Dear Dr. Hurd,
My boyfriend and I have been living together for several years. Long story short, I’m beginning to suspect he’s either seeing somebody else, or “hooking up” with someone else behind my back. He’s pulling away from me, and acts secretive about his text messages and email.
I could relieve my fears one way or another by sneaking a look at his texts and emails. Obviously I would have to do that without his knowledge. I know it’s dishonest, but it’s driving me crazy. Do the ends justify the means?
Dr. Hurd replies,
OK. Let’s stand back and take a look at this. If you peek at his electronic messages, one of two things will happen. First, you might find no evidence of anything. Your doubts will remain, and you’ll feel like a sneak on top of it. Or, you’ll find evidence of something — evidence, although maybe not proof. You’ll confront him, and he’ll turn the issue into why you were peering into his emails. In short, you’ll accomplish nothing, other than adding to an already stressful situation.
The only thing you know for sure is that he’s backing away from you emotionally. So that’s the real issue. Relationships exist to satisfy both partners. When either one becomes seriously dissatisfied, the relationship is in trouble. If you care about him and he becomes unhappy, then you’re upset. And vice-versa. So if you tell him exactly what you told me in your question, then we’d expect him to be upset and want to work with you to do something about it.
His reaction will tell you much more than his emails and texts. If he gets hostile and defensive, then you probably hit a nerve. If he reacts with hurt, but offers other explanations and wants to improve things with you, then he might not be guilty of anything deceptive.
Whatever your concerns, don’t let the debate become one about trust. If you don’t trust him, then you have no business being with him. If you do still love and trust him, but wonder why he seems more distant, that’s a legitimate question. Give him some feedback, but don’t give him a reason to believe you don’t trust him. He’ll feel just as cheated by your snooping as you would by his cheating, if he’s doing that.
Sometimes people back away for reasons that have nothing to do with cheating. Give him the benefit of the doubt and ask him if there’s something bothering him. If he continues to be evasive and dissatisfying, then tell him frankly that you wonder if there’s something going on.
If the problem persists, tell him that you honestly want to check behind his back to see if anything is going on. Tell him you haven’t, but that you want to. And that your preference would be to have a relationship where you don’t have to feel like doing that. Ask him if he’s willing to help you resolve those feelings.
You have to place the ball squarely in his court. If you sneak around and allow him to be the victim, you’re not going to get anywhere.
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