Making expectations for privacy clear

Late 60s GF of 24 years watches trash TV (her terminology). A recent episode of Married at First Sight featured three couples (and the "professional" who arranged the matchup for the TV series). The professional asked each couple if they would turn over their cell phones to their newly to be married partner for a one hour examination of content with no restrictions. This TV show features younger people in their 20s and 30s who have only known each other a very short time, literally weeks, to evaluate their mate for problems in behavior or interests.

After the TV show was over, my GF asked me if she could examine my phone for an hour. Just out of the blue. No reason is needed, supposedly, if I have nothing to hide.

I am not inclined to go along with this idea. What is the purpose if there is no history of affairs or criminality? We have an excellent relationship. We are with each other every day and night. We express our love to each other frequently. We make up quickly. We never go to bed mad at each other. It is so painful to be mad at the other we always relent shortly after with profuse apologies all around. We are traditional like our parent’s generation. There is trust between us. I am not worried about her and I respect her privacy.

We don’t go out at night alone. I am retired, in my mid 60s, and spend my days at home, tending to chores, gardening, feeding the birds. She knows my finances and does my taxes. She wants to be the Personal Representative of my Trust Estate.

From what I have read on this site there is a need for "monitoring" a partner who has transgressed in the past. But that is not the case here. It is merely curious to her, which will open up discussion of my vast intellectual interests (admittedly eccentric) but that’s one of the things that attracted her to me in 1994, along with my dependability, and soft spiritual nature. If she didn’t have the habit of over criticizing what I do try to share with her, I might have responded differently. I don’t criticize her trash TV, and I don’t want to be disparaged for my sci-fi movies and old episodes of the Untouchables.

I can’t believe I have to "prove" anything. We are an old couple, very settled in our ways and habits. Could you address my situation and tell me if there is some universal requirement for sharing phones in a relationship when there is no evidence of anything. It seems to me like the "police." What ever happened to "the right to privacy" and "reasonable suspicion" and "need to know basis"?

Thank you for your expertise. We will both review your answer.


This is a very common problem in close relationships. Most couples experience this dilemma at some point in time. It’s common for people to want both intimacy and a sense of privacy in their close relationships. Intimacy involves sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, as well as current and past experiences with a partner. At the same time, people have a need for privacy—a sense that one has some control over the personal details of their life.

And one’s need for intimacy versus privacy isn’t static. Sometimes people want more closeness and sometimes people want a little more space. Again, these feelings are normal.

The trick is to find a balance that makes both you and your partner happy. The best way to find a balance is by making your expectations clear. Have a discussion with your partner about your expectations for privacy within your relationship. Maybe you need some time to yourself every day, once a week, or whenever. Or perhaps you feel it’s important to make some financial decisions on your own. Or maybe you think that your entitled to some privacy in terms of your online activities. Everyone has very specific needs and beliefs about what’s appropriate in terms of privacy within a relationship.

In terms of sharing your expectations, it’s important be aware of your expectations. Anytime that you feel frustrated, disappointed, or annoyed, your partner has probably violated one of your expectations. Can you use your frustrations to identify how you expect to be treated in your relationship. For example, if your annoyed that your girlfriend wants to examine your phone, then you have an expectation for privacy in terms of using your phone. Once you’ve identified your expectations, then communicate them to your partner clearly — be explicit. For example, tell your partner, “I need an hour to myself every day or I expect some privacy when it comes to my phone.” When sharing expectations it also helps to try to be respectful of your partner’s expectations. And when disagreements arise, which they always will, talk it out.

The best way to talk about such disagreements involves having both sides explain their perspective. It also involves trying to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Try to see the issue from his or her point of view. And if you can, try to find a solution that works for both of you.

If you can’t resolve the issue by talking about it, be respectful of your partner’s feelings and do a comparison of all of your similarities to your differences. Most couples have much more in common than the issues they disagree over. Unfortunately, when problems emerge, couples have a tendency to exaggerate their differences and overlook their similarities. In other words, don’t let a small difference in your need for privacy overshadow what you share together. You can agree to disagree and get on with enjoying your life.

The key is to be clear about your expectations and when differences emerge treat each other with respect. Talking problems out won’t resolve all of your issues, but if done right, it won’t make problems worse.

Hope that helps.

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