Is an Open Phone Policy Good for your Relationship?
“Is an open phone policy good for your relationship? It ended mine… Do you give your partner your passwords because you’ve got nothing to hide, or is that a red flag for trust issues? Rosie Green found out the hard way” – the full article (21.09.23) published on The Independent can be found here.
We are pleased to see FLiP’s in-house relationship therapist and divorce consultant Jo Harrison quoted in the recent Independent article “Is an open phone policy good for your relationship? It ended mine…” by columnist Rosie Green, also author of novel How to Heal a Broken Heart.
The article identifies that setting some ground rules surrounding accessing each other’s phones in a relationship is “an essential part of today’s relationship hygiene.”
In the article, Jo says “I think that ground rule setting around phones is now an essential within a relationship. Because if the way your partner uses their phone is problematic or hurtful to you it’s a scab that is going to be constantly picked at.”
Jo later goes on to say that perhaps an open phone policy can be symptomatic of a happy relationship because “it indicates a healthy level of trust between two people” but that a level of mystery should remain in a relationship –“We need some independence from each other so that there are two different people who can interest each other rather than being a single entity. And what if we were buying a lovely present for our partner or planning a surprise party?”
The article highlights many individuals’ concerns of cheating, and therefore, looking at your partner’s or spouse’s phone for clarification or reassurance. Jo comments “I do think that messaging is exciting and creates a momentum of its own; certainly, my experience across couples of all ages is that that is how betrayal often gets going.” But of course, as Rosie comments, an open phone policy doesn’t mean it will save your marriage from an affair.
Separately from the Independent’s article, we spoke with FLiP Director Daniel Coombes about what impact, if any, accessing your partner’s or spouse’s phone, or indeed any private information such as emails or post, can have from a legal perspective, whether that’s during the course of a relationship, or more commonly seen in Daniel’s area of focus, during a divorce or separation.
“Couples often share information and access to personal material while a relationship is in a healthy state – such as bank and credit card statements, or other financial documentation. It might even be acceptable to open each other’s post. However, once a party has made it clear that they want to leave the relationship then the rules change. Then, the court takes a very dim view of a spouse accessing the other’s private information. There are rules requiring each party to give ‘full and frank’ financial disclosure as part of financial proceedings following a divorce. At the end of a relationship trust is often a low ebb, but parties are not permitted to resort to ‘self-help’ and access their spouse’s private papers, or their phone, for information and evidence. A party who does so risks being severely criticised by the court, and possibly punished by being ordered to pay an element of their spouse’s legal costs”. Daniel recommends that, in an ideal world, if the relationship is rocky and may be about to end, or if one party has gone as far as saying they want to separate, it would be much better if there is a frank discussion (or email/ text message) about no longer considering it appropriate to access each other’s personal material. It would be sensible to accompany that with changing passwords etc. That way, everyone knows where they stand and there is no ambiguity – it will be very clear if someone behaves inappropriately.
Daniel also makes the point that digital technology and the sharing of information permeates more and more of our daily and family lives. We have probably all had examples of a text message appearing on our phone and simultaneously appearing on a linked tablet, which another family member might be using at the same time. Emails might also be set up to do the same. Daniel also highlights the difficulties of shared calendars – arranging a first meeting with a divorce lawyer and putting the appointment into a diary that you’ve forgotten your spouse has access to is likely to lead to an awkward situation. Ultimately, when the status of a relationship is changing, it is important to review what information is shared and communicate with each other about it to ensure everyone knows what the new rules are.
To learn more about how the talented team of family law specialists at FLiP can support you with your family law issues, please contact us at T: 020 7420 5000 or E: email@example.com