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How Much Privacy Is Good for a Relationship?

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJune 01, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Intimacy is an important part of a happy relationship, but so is a healthy respect for each other’s privacy. Though each couple decides their own particular “rules” for privacy, an underlying mutual respect is essential. This respect is what guides them in deciding how much privacy to allow each other.

To be happy in a relationship, you and your partner must respect, empathize, and have compassion for yourselves and each other. When you are uncomfortable sharing something – whether it be information about your conversation with a friend or what you wrote in your diary – you will feel better if your partner respects this need for privacy. And your partner will appreciate you offering the same respect for their boundaries.

This isn’t so easy when one partner is more private than the other. Here’s how this often plays out: One partner craves openness, so they asks lots of questions – frequently – to learn more about their partner. When their questions are not sufficiently answered, they feel emotionally distant and rejected. Meanwhile, the more private person, under such scrutiny, feels suffocated and resentful – and pulls back. This withdrawal prompts their partner to demand more disclosure. This dynamic just leads to more distance and frustration – and can play out with fireworks when infidelity is involved (or a partner suspects it).

Couples can work through these types of differences and find comfortable privacy boundaries by showing genuine concern and respect for each other’s feelings. You want to know more about what your relatively silent partner is thinking? Resist the urge to keep asking what they’re thinking, and instead, let them know how their silence is affecting you, such leaving you to feel lonely. Your partner might respond by sharing a bit of what they are thinking about, including their need to be alone with their thoughts. These types of conversations, if you make them a habit, can help you develop an appreciation of each other’s thoughts and feelings, and can create a way of communicating that is comfortable for both of you.

In situations where one person is particularly insecure and jealous – perhaps they were cheated on in a previous relationship – it helps to openly discuss this problem. If their partner is sensitive to their feelings, then ongoing support, understanding, and discussions may help alleviate their insecurity. It can also help for their partner to be forthcoming in some areas, such as by showing them their phone. But it’s important that the partner be able to communicate (with sensitivity) the unpleasant feelings related to being on the receiving end of mistrust. If the partner does want to keep some things private, then a discussion about this might lessen the insecurity that such privacy might cause.

As with so much in a relationship, the “rules” around privacy are better thought of as a co-created understanding. Ideally, partners feel invested in each other feeling safe, supported, and accepted.  Differences – such as in the amount of privacy each person feels that they need – must be negotiated in a way that leaves both partners feeling respected.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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