Woman snooping on partner’s phone

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VANCOUVER — It should go without saying in relationships that one’s text messages should remain private unless shared. But for those battling suspicions of infidelity or a partner hiding something from them, the temptation to go snooping for answers can be hard to resist. A new study shows that while getting caught reading a partner’s texts often leads to the end of a relationship, for others, it can actually strengthen a couple’s bond or even lead to the repair of a damaged heart.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Lisbon recruited 102 people online from Europe, Canada, or the U.S. and asked them to write about an experience that involved them snooping on someone else’s phone, or finding someone snooping through theirs. Forty-six people described an experience that involved a romantic relationship. Of that group, 21 couples wound up calling it quits, while the other 25 survived.

Researchers say that couples who were able to persevere despite the loss of trust tended to have a stronger foundation and friendship between them. The person who found their partner snooping also generally viewed it as more important to work past the issue, even if that meant allowing their significant other to pry into their privacy more often for the sake of trust.

“In such cases, the victim explained away the snooping by considering it as a sign that they should reassure their romantic partner about their commitment to the relationship,” explains study author Ivan Beschastnikh, a professor of computer science at UBC, in a statement. “They ended up excusing the behavior and, in some cases, continued to give the other person access to their phone.”

On the other hand, the authors found that relationships that ended typically felt that their trust was severed beyond repair, or that the relationship was already in a dark place.

“Another main reason was the relationship was not that strong or important to begin with, as was the case with two work friends where one stole valuable contact information from the other’s cellphone,” says Beschastnikh.

As for why participants who admitted to being the snooper decided to risk their relationship, many pointed to jealousy and the “desire to control relationships with others,” the researchers said. Some claimed they were simply committing a practical joke, while others confessed to trying to steal information for financial gain.

Interestingly, the authors also found that the most popular time to snoop was while a partner was in the shower or using the bathroom. They suggest that you bring your phone with you if you believe your partner might be spying on you.

“The fact that people snoop is widely known, but we know much less about exactly why they do what they do, and about the eventual impact on their relationships,” says Beschastnikh. “This study contributes new insights to that discussion straight from those who have experienced snooping, and hopefully prompts more research down the line.”

The study was presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

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