Like 4 out of 10 French people, do you give in from time to time to the temptation to search through your loved one’s phone? Without knowing it, you are practicing “snooping”: a form of espionage that is not as harmless as one might think. This practice, punishable by law in the context of domestic violence, can have serious consequences for you and your relationship. Géraldyne Prévot Gigant, psychopractitioner and author, explains why.
What exactly is snooping?
7 p.m. Chéri is in the shower and her cell phone is left in plain sight on the kitchen bar. A minute of hesitation and then, that’s it, the step is taken: you grab his smartphone to take a quick look at his messages, his social networks, even his history. There you are, you have succumbed to what the Anglo-Saxons call “snooping”. A new word for a practice that is not new: “Suspicion, jealousy, insecurity in couples existed long before our connected objectsraises Géraldyne Prévot-Gigant, psychopractitioner, speaker and author of “Women and love” (ed. Leduc). We spied on our partner by other means, by searching in their diary, in their papers, in their clothing pockets… Today our whole life is in our smartphone and logically, that’s where we go looking as a priority when we suspect something or want to show curiosity towards the privacy of the other.” Snooping through your partner’s phone without their knowledge is a frequent practice – especially among women -, as much as it is generational (the phenomenon mainly affects young people, who are more addicted to this object): according to an Ifop survey conducted in April 2023, 67% of French women aged 35 and under admit to having already succumbed to temptation*.
“If consulting the phone without consent is the most common form of snooping (30%), a quarter of respondents (25%) also noticed that their partner was listening to conversations and another quarter (24%) that they /she had the access codes in secret. The most determined go even further, by using major means: one in 10 French people have in fact noticed the installation of a geolocation system on their device. An intrusion against which antiviruses or VPNs can do nothing!”specifies the Journal du Geek.
In her book “Women and love – How to live love well in the age of dating, ghosting and zapping” (ed. Leduc), Géraldyne Prévot-Gigant explains that connected objects, and in particular smartphone, are “behavior catalysts”. These objects change our behavior towards others. “The speed they offer us means that we manage frustration and waiting much less well.says the therapist. The relationship with the other is also tinged with a relationship with the object: we skip, we block, we archive and we generalize this behavior in real life, forgetting certain elegances. Snooping is a good example. At the beginning, it is not necessarily a voluntary intention to stick one’s nose in the other’s affairs. But the phone is there, offered to our gaze, even though we are the only ones who see it. When a message appears, it is tempting to take a look and then, depending on our level of insecurity, to investigate a little further. “The problem is that once we have entered each other’s intimate space under the guise of an opportunity that has presented itself, we are tempted to start again and go further. The next phase is a real intrusion, in search of precise information, which we will find or not depending on the situation. But which, in all cases, has effects on the couple’s relationship.”
How to recognize this phenomenon and know if you are concerned?
This only happened once and did you have the feeling that it was a trivial gesture? Think again ! “From the moment we try to enter the private digital space of the other (whether by checking their text messages, scanning their emails or social networks, accessing their messaging on their computer, etc.) , we are in snooping” assures Géraldyne Prévot-Gigant. Obviously, the phenomenon becomes even more widespread if it is a recurring practice, going as far as constant verification. At this stage, it becomes necessary to ask the right questions: why this persistence, what do we hope to find or provoke by carrying out this research and what does this say about the health of our relationship currently?
Where does snooping come from?
Undeniably, a great inner insecurity. This can be inherent to our history, to our sensitivity and therefore specific to ourselves, independently of the partner. “Affected people are insecure in romantic relationships and constantly need reassurance to ease their fears.s, deciphers the therapist. This is something that we frequently encounter in people who are in a situation of emotional dependence, in those who have had a wound of abandonment or rejection, or who have experienced, in the past, scenarios which could reinforce low self-esteem, lack of confidence in their partner. Releasing the pressure afterwards is a journey that can take years…” Second scenario: insecurity can arise from a relationship with fragile foundations, from a relationship that is deteriorating or because we are in love with an insecure person, who does not know how to reassure us about the reciprocity of our feelings. “Studies carried out on the societal phenomenon of snooping show that this behavior is quite gendered: we find more insecure women – who need to check by all means the reliability of their partner – and on the other hand, indifferent men. It’s a cliché, but one that, unfortunately, is true.”
Why do you spy on your partner’s phone?
Behind this approach, sometimes instinctive, lies a desire to establish confidence in others, even if the partner is worthy of it! “When it comes to a budding relationship, it’s tricky to expose your doubts and feelings of insecurity. It is therefore easier to go and surreptitiously check what you suspect.analyzes the therapist. It also happens that the information received from the other is not reassuring enough for us to abandon the idea of going to check.” Finally, you may find it difficult to have a frank conversation with your partner on this subject and, rather than admitting what you feel, prefer to reassure yourself by using an indirect means… Unfortunately, the result is not always the one expected!
What do we hope to find?
The feelings felt are very ambivalent. On the one hand, we grab the cell phone hoping to be reassured and keep control over our relationship. On the other hand, we hope to get our hands on concrete facts that confirm our suspicions and our inner unease. “When we find something factual that validates our intuition, there is relief (“I knew it, it’s not just in my head!”), but this only lasts a few moments. Then terror grips us: what to do with what I found? How will it impact my relationship when I reveal this?”notes Géraldyne Prévot-Gigant.
We can indeed pay dearly for our excess curiosity. According to the study conducted by Ifop, half of the people who searched their partner’s phone discovered something hidden from them: lies (35%), flirting or explicit exchanges (29% ), exchanges with an ex (21%), consultation of pornographic sites (22% among men) or meetings (18%, still among men)… Enough to irreparably break a relationship.
What is the impact of snooping on the couple?
If the partner is caring, understanding, and especially if the relationship has already been established for a long time, he can seek to understand what motivated this verification process and want to reassure his partner rather than reproach him for having spied on him. “This incident can create a space to say things to each other and be an opportunity to get closer.”
But more often than not, this intrusion is frowned upon. Even if he is not at fault, the partner may feel invaded, betrayed, disrespected in his “digital intimacy” and risks reacting quickly. According to the study, snooping has already caused arguments among 31% of young people aged 25 and under. And even led to a breakup in nearly 1 in 5 people surveyed. “The couple may resist this violation of intimacy, but it will create an even greater divide between the two partnersremarks Géraldyne Prévot-Gigant. Tension is at its height, mutual distrust is growing and the situation is getting worse. The partner’s anger also risks reinforcing the spy’s insecurity, who says to himself: ‘If he is so angry, it is because he has something to hide’. In short, in all cases, snooping, when it comes to light, has consequences that are important to measure, before engaging in it..”
The telephone, a weapon of psychological manipulation?
Even more worrying: the study reveals that snooping, used as a means of controlling others, would be symptomatic of violence or control within couples. 52% of victims of physical violence within a couple (mainly among 16-24 year olds) claim to have been spied on…