Technology and a Couple’s Boundaries


By Jerry Sander, LCSW

In our most recent podcast, Kristy and I wrestled with the question of just how much privacy an individual is entitled to when they are in an intimate relationship. Whether it is a marriage or a long-term monogamous commitment the same set of questions are ever-present: what is yours, what is mine, and what is ours?

Specifically, do you mind if I look at your phone? Or your computer browser history? Or, more and more commonly, it morphs into “I just happened to look at your phone,” “I just happened to glance at your text messages” or “your messages/mail/texts popped up on the family computer in the dining room.” Anything from expressions of tension, embarrassment, annoyance, accusations, and deep upset to total couples crisis and meltdown often follows.

Is there evidence of an emotional or sexual affair, right on this little piece of technology in front of us? Or of interest in sexual fantasies that your partner had no idea of?

For some, there will be clear evidence of an affair (something that your spouse might have even denied many times in advance) and the boundary violation of having snooped into your partner’s phone, iPad, or computer pales in comparison to the boundary violation of them having committed an infidelity of significance. Some will use this as a make-or-break moment to go to couples’ therapy, while others will use it as a springboard for a lawyer’s visit instead (or, in the case of non-married couples, a brisk farewell).

But for those who remain together, confused, and hurt, the old saying “in every crisis, there is an opportunity” comes to mind. The opportunity to have the deepest of conversations has just presented itself. It could be ignored (at your own peril as a couple). Or the meaning of what your partner thought was private to their life could be understood and shared. And you grow as a couple. “You can grow back stronger at the broken parts” is the saying.

I’m going to borrow a piece of wisdom from Kristy: “When hard conversations stop, intimacy dies.”

If you need help with those hard conversations, get it.