The Significance of Privacy in Marriage and How to Get the Balance Right

Everyone is entitled to privacy within their own marriage, and in fact, relationships are much healthier because of it. In the same way that we express our individuality through the separate interests and hobbies we choose, it’s also vital that we don’t share every last detail of our lives with our partner. There is a fine line between having privacy and having secrecy in a relationship and it is not always easy to master.

On a fundamental level, your partner should be somebody you go to for guidance and reassurance about things – the one person you feel most comfortable in confiding your deepest and darkest fears. But how much should married couples really share with one another? And what is considered too much or too little privacy in a marriage?

Over-sharing or confiding too little in your partner can be equally damaging extremes in a relationship, so how do you strike the right balance and set appropriate boundaries with each other? We’ll dive more deeply into the hows and whys of marital privacy below. From cell phones to the complications of financial secrecy, maintaining both privacy and trust may be tough in a modern marriage, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Should There Be Privacy In Marriage?

The short answer? Absolutely. To ask whether privacy should exist in marriage is similar to asking whether or not love, trust, and respect should also exist in a marriage. Some degree of privacy is essential to forging a healthy mutual respect for each other. After all, you would feel no reason to snoop through your partner’s social media posts or text messages if you trusted them, right?

What is Privacy In Marriage?

Privacy can mean different things to different couples, depending on how open or conservative they choose to be with each other. Put simply though, privacy is a branch off from trust and respect. When done right, marital privacy is recognizing that your wife or husband needs their own space to breathe and have their own identity.

Privacy in marriage is about setting boundaries between sharing important things (health, well-being etc) and trivial things such as what your last text message read. Some partners may be comfortable sharing everything with each other, but for those who are not, monitoring and micro-managing their life can be hugely suffocating. It’s therefore important to recognize what counts as privacy and what counts as being deliberately secretive.

To help simplify things, counselor and public speaker Mike Tucker of the blog Mad About Marriage has some thoughts as to what should and shouldn't be private in a marriage:

What Should Stay Private?

  • Previous relationships – your old flames are in the past and that is where they should stay. Probing into your current spouses’ past relationships will only create insecurity and unless you feel like talking about your romantic past, there should be no pressure to share any of it with your partner. 
  • Bathroom habits – even if you’re the type of couple who are open about everything together, it’s healthy to leave something like your bathroom behavior private. Leaving the bathroom door unlocked won’t kill the romance stone dead, but there’s no evidence that it keeps it blossoming either!    
  • Personal judgment – no spouse is perfect, but pointing out your husband or wife’s flaws every chance you get accomplishes nothing besides hurting their feelings. Expressing constructive criticism is fine, but attacks on sensitive, deeply personal issues are best kept to yourself.

What Should Not Be Private?

Daily activity
  • Health issues – keeping quiet about a serious or debilitating illness will only hurt your partner in the long run. You may feel like you are protecting them, but if there’s a chance they’ll find out sooner or later (especially if it’s from someone else), then this will not end well for anyone. Uncomfortable truths are always better than a deliberate lie.
  • Finances – we’ll go into greater detail about financial transparency below, but counselor Mike Tucker, suggests that at the very least, both partners need to be open about how much they have and their spending habits. To withhold this kind of info is only going to damage trust.
  • Daily activity – no-one is suggesting putting a tracking device on your partner, but in a healthy marriage, you should have a right to know where they are during the day. If your partner is away on business, for example, knowing their itinerary will cement trust and a connection between you while miles apart.

The Importance of Privacy In Marriage

In her lecture “Rethinking Infidelity”, esteemed couple’s therapist and psychologist, Esther Perel, points out that privacy has dramatically decreased and become more complex due to innovations in technology. In the age of instant communication (and gratification), we have erased many of the boundaries that existed before within a relationship, making privacy more precious than ever to obtain.

When privacy works in a marriage, it should communicate the following simple idea to each partner: “I trust you to have a life outside of us”. Every couple has a right to privacy – let’s delve deeper into how privacy can work for different couples and how to start respecting each other’s boundaries:

Privacy Compatibility Between Couples

Is your partner bad at opening up to you? Perhaps they are the opposite and drown you with boring work details as soon as they come home? In most relationships, there will normally be one partner who is more private than the other and this can sometimes make it tricky for both parties. When you are the more open partner, it can be easy to feel resentful about a lack of intimacy and when you are the more private individual, it’s easy to feel suffocated.

Thankfully, there are always ways you can combat this. A very private spouse may breed insecurity in the other partner, but this shouldn’t have to be the case if you take the time to discuss what you need out of your communication with each other. Take a look at the following tips for respecting each other’s privacy in your marriage...

How to Respect Each Other’s Privacy

The very phrase “respect my privacy” in a marriage may sound negative, as if the bond is weakened between you both, but according to many relationship experts, healthy boundaries can actually strengthen the connection you share with your spouse.

Psychotherapist Lisa Brookes, who specializes in marriage counseling, suggests that setting boundaries “creates a space for both partners to focus on their interests and desires.” “Rather than one person having control over the other”, Brookes argues “each spouse feels heard.”

Not sure where to start? Here are some simple steps from marriage counselors and psychologists on how to respect each other’s boundaries and nurture greater respect for each other:

Practice alone time
  • Practice alone time – if you’re the slightly more needy and open partner in your relationship, you could try spending more time by yourself. Relationship psychotherapist, Ross Rosenberg, suggests that “working on the parts of your life that make you feel insecure help you to understand that your complete happiness can’t be met with one person.”
  • Find a new passion – Marriage therapist Amy Kipp notes that “you are more interesting to your partner when you aren’t always together.” Learning a new skill or taking up a class with new people takes you out of your over-involvement in a relationship, and helps you appreciate each other more.
  • Seek professional guidance – try speaking to a certified marriage therapist together. If communication is particularly strained between you and your spouse, a trained professional can help you on your way to setting (and keeping) to boundaries within your marriage.

Lack of Privacy In Marriage

A lack of privacy can mean one of two things for a relationship: 1 - that you and your partner have mutually decided upon being completely open with each other or 2 – that the amount of privacy in your relationship is overwhelmingly (and purposefully) one-sided. When the second scenario is true, this sets off serious alarm bells, since trust and mutual respect are obviously lacking in this picture.

Little or no privacy makes you feel suffocated and can even begin to affect your outside relationships with friends and family. When your partner gives you no space, it can be a slippery slope towards them taking responsibility for your life, or “gaslighting” you.

A considerate partner shows support, while an over-bearing spouse will try to get involved in every personal decision you make, including things like demanding access to your phone and your bank account.

We’ve explored how these two issues affect marital privacy below:

Cell Phone Privacy

Smartphones and social media have invited more scrutiny into our personal lives than ever before and relationships are being tested because of it. No partner should have to tell you about every text or app they’re using on their phone. But if your spouse is so private with their cell phone that they frequently make calls or send texts when you’re not in the room, then this can be a problem.

When necessary, couples should be able to borrow their partner’s phone without it causing an argument or defensive behavior. Everyone is entitled to phone privacy, but if your spouse is strict about giving you any access then this could be veering down a toxic path. To make sure you both have a healthy relationship with each other’s phone privacy, ask yourselves the following:

  • Is there a part of your phone you wouldn’t want your spouse to see?     
  • Could you reveal your browser history to them?
  • Are there contacts you don’t want your spouse to know about?
  • Do they have access to your social media profiles?
  • Are there any texts you’d feel embarrassed to read to your partner?

In addition to asking these questions honestly of each other, a great way to test your trust when it comes to phone privacy is with the ‘Phone D​​rop Test’. Ryan Frederik, co-creator of the blog Fierce Marriage, poses the question: “What would your spouse find right now on your phone if you were to drop it and give them full access?”. If either partner hesitates, this can be an opportunity to re-assess your trust for each other and talk more openly about how this revelation makes you feel.

Financial Privacy

A recent survey found that money worries were the biggest cause of marriages ending in divorce, so it’s little wonder that privacy about finances can be problematic. As a rule of thumb, you should always be honest with your partner about your earnings and any big expenses, but concealing your financial situation (or snooping through your partner’s) should be avoided at all costs.

Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to financial privacy in your marriage:

Financial Privacy
  • Do maintain financial independence – A 2014 study by TD Bank revealed that couples who have joint accounts also have their own separate bank accounts. Whilst a joint money pool creates unity, it’s also good to have financial independence and the convenience of personal funds.
  • Don’t hide debt – concealing your money worries not only erodes trust in your relationship, it also punishes your spouse into imagining a financial situation and stable ground which doesn’t exist. Financial secrets affect both of your security, so choose honesty over pride.      
  • Do talk about future goals – a healthy couple works towards similar goals together whether this is saving up to buy a house or planning a long-awaited vacation. If you are not in sync with financial habits, i.e. dipping into savings while one partner is cutting back and making sacrifices, then you are being deliberately deceptive.

Related Questions

How can I tell my partner is hiding a secret?

If you have suspicions that your spouse could be hiding something from you, certain behaviors can offer a clue. Clinical Psychologist Joshua Klapow notes that subtle things like being quick to answer a question, offering too much explanation when they do or flipping the focus back to you in conversation could all point to possible secrecy. The best thing you can do is to try talking openly about what you’ve observed in them.

Should I keep my relationship private on social media?

A Northwestern University survey of over 100 couples found that people who posted about their partner more frequently were also the most insecure about their relationship. Sharing aspects of your romantic relationship online can make things complicated. It is your choice whether or not to post about your spouse, but evidence shows that couples are happier when they feel less pressure to prove something or compare their romance to others.

How can I feel closer to my partner?

If a private partner has created some emotional distance in your relationship, there are always ways to bridge the gap and feel better connected. Next time your spouse is sharing a story or even an opinion with you, simply practice compassion, suggests psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps. Listen intently, ask questions and be open-minded to their thoughts. Being a good listener will make the world of difference to your partner.

Reply