Is It Inappropriate to Inspect My Partner's Phone?

Question: Is it appropriate to ask someone if you can look at their phone/messages? I want to build trust in my relationship with a person who has a history of cheating/addiction in [a] previous marriage. Also some mistreatment towards me but not cheating as far as I know. I struggle with knowing what’s appropriate to ask but the lingering feeling of wanting to see it doesn’t go away. We’ve known each other for years and have been dating for one year. – E

Dear E,

I empathize. Relationships are tricky.

But let’s see if I get the gist of your quandary. Your partner was untrustworthy in a previous relationship and has mistreated you. Still, you wish to develop more trust in this individual.

Also—and here’s where I’m reading between the lines—you’re thinking trust-building can happen through perusing your significant other’s phone. 

Except you’re not sure if it’s okay to do so.

First of all, yes, I agree that if you wish to inspect someone else’s property, you can’t do it without proper permission. Then again, doing so can also stir things up. Your partner might respond with resentment. You might hear retorts of “How dare you!", "How could you?", "Why?”, and before you realize it, a new squabble is daring you to tame it. 

But even if you manage to sidestep the above fight and receive a go-ahead instead, this approach poses another problem. 

Who’s to say the phone won’t be handed to you only after it has experienced a thorough purging from anything incriminating? 

Lovers aren’t the only ones who wonder about trust. Whether with regard to a breathtaking romance, business acquaintance, or blood relative, this question can bob up. 

How can you tell if someone is trustworthy?

Below are 4 questions that can help you determine the answer:

1. Is There History?

Psychology proposes that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So, there’s some merit to holding a question mark when someone acted in a problematic way but claims that he or she is now reformed. 

Just like E’s question above, her significant other proved deceitful in a prior relationship, so E feels guarded in case there are current indiscretions she’s unaware of.

At the same time, underline this important piece of information: E was not cheated against. 

In your quest to determine whether so-and-so is worth your trust, please don’t forget that people have the capacity to grow. It is possible for addicts to maintain sobriety. Cheaters can change.

2. What Does Your Gut Say?

E told us “the lingering feeling of wanting to see [her partner’s phone] doesn’t go away.” I’m a licensed clinical psychologist, so I respect emotions and all of their cousins, including gut instincts and lingering feelings. I’m glad you do too, E. If you didn’t, you probably would’ve dismissed the urge to inspect the phone.

But what are we to do with these feelings?

Per Internal Family Systems (IFS), the therapy I do in my private practice, we can address our feelings—or parts, as they’re known in the IFS community—and facilitate lasting breakthroughs. In your case, E, it means finding out if there is any part of you that knows of any actionable intel about your significant other. Have you picked up any evidence of untrustworthiness, albeit unconsciously?

To get there, focus on the lingering feeling to scrutinize your partner’s phone and ask it directly. “Why do you want me to do this?”

Don’t devise the answer yourself. Just watch for what arises.

If the answer is vague—maybe along the lines of “Not sure. I just have a sneaking suspicion that something fishy is going on”—then let’s place a mental asterisk here. Hold this thought for later.

3. Have You Healed?

Asking yourself “Why do I need to see my partner’s phone?” might reveal another angle. If your history includes being betrayed—including by more than just romantic partners—it makes sense if a part of you has developed a sensitivity to sniff out possible improprieties in your intimate relationships. 

Note that the hurt didn’t have to be done directly against you to activate this vigilance. For instance, if you watched one of your parents abandon the other, you might have grown up with a part that swore to never let a similar heartbreak happen to you.

The point is to aim the searchlight at your inner world and explore. Are there emotional wounds that are still tender to the touch? Have you healed from relational hurt, no matter who the perpetrator was?

(Please allow me to put in a parenthetical plug for psychotherapy here. Therapy helps, but don’t just pick the first therapist with an opening. Not every therapy modality carries the same potential to heal. For instance—and this comes from someone who switched her own theoretical orientation—I’ve found IFS to be superior to any other modalities, including the more popular ones. That’s why I recommend finding a certified IFS therapist near you.)

But back to our topic. Because emotional pain distorts our view of the world, the more healed we are, the more clarity we have in appraising others’ trustworthiness. With past hurt clouding our lens, it’s easy to assume the worst when really, there could be an innocent explanation behind a seemingly suspicious behavior.  

4. Have You Asked God?

Hebrews 4:13 explains how “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The Creator, who crafted each of our hearts, also has a clear view of every living being. 

So, if you haven’t consulted the Almighty about whether or not your significant other is trustworthy, I’d pause everything and prioritize this. 

Ask Him also if He thinks inspecting your partner’s phone would be a good idea. This is based on James 1:5: “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

However, the topic of seeking the Lord carries with it the issue of how to ascertain it’s His voice we’re hearing. This is another reason I love IFS. Practicing the model enables me to distinguish the Lord’s voice from that of my own soul.

Open Communication

Remember the mental asterisk from before? 

If the urge to examine your partner’s phone has to do with your partner—because you have this unshakeable, unsettling sense about the latter—then it’s time for a heart-to-heart.

Especially if your answer to question #4 above is yes. As in yes, you asked the Lord about your partner’s trustworthiness and yet, the Almighty cautioned you to guard your heart around the person.

The good news is close relationships, including in dating situations, thrive on open communication concerning each partner’s needs. 

Including and especially the emotional kind.

You and your honey have the right to discuss ways to meet your needs as a couple. Sometimes a hearty negotiation and compromise are required before both parties feel satisfied, but the point is, it’s okay to humbly present your request to inspect your partner’s phone. 

The more transparent and vulnerable you are with explaining your rationale, the more likely you’d avoid the sorry scenario I sketched earlier—of irking your partner and instigating a new argument. Remember, “a soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, but harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, AMP).

Don’t forget to pray, ideally together, before launching this discussion.

I’ll add my prayer to yours. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Candy Retriever

dr. audrey davidheiser bio photo

Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist, and IFSI-approved clinical consultant. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. If you need her advice, visit her on and Instagram @DrAudreyD.

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The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.

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