Covert intrusive behaviour has been defined as investigating (without the partner’s consent) a partner’s private communications. Communications may include; text messages, mobile phone calls, emails, and social media. A common name for covert intrusive behaviour is snooping.
A person may begin to snoop on their partner if they believe that their partner is; withholding information, being misleading, or seeing changes in their behaviour. Snooping may provide the proof that a partner is keeping a secret. It may also give power over the partner, who cannot deny facts when they are challenged. Unfortunately snooping also has negative consequences. It often leads to increased conflict, a decrease in trust, and puts a further strain on romantic relationships. In romantic relationships there is always a high level of personal disclosure and it is generally expected that both partners will be honest and forthcoming. But when a person feels their partner is withholding, or being secretive, they may feel hurt and devalued.
When a person feels hurt and devalued by their partner’s secretive behaviour they then may feel justified to gain increased information. They may gain increased information from their partner’s friends or family. If these inquiries do not obtain sufficient information to lowertheir anxiety, they may eventually engage in covert intrusive behaviour, checking texts, emails or social media. Past research has indicated that women engage in more snooping than men because women have a higher need for emotional involvement. Alternatively men are viewed as having a greater need to control their privacy than women.
To understand why snooping may occur in a romantic relationship, Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) may provide some insight. URT suggests that the primary goal of individuals in relationships is to reduce uncertainty and increase the ability to predict the behaviour of others.
Couples value each other in romantic relationship and are always reinforcing each other. But when one partner begins to show a desire for distance in the relationship, uncertainty is then created, and reason for the distancing/uncertainty are sought. If a person does not give a satisfactory answer when directly questioned, then their partner may begin to snoop into private email, texts, and social media to find clues for the change in behaviour.
Research indicates that snooping is normal in many relationships. But the research also indicates that it does not assist the relationship and for many the relationship may deteriorate. Also, those who did the snooping often feel guilty after snooping on their partner.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand