In a previous article I discussed why people snoop on their partners. Here I address another question: Does the decision to snoop or not to snoop hold consequences for my relationship?
Well, that depends…what do you expect to find and will you be able to cope with this new information? Depending on what we expect to find, snooping may confirm or discredit our general perception of our partner.1 Often we try to avoid information that may be harmful to our relationship, especially if we feel satisfied.2 Through this selective avoidance we may develop some partner-friendly misconceptions that protect relationship satisfaction. For example, assume your boyfriend’s closet recently received a face-lift, filled with all sorts of new, and clearly expensive, clothes. Your boyfriend says that he received a bonus and used it for the clothes. However, a few years ago, he ran up some credit card debt. To snoop, or not to snoop….
If the relationship is going well, you may trust him and choose not to look through his recent credit card statements. However, if the relationship is rocky (e.g., trust issues), you may find yourself hacking into his CitiCard account just to take a little look. Not surprisingly, seeking out potentially harmful information can be, well, harmful. One study found that individuals with greater motivation to seek out harmful information were more likely to breakup five months later.2 Still, snooping isn’t inherently damaging. If you expect to find something good when you snoop, and then find it, your general perception of your partner will be upheld and commitment is maintained.1
People also differ in how they cope with their newfound knowledge. Depending on what you find out, you may confront your partner or are able to deal with things without confronting your partner. Coping plays a greater role if your snooping uncovers something harmful. Consider the case of your partner’s new wardrobe. What if you happen to discover that your partner has a secret credit card? You could opt to confront your partner about it, or you could find a way to cope in order to avoid World War III. For instance, you might rationalize that there is a low balance on this new card, or consider worse things they could have done, all in an attempt to reduce the distress related with this turn of events. This type of coping may help explain the finding that snoopers experience a significant increase in relationship commitment.1 Although this result may seem counterintuitive, researchers suggest that snooping provides an opportunity to cope with new information in a way that avoids negative interactions (e.g., fighting with your partner). This coping process may also involve considering how a partner’s positive qualities outweigh any new negative information, which may then lead to an increase in commitment.1 However, if an individual is unable to cope with the negative information gained through snooping, it may lead to additional conflict in the relationship or general distress of the individual.1
While there may be some benefits to snooping, there are also some big risks. Proceed with snooping at your own risk!
1Afifi, W. A., Dillow, M. R., & Morse, C. (2004). Examining predictors and consequences of information seeking in close relationships. Personal Relationships, 11, 429–449.
2Ickes, W., Dugosh, J. W., Simpson, J. A., & Wilson, C. L. (2003). Suspicious minds: The motive to acquire relationship-threatening information. Personal Relationships, 10, 131–148.
Karlene Cunningham – Science of Relationships articles
Karlene’s research focuses on novel ways of assessing sexual and relationship functioning, including aspects of relationship regret, alternative seeking tendencies, and sexual communication. Her clinical interests revolve around sexual intimacy difficulties and couple conflict related to infertility.
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