Snooping: When is it okay, if ever?

This thread went off the rails about snooping on the emails, texts, etc. of a girlfriend who was acting suspiciously.

So, the question for the Dope is, when is it okay to snoop? Is it ethical? Justified? Necessary?

If I believed my minor child was abusing dangerous drugs, or considering self-harm behavior, you can bet your ass I’d snoop. As for someone like a life-partner, who is an equal, the only situation that I can imagine snooping in would, again, involve minor children; if he wanted a divorce, and I suspected he was involved with a woman that might harm my minor child, I would not hesitate to get the proof that I needed, so that I might gain sole custody.

Otherwise, I just can’t imagine snooping being OK.

Moving my responses from that thread to here:

I never take relationships lightly, including when it comes to ending them. I need proof before I end one. If I snoop in the emails and find totally platonic, normal content I’d just forget about the whole thing. If I found anything sexual or romantic I’d send her packing.

Because I acknowledge that I might just be the one who is wrong. I know I’m not always right and that, lacking any evidence, weird behavior may just be that: weird behavior. She gave me reason to believe something was going on with her weird behavior, she didn’t give me a straight answer, I had no choice but to get my answers another way, I found nothing, I acknowledge that I was wrong, I move on. What’s so hard to get about this? Everyone second-guesses themselves.

I can only speak for myself, but I’d be fine with “nothing incriminating.” As long as there weren’t any overtly romantic or sexual chats or emails I wouldn’t worry about it anymore. YMMV.

I don’t take relationships lightly, either, which is why I treat my partners as partners, and worthy of my respect and honesty.

You would acknowledge it to her? “I snooped because I didn’t trust you but I found nothing wrong, so I’m moving on”?

kidneyfailure, let me try from a different angle. Is there any circumstance you can think of in which your partner snooped on you and you’d be bothered or upset by that?

Precisely. In an authoritarian, top-down relationship like parent/child snooping may be tolerated - there’s going to reach a critical age/relationship status where this no longer becomes acceptable. I’d say around 16 or so the rights of privacy start solidifying.

As for somebody I was romantically involved with - absolutely no. Snooping absolutely destroys trust on several levels: the assumption that it’s necessary in the first place, the physical invasion of privacy that it requires, and (usually) the subsequent lie of omission or bombshell revelation, depending.

It’s unacceptable, and I make it very clear to everybody I’m involved with that serious, check-you-email-while-you’re-not-there snooping is deal-breaker territory.

So do I…unless they give me reason to do otherwise, like, say, talking to a stranger about me out of my earshot for 3 hours in the middle of the night. I wouldn’t snoop for just any old reason, I’d have to have a damn good reason first AND I would have had to have talked about it with my SO and gotten nowhere with that before I started snooping. I don’t see why you’re arguing for respecting the hypothetical partner who is distant, confrontational, talking about you behind your back, and being secretive. They’re certainly not respecting you.

And no, I would not acknowledge my snooping to her, but my being wrong to myself. You misunderstood.

If I wasn’t acting out of the ordinary and they snooped just because they wanted to…that would make me upset. Or if they thought I was acting oddly and they snooped before coming to talk to me about why my behavior bothers them. That would make me angry, too.

Barring life and death situations, snooping is tacky behavior. For reasons already explained by myself and others.

I still have yet to figure out how somebody reading crap that isn’t at all incriminating actually hurts you. Everybody keeps trying to cite some sort of proprietary rules that make it wrong, but, as far as I know, no one has actually defended those rules as having a purpose.

It seems to me that people value privacy for reasons beyond utilitarian ones. This is fine with me, but only because I have an analogy I can relate it to: religion. It seems to me that people who do not value religion would have no reason to adhere to an ethical standard that they cannot prove actually helps society.

Be that as it may, sometimes it’s the only way for you to gain closure or get answers in a situation.

I don’t know what to say really. I have snooped, and I’ve been…snooped, but so what. Once, it payed off so freakin’ well that I would never not snoop if I really suspected something. Maybe this makes me a bad person I don’t know. I know my girlfriend has snooped but that’s okay with me, seeing as I travel a lot for work.

I’ve technically never cheated in my entire life, and knowing her and two of her past partners, I’m pretty sure she hasn’t either. Oh well, being together a decade speaks for itself.

I’ve gone through the history on a shared computer before, but really, it was just out of boredom. As I said in another thread, I saw what looked like a porn link and was curious what kind of porn my gf watched and it turned out to be Harry/Ron fanfic. Never forgave her. :stuck_out_tongue:

If I suspected a significant other of cheating I would snoop.

If I was snooped on I can’t say how I’d react. If I was browsing through my own history and discovered that my SO had been opening up things from further back, obviously snooping on me, I’d probably be amused and bring it up in conversation and playfully embarrass her: “Saw you were checking out my favorite porn. Like what you saw?”

I can’t even imagine how I’d act if I found something incriminating or had something incriminating of my own discovered. I’ve never had cause to snoop for evidence of wrongdoing, but I know that I would if I did.

If me and an SO have a problem that can’t be worked out by communicating, the relationship is already over and there is no reason to continue.

I think snooping comes from the impulse to take a relationship that is already failing and drive it into the ground, making sure there is as much hurt and pain as possible for all parties. Personally, I try to stay away from that. Why have the drama?

I think the only time that snooping is justified is when you’re at the point where you’ve given up on your relationship anyway, and you just need to know for certain.

“No questions. No answers. That’s the business we’re in. You just accept it and move on. Maybe that’s lesson number three.” – Vincent, Ronin

Any answer you find by snooping is just going to lead more questions, particularly the perennial favorite, “Why?”, which rarely comes with a digestible response. If you are rummaging around through your formerly beloved’s sock drawer or chat logs to “get closure” about a betrayal about which you are already morally convinced has occurred, this probably speaks more to your own insecurities and low self-worth than any fundamental need to resolve the situation before exiting stage left prior to the third act massacre.



First I have to think of something my SO might conceivably be up to that would prompt in me a desire to snoop. Something I’d rather severely disapprove of if it were so. (In my situation the Usual Reasons don’t really apply). OK, let’s say I started entertaining the rather paranoid notion that she thought I was going psycho and was maneuvering behind my back to get me committed.

First off, to entertain that kind of suspicion without some decently solid reason is to come awfully close to becoming what (in this hypothetical-within-a-hypothetical situation) she (might be) thinking was true of me. I mean, not that being paranoid keeps people from plotting against you or anything, but seriously! First assume it’s unjustified paranoia and not to be fed any allocations of credibility. Only if it gets to the point that it strains credibility to explain several phenomena in some other way does the legitimacy of the concern override the desire to trust and respect her as my partner.

I don’t have to leave the relationship if it ever gets to the point I’m serously considering this to be a possibility, but if it seems quite believable for virtually no provocation at all, that’s a sign that I’m not trusting her very much or feeling very safe, and THAT would be a problem.

So OK, let’s say I’ve convinced myself this could actually be happening. Yeah, then I snoop. Carefully, because if it is NOT true I don’t want her to find me snooping. And because (holy fuck) if it IS true I don’t want her to find me snooping. If I’m snooping, it’s about me and the possible threat; my relationship with her is certainly implicated and threatened but the purpose of snooping is not to find ammunition with which to claim that I"ve been betrayed, it’s to protect myself from danger.

If I should (either as a consequence of what I do find or as a consequence of discovering that I feel so unsafe that I’m seriously entertaining such campy scenarios) decide that I need to break up with her, I don’t need ammunition, I don’t need nasty accusations to throw in her face. I just make like Paul Simon and slip out the back, jack. “I need to leave” is all the reason anyone needs, ultimately.

Because snoops never tell you that they’re rooting through your shit without your knowledge or consent, depriving you of the ability to make an informed choice about whether or not you want to stay with them. They’re doing exactly what they suspect you of doing–sneaking around behind your back, doing unethical and dishonest stuff, hiding things from you that you have a right to know.

I agree with this. Every time I’ve snooped it’s been because my instincts had told me something was going on, yet my heart wasn’t ready yet to listen. I needed to find that smoking gun before I could actually pack up and leave. It’s only been after I’ve sought answers from my S.O. and had been told it was “all in my head.”

It’s also worth noting that every time I’ve snooped, I’ve found something.

And what if, as I’ve suggested (and experienced) many times, you sit your SO down, ask them what’s going on, and they, rather than answering, become accusatory and start telling you that you’re “controlling” them when all you want to do is know what’s going on? Dump them immediately? I hope not because there are at least two possible situations as I see it:

  1. They’re not cheating and really are going through something but don’t know how to express themselves about it.

  2. They’re cheating and are trying to find the best time to make an exit.

In case 1 you’d want to help your SO and not end the relationship.

In case 2 you’d want to end the relationship.

So, you have a choice to make: end it or don’t end it.

Now, the million dollar question: How can you know if you should walk away from the relationship if you don’t even know what’s going on? Is she cheating or is she just going through a weird time? I’ve asked her about it, the situation didn’t get any clearer, but I still need to make an informed decision. Other than snooping, what other choice is there? Dump her ass before you know the whole picture? Dumb idea because she may just be depressed and you’ll hurt an innocent person by leaving them. Sit around and hope that everything turns out as you hope it will? Dumb idea because she may be cheating and you’ll be an idiot for staying in that relationship.

In the situation described in the other thread, talking seems to have worked at this point, so I don’t reccomend snooping anymore (I still think he should talk to the guy one-to-one, though). In a case where your SO is stonewalling for you no particular reason and you can’t figure out what’s going on, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but that I need to know the whole picture before I make a decision and she’s not helping me do that, even though a decision still needs to be made.

This is crystal clear to me. Before we make most of our decisions in life, we like to be as well-informed as possible, yes or no? We like to have all the details, have all the choices, and have considered everything from as many angles as possible before we make a decision about something. But in this case you guys are actually arguing for making a decision without all of the vital evidence and details. It just boggles my mind.

Stranger On A Train

*Any answer you find by snooping is just going to lead more questions, particularly the perennial favorite, “Why?”, which rarely comes with a digestible response. *

Again, YMMV, and maybe I can do this and others can’t, but the answers I could find from snooping would lead me to say one of the following:

“She’s cheating. She’s out of here.”


“Oh my, She’s going through such a bad time right now. I’m such a paranoid idiot, it really was all in my head. I’m going to just forget all about this and try and be a better SO to her. She’ll come to me when she feels comfortable. I’ve really learned a lesson about jumping to conclusions from this.”

If you are rummaging around through your formerly beloved’s sock drawer or chat logs to “get closure” about a betrayal about which you are already morally convinced has occurred, this probably speaks more to your own insecurities and low self-worth than any fundamental need to resolve the situation before exiting stage left prior to the third act massacre.

Feel free to re-read my posts in either this thread or the other one, but I never mentioned being totally convinced that I was being betrayed in this hypothetical situation, just that I was looking for information that I was not getting after attemping to communicate about it with my SO. If I was totally convinced that she was cheating I’d just throw her out and wouldn’t be bothered to snoop in her email.