Does privacy exist in a marriage?
When two become one, it's easy to assume what's yours is theirs and vice versa. But the very nature of technology is forcing couples to redefine the rules
Dubai-based photographer Anuroop (name changed) and his wife share an all-cards-on-the-table, no-secrets-whatsoever policy. She knows his phone and email passwords, but that doesn't bother him at all, because she never uses them. She certainly doesn't "snoop" when he's not around, he says. That may, in part, be because she doesn't have to. Anuroop openly tells her who he's been talking to, including past girlfriends (or just friends who are women), and what those conversations are about.
"I don't keep anything from her; I don't have to: she's quite broad-minded that way." Is she just as open with him? Yup - er, perhaps too much. "Somebody please tell her I don't want to know what colour salwar her sister bought; I don't want to see a photo. I just want to watch the movie, please!" he half-wails, before putting up his hands, good-naturedly, saying, "That's just marriage, I guess."
Privacy in marriage - is there such a thing when two become one? That was the hot talking point of a recent editorial meeting. The debate is probably as old as the institution of marriage itself. However, the advent of technology - and all the possibilities that it brings - has certainly lent the dialogue a renewed energy, not to mention, fresh perspective. Speaking to an array of folks, we found that opinions on the matter are as sharply divided as they are asserted. For while some believe that there can be no exceptions to the 'openness cultivates trust' rule, others are far keener to maintain a sense of their own individuality in their unions, rejecting what they see as an unreasonable demand for spousal control. Still others feel it may just be possible to have the best of both worlds.
A straw poll we conducted online was fairly telling. We asked Instagram followers if they would share their Facebook password with their significant others. Unsurprisingly, in this age of individuality, 'No' led the charge with 55 per cent - albeit those who voted 'Yes' weren't terribly far behind at 45 per cent.
(From left to right) Sheila Adele and husband Calvin; Dr Kennon Rider; Kruttika Kallury
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to this, muses Nigerian expat Sheila Adeoye, who's been married a little more than a year now. She and her husband both have passwords on their phones - but not because they have anything to hide. "We were individuals before marriage, and we respect each other's space now too. We're very open in terms of things we're going through, but I think it's important to still have something you can call your own and maintain some degree of individuality."
The reason she doesn't believe there can be a formulaic solution to the question is because her own sister tackles the matter very differently - with just as much success. "My sister and her husband are extremely open about everything - from their feelings to their passwords," Sheila notes. "There's no demand for information; just a mutual sharing that comes very easily to both of them, because that's who they are as people too."
Ironically, the point of contention for most has to do with extremely subjective views of what 'trust' means. While one camp believes an unwillingness to share passwords is a red flag indicating lack of trust, the other maintains the offence lies in asking for them in the first place. Dr Kennon Rider, a marriage and family therapist at the German Neuroscience Center, believes it's both - and neither. "It depends on the spoken and unspoken 'rules' that individuals bring with them into the marriage," he says.
Some people grow up in families where transparency and open sharing of information is the norm, he explains. These people are more likely to reach marriage and expect the same from themselves and their partners. "However, these same people, after leaving their families of origin, could have had experiences with broken trust that now shape their 'rules' about privacy and disclosure. In short, if a couple agrees on the 'rules' - whether to openly share passwords and information, or to respect the other's privacy - either policy will work. The trouble comes when there is a disagreement about those rules."
Independent yoga teacher Kruttika Kallury knows what that means. Though she knows all her husband's passwords ("he believes in sharing them"), he doesn't know hers because she feels it's just healthy to "keep a part of yourself to yourself". Initially, he wasn't A-okay with her stance, but the two have now reached a mutual understanding where they agree to disagree. "No information of importance will be withheld, because I don't have anything to hide," Kruttika clarifies. "But in my profession, people share a lot of health problems with me that are personal and confidential. I cannot compromise on that confidence."
She asserts she's never used his passwords to gain access to information herself. "There's an unnecessary curiosity that comes up when you have access to a person's passwords," she notes. "Snooping can be damaging because you may read something that you don't completely understand, and end up forming half-baked conclusions and misconceptions. You can't even confront your partner about it, because then you'll have to admit you snooped! That's so messy."
Researchers point to the role that technology has played in shaping these views. Millennials, for example, are not new to stalking people online, hence their idea of privacy would differ greatly from that of generations before them. Technology, they note, also makes it far easier to cheat, making it possible for people to adopt entirely different personas online or even just blur the lines between what is appropriate and inappropriate communication with those outside the marriage.
As a general rule, Dr Rider notes that honesty and openness is the best policy in marriage. However, he cautions, there could also be such a thing as over-sharing with your spouses. "Some of the professional literature would call such over-sharing 'enmeshment' - and that term is not complimentary. While it may, at first glance, look romantic for there to be no secrets whatsoever between a couple (every thought, feeling, behaviour is shared), it also removes the mystery, the excitement of not knowing but of discovering over time."
How to find middle ground with your partner on the subject of privacy
. Have a calm conversation about the roots of your beliefs on transparency and privacy.
. Discuss personal experiences from your pasts that have shaped your current thinking about these issues.
. Try to empathise, and not be defensive, once both of you have a good understanding of where the other is coming from.
. Seek professional help to get unstuck if you find that arguments on the subject are consistently the norm.
- Courtesy: Dr Kennon Rider