Monday 23 October 2017

Is it okay for women like Jools to snoop on their men?

Jamie Oliver (L) and Jools Oliver. Photo: Getty Images
Jamie Oliver (L) and Jools Oliver. Photo: Getty Images

Heidi Scrimgeour

Snoop on my partner? Of course I do. It seems the world can be divided into those who snoop on their partners and those who consider it the ultimate relationship betrayal.

Jools Oliver, wife of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, admits to checking her husband's phone and email account to make sure he isn't cheating.

In an interview this week, Jools confessed: "Yeah, I'll check his email. I'll check his Twitter. I'll check his phone. Everything seems fine. He says I'm a jealous girl, but I think I'm fairly laid-back, considering."

This candid admission has provoked quite a furore, which surprised me, because haven't we all had a little snoop at our spouse's virtual world from time to time?

"Nooo!" yells my friend Eve. And judging by a quick straw poll of my happily married friends, it seems I am alone in thinking that the occasional snoop is par for the course in modern marriage.

"What about boundaries and privacy? It's a betrayal either way," Eve cautions. "If you find nothing untoward you've still betrayed your partner's trust, and if you do find something you'll feel betrayed but won't have a leg to stand on, since you shouldn't have been snooping."

I disagree. I'd certainly consider myself to have two fine legs to stand on -- and two fine fists to batter him with -- if I found my partner sending racy texts to a secret paramour behind my back, however the discovery was made.

But mum-of-one Lara has been married for 20 years and is dumbfounded by my logic. "Why? Why would you even think about doing that? It just seems weird to me. I know my husband's email password but why would I go rummaging through it?"

Another mum-of-one is much more frank about why she doesn't do it. "There'd only be boring emails about tents and crossbows and skiing."

But just as I begin to think that Jools and I are alone in this shameful snooping habit, another friend sends me a private message. "I know it's wrong to snoop but I just can't help myself," she admits.

Then mum-of-two Juliet concedes that snooping can be justifiable -- so long as you afford your partner the same privileges. Which comes as a surprise to me as I'm fairly certain it would never occur to my husband to check my phone or email. Would it?

"Um. I've scanned your phone before, just to see what's there," he says, sheepishly.

I'm astonished. I am a paragon of virtue and a rather careworn, frazzled mum of two, so the very idea that I might be harbouring emails from ardent admirers urging me to run away with them is utterly laughable to me.

And yet I'm glad to know that such (im)possibilities have crossed my husband's mind to the extent that he's thought to glance at my phone. If pressed, I'd rather enough spark between us to warrant the occasional streak of unfounded, irrational jealousy than the dull indifference of a relationship where it never occurs to us to see each other in that light.

Do we trust one another? Implicitly, but trust is no guarantee of anything -- it means freely giving your heart to an imperfect person in the sure and certain knowledge that they have the power to destroy it.

Trust is a risky business, and I'm not ashamed to say that I sometimes feel the need to check how safe the most important investment of my life is. That doesn't undermine the value of that investment -- if anything it shows how greatly I regard it.

Lisa O'Hara is a relationship counsellor for relationshipsireland.com. She agrees that snooping sometimes has a place, and isn't necessarily synonymous with a lack of trust.

"When you fall in love, it opens you up to being vulnerable, and the person you fall in love with has the power to hurt you very deeply," Lisa explains. "Occasionally we may need reassurance that we are in an exclusive relationship, especially if we are both very busy and we have less and less time for romance.

"In an indirect way 'snooping' can be affirming. However, it is always so much nicer when our partner reassures us themselves, and can even reignite love all over again."

What seems to upset many people about the thought of being snooped on is the inference that they might be untrustworthy. But if that's a ridiculous charge then why get hot under the collar about it?

If, on the other hand, there's a reason for your heart to beat a little faster at the thought of your emails and texts being read by your spouse, well then no wonder the prospect makes you uneasy. That's called a guilty conscience.

Ultimately, I'm convinced that most snoopers do so out of a legitimate psychological need to allay their deepest fears. We don't snoop because we suspect foul play but because we can't quite believe our luck, and need to verify that it's not just a veneer.

It's no wonder that women like Jools, who have much to be thankful for, sometimes feel an irrational, almost superstitious need to check that it's all real.

Perhaps snooping is the marital equivalent of feeling the need to check that your soundly-sleeping child is still breathing -- an instinctive urge to confirm that your worst nightmare hasn't come to pass.

And rather than undermining a relationship, verifying that your fears are unfounded can add a richness to your reality.

The problem is surely when the compulsion to allay that insecurity must be suppressed.

But, to quote the famous essay-turned-song 'Wear Sunscreen': "The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday."

Since no amount of snooping can sidestep those kind of unanticipated calamities, perhaps the snoopers among us would do well to focus our attention on simply being thankful -- instead of worrying about what we stand to lose.

Irish Independent

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