You’ve noticed your partner behaving suspiciously with their cellphone. They text a lot late at night but hide the screen from you. Or they take calls in your presence, only to end them quickly. So you wonder what’s going on and your fingers are itching to get hold of that phone . . .
Before you do, stop and ask yourself why you want to snoop, says Pierre de Villiers, a counselling therapist based in Fourways, Johannesburg. “Past hurts or experiences of growing up in a family where cheating was normal can affect your level of trust and your response,” he explains. “But every person needs space and privacy. Technology can strain a relationship.
“The minute you pick up the phone and start checking messages and logs, ask yourself whether you’re acting in a loving way or policing your relationship.” While you don’t need to feel guilty if you do it once, De Villiers says you need to take responsibility for your choices and decide what kind of relationship you want if it becomes a habit.
You should never feel uncomfortable about leaving your cellphone lying around for any family member to pick up, says Judy Ramsden, head of counselling at the Family Life Centre in Parkview, Joburg. “If you feel that way, it shows there’s a problem.” Here’s how you can handle the situation in a mature way.
1 Don’t disrespect each other’s privacy. Rather ask if you may handle the phone. If it rings when you’re around, ask if you may answer it or if you should let it go to voicemail. “If a relationship is built on trust, there shouldn’t be a desire to answer the phone or check up on text messages,” Ramsden says.
2 Don’t play detective. If you suspect your partner is being unfaithful, it’s best to raise the topic and discuss it honestly. Wait until you’re both calm and ask without being aggressive or attacking. Say, “I’m feeling nervous about our relationship” or “I saw you put your phone down quickly when I walked by. Should I be worried?”
3 Don’t say anything harsh in the heat of the moment. “Chances are it won’t have the desired effect and might make the person defensive,” De Villiers says. Give your partner a chance to explain. For example, if they manage the joint finances and tell you there’s no money for you to spend but you see info reflecting otherwise, say: “I was at the ATM and saw a different amount. Did you perhaps confuse the accounts?”
4 Be savvy and handle the matter in a mature way. For instance, if you discover your partner has a password on their phone they won’t share with you, say: “I’m curious, why do you need a password on your phone?” “If your partner says it’s for security reasons in case the phone gets stolen, that’s reasonable,” De Villiers says. “Of course it could be a lie, so you’ll need to trust your instincts.” Act in your own time. “If you discover your partner is guilty and you’re tempted to lash out, don’t. There’s no deadline if you decide to end the relationship or move out. Decide on the when and how and do it when you feel ready to, not on impulse,” he cautions.
5 Don’t let your partner attack you before providing a valid explanation. Once confronted they might call you insecure, childish or looking for trouble. Instead of getting angry and saying something you might regret later, say, “So I’m insecure? Fine. But who is this person and how long has it been going on behind my back?”
This will help you get the answers you need. Rather communicate with each other. Look at your relationship and discuss what is missing. Negotiate and agree on changes you both feel happy with. If your partner has cheated on you and you decide to try to save the relationship, counselling might help. “Affairs don’t always need to end a relationship or marriage. Rather seek help before making hasty decisions,” Ramsden suggests. “Talk to each other and look at what’s wrong,” De Villiers adds.