What should I do if my spouse is spying on me?

Phone hacking has been all over the news lately due to Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World” scandal. While the public is quick to condemn the newspaper’s actions, reading other’s personal information is something that can seem morally blurry when it comes to your spouse. Aren’t you supposed to share everything? This is the topic brought up by the writers over at Jezebel.com on a controversy surrounding a response in the popular advice column “Ask Amy.” Here is the question that was sent to the column, edited for brevity:

My husband very strongly dislikes my best friend. He feels that she is a “bad influence” on me, as she is still dating and hasn’t settled down in her late 20s, goes to a gym that offers “pole fitness” classes, and had an abortion a year ago.

He is always angry when I am talking to her on the phone and has gone so far as to hack into my e-mail account and read our e-mails to one another.

Heaven forbid the e-mail contain a reference to an acquaintance of ours we find attractive or a (justified or not) complaint about a habit of his.

Amy Dickinson published this reply:

 Your husband is being unreasonable. But then, so are you.

The problem here is that you are putting your friendship with your girlfriend in the middle of your relationship with your husband. You also need to learn how to dole out information like a grown-up. [She shouldn’t have told her husband about the friend’s abortion or told her friend about her marriage complaints.]

You three need a do-over. You should be able to chat privately with your friend, but you should also welcome your husband into the circle from time to time. And he needs to grow up, too.

Amy is right to point out that there are always things that both parties (wife and husband) can do to solve marriage problems. At the same time, as Jezebel quickly notes, Amy completely misses the disturbing center of the asker’s situation: the controlling, manipulative and angry behavior of the husband. The Jezebel writer hits the issue right on with this quote: “when you get married… you don’t surrender your right to have private conversations with your friends…You don’t surrender your right to privacy or to correspond with people without worrying about being monitored. This is marriage- a lifelong partnership of love, respect, and trust.”

In fact, controlling or isolating behavior is among our top 5 reasons for divorce. If your partner habitually restricts your social life, cuts you off from loved ones, and insists that you only spend time doing his/her pre-approved activities, please, talk to someone about this. How to deal with jealousy and other problems can be learned with counseling, while controlling behavior is a sign of a serious and potentially dangerous situation in your marriage that requires immediate action and perhaps separation.

It is generally a bad sign if you feel that you need to check  your spouse’s email or cell phone without permission.  It may be a sign that you’re being too controlling.  Almost always, it’s a sign that something is seriously awry in the kind of healthy open communication, trustworthy behaviors, and loving consideration that are the foundations of healthy marriages.

At the same time, it’s also a bad sign if there’s anything in your “private” communications that you wouldn’t be 100% proud to share with your spouse.  Like Amy says, airing your husband’s dirty laundry to the girls isn’t fair–it’s a breach of the trust you share by having such intimately connected lives. Hey, would you want him joking about your love-handles to the guys?  

So, on the one hand foster independence in you marriage and stand up for your independence.  And at the same time, be very careful how you use that independence!
What do you think, dear readers? Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of a time when it would be ok to check your spouse’s email?
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