Oh, yeah, this topic. I'm going there.
I can't even begin to tell you how many times, as a relationship expert, I'm asked about playing detective in a relationship, whether it's from clients, interviewers, or just friends. Every single week, I hear:
"But, Barb....is it EVER ok to check up on your partner? What if you really think something is going on and they swear to God it's all in your head? Do I just sit there and end up looking like a fool?"
Alright, let's dig in to some of the layers of this. First and foremost, a healthy, intimate relationship will not require you to even consider this kind of detective work. When trust has been established between a couple, individuals naturally show up in a fully transparent way, which adds to the strength of the connection. They leave their cell phones sitting around or say to their sweetheart, "Can you grab my phone, honey, and call John while I'm driving so we can tell them we're close?" They leave their FB page open when they go to get another cup of coffee or ask their partner to look at a funny posting on their page.
When a client tells me they are beginning to feel suspicious, I always encourage then to do two things first:
1. Look at any personal insecurities coming up for them, that might be skewing their perspective
2. Do NOT accuse/question/ or grill their partner, assume the best and work on the emotional connection
A client of mine couldn't find the motivation to get back to her Zumba class and gym time after their second child was born. Her husband had tried everything to help her fit it into her schedule, but she shrugged it off. When he kept going himself, she suddenly became sure that he was there simply to "ogle' women in spandex and flirt, even though she had never seen him do this! Her own insecurities were leading the way.
Assuming the best as a guiding principle is always the place to start, even when you become concerned. Initiate a warm, open-hearted conversation and own how you are feeling. Asking for some reassurance and sharing that you'd like to feel closer to get past these concerns, while actually taking action steps to make that happen, can turn things around quickly!
But what if you, like many of my clients, have been seeing some signs and new behaviors that are honestly worrying you? Is it ever alright to scan through your partners phone when they aren't looking or to go into their email account? If you feel there might be another person involved, should you look into monitoring software? I can tell you right now that even with a spouse, there can be legal ramifications that you do not want to involve yourself with, by installing software. In all honesty, if your partner is suddenly changing passwords so you can't get into their phone or sites, staying out late with "new" friends or consistently are not where they say they are going to be, there may be something going on. But in my experience, whether this is the good news or bad news, you're going to find out sooner or later. What you can do is not be afraid to matter-of-factly, without accusing, state what you see. "Honey, is there a reason you are suddenly carrying your phone everywhere with you, even into the bathroom and outside at night?" Then be quiet. Seriously. Listen and do not engage in an argument. You'll have additional information from simple exchanges like that, by seeing what is said, reading body language and noticing if there is alot of defensiveness. And again, in the mean time, continue to work on ramping up the emotional connection between the two of you, instead of allowing fear and frustration to stretch it thinner and thinner, while you sneak around for information!
Most people do not engage in affairs because they are simply "jerks" - they get emotionally disconnected from their partner to the point that another's attention, kindnesses and flirtations hook them in.
Here's the truth though - my clients usually end up sneaking and checking BEFORE they ask me if it's Ok! Human nature can send us immediately into self protection mode and unfortunately, into some pretty unconscious behaviors of our own! At that point, you are still faced with "What now?" Begin to look hard at how you are showing up in the relationship, what can change from your end to begin rebuilding the friendship and emotional connection and ultimately, stay true to yourself.
Remember, you do not need to concern yourself with "looking like a fool" if you have walked the path of integrity with an open heart.