A new series of the psychological thriller, You, launches today and while we desperately hope that psychotic stalkers like Joe Goldberg are very, very rare – are more of us prone to a bit of cyber-stalking than we’d like to admit, and is it ok to check your partner’s phone, ever?
Okay, okay, we’re not suggesting that any of us are anything like the insanity that is Joe Goldberg. The man is in a league of his own when it comes to obsessive stalking. Buuuut it does bring up some interesting questions (and research results, apparently!).
First of all, if you have no clue what You is about or who this Joe Goldberg fella is – in an absolute nutshell, Joe is the main character and a complete nut himself on the hit Netflix show, You. The first series sees him ask ‘What would you do for love?’ and puts us inside his brain as he goes to insane lengths for “love”. Joe’s version of love is all about control. obsession and deceit, and he uses social media and the internet – every tool at his disposal – to get close to the women he has crushes on. He is then willing to get rid of any obstacle – including people – that stands in his way of being with her.
It’s creepy, but a pretty good watch, and it also gave us this bizarre disastrous exchange on Fox TV (of course) that is still one of my favourite things on the internet.
While cases like Joe Goldberg are (hopefully) completely fictional, cyber-stalking on the whole is on the increase. And while it’s on the opposite end of the stalking spectrum to Joe Goldberg, apparently more and more Kiwis are doing a little “checking in” on their current or former significant others online.
The results of the 2023 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report is out, and surveyed 1,003 Kiwis aged 18+ about their dating habits online. It found that a third of those in romantic relationships checked in on their current or former partners, without their knowledge or consent.
This act of “checking in” involved looking at their current or former SO’s phone to view text messages, phone calls, direct messages, emails, or photos (17%). Others say they have used their knowledge of their passwords to access their partner’s device or online accounts (13%), tracked their location via a location sharing app (11%), or even created a fake profile on a dating app to see if their significant other have a dating profile (8%). Eek.
While we don’t know the exact reasons these Kiwis felt the need to pry, relationship therapists say the urge to “check in” on partners most often comes from a lack of trust, communication issues, lack of intimacy, insecurity or the suspicion of infidelity.
Sex therapist Shannon Chavez says people tend to snoop if they’ve been cheated on before, by the partner they’re with, or an ex-partner.
“It could mean that you have tangible evidence that your partner is being deceptive,” she says. “Maybe there have been concrete examples of this from the past, or maybe you know they have a history of infidelity or porn addiction. You’re searching because you want confirmation that they are being deceitful or that they aren’t.”
In other instances, snooping can come down to feelings tied of issues around intimacy and communication. Perhaps a couple isn’t being entirely open with one another, or they’re afraid of confrontation, or maybe one partner has started being quite moody and quiet, and doesn’t seem to want to talk about their feelings. That might lead them to want to have a look through their phone or computer to look for clues as to how they’re feeling and to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
But, it’s a behaviour that rarely works out well. If you’re worried your partner is doing something deceitful, actually doing something deceitful to try to get answers, isn’t advised. You might find nothing at all (and feel pretty darn awful for snooping!), you might find something that you take entirely out of context, ooooor you might find something incriminating. But how do you explain how you came to know this information?
Plus, it can become addictive – once you’ve snooped once, it can be very tempting to do it again and again.
But is there ever a time when it’s okay to snoop?
To sum it up in two words: hell no.
“It is an invasion of privacy and property,” says Shannon. “To check a phone without consent shows that there is a communication breakdown. Looking for something on your partner’s phone without permission immediately breaks trust to fulfil your own needs. It leads to suspicions and assumptions that trigger insecurities and upset.”
So, what should you do if you feel tempted to snoop?
Dr Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist, suggests you instead have a very honest conversation with your partner.
“Their ability to have a conversation about your concerns will tell you more about their capacity to be a good mate than your snooping will ever reveal,” she says.
Dr Mary Lamia suggests you start the conversation by saying:
“For some reason, I am doubting your loyalty, and I would like to talk to you about it.” From there, communicate clearly. Talk with your partner about what you feel and why you think you feel it, and note how they react to your worries.” A worthy partner can have a conversation with you about whatever comes up in the relationship. These conversations will, or should, help you learn something about yourself and ultimately make your bond stronger with your partner.”
But, if instead they brush off what you’re saying, minimise it, call it ridiculous and act defensively – without offering adequate reassurance – then you have some decisions to make.
“You have to decide if this is a person who can have difficult conversations – or be a trustworthy partner to you,” she says.