only necessary for our own personal sanity and happiness, but it’s a key component to maintaining the health of our relationships as well. The fewer opportunities we give our imaginations to play games on us, the better everything is.