Managing Digital Privacy with a Partner

10.24.2016

The internet brings a huge array of wonderful changes for relationships. It means that barriers between different cultures are down, that it’s easy to stay in touch with people who are far away, and that there’s always an adorable cat video waiting for you somewhere.
However, the internet also brings its share of challenges for relationships. After all, when a conversation with an old flame from college is just a click away, the temptation can be harder to resist. When hard-core pornography is constantly creeping in at the corners, and the anonymity of the net makes it easy to keep secrets, it can impact marriage and family in unexpected ways. Although you and your spouse may feel like you’re in your own little bubble, our hyper-connected world loves to puncture those bubbles.
Here’s the thing: every couple has their own way of dealing with the challenges that the internet presents. It’s impossible to say that one way is right or wrong. However, it’s always good to be well-informed, and open channels of communication between you and your significant other.
So, I’ve collected information about three young couples who have had to think about the question of online privacy between the two of them. Each deals with the challenge in their own way, according to their specific challenges and relationship. Reading more about them can help you develop a plan for how you’ll handle online privacy with your own partner.
Marin and Troy
Marin and Troy* have already come face-to-face with the challenges presented by the internet. Troy has struggled with a pornography addiction in the past, and so they’re taking measures to guard against it, and to rebuild trust between the two of them.
The first step for this is setting up filters on the internet on the home, and on both of their phones. This allows both of them to check their behavior online, and to stop and consider where they go and what they see, instead of being subject to compulsive clicks. In order to avoid friction or resentment between the two of them, they decided to set up Troy’s mother as the arbiter of filters on options that allow for parental controls.
In addition to the filters, both Marin and Troy have access to all of each other’s online accounts. Although at first this might feel like an alarming breach of privacy, they’ve decided that it’s a necessary measure in order to re-establish trust that was lost in the wreckage of addiction. What makes this work well for them is that it goes both ways, so both of them are more alert to the way they behave online. Marin said, “I was surprised to see that there were actually things on my account that I would have initially wanted to hide from Troy. Not anything really illicit, but just things I was saying about some of my friends, or the amount of shopping ads I received in my mailbox. Sharing access to each other’s accounts has actually opened up a lot of conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Ben and Carla
Ben and Carla decided from the get-go that they didn’t want to have any secrets from each other. Although they still have their old email accounts, they both have the passwords and access to the others’ account. But on social media, they’ve decided to merge their accounts into one family account instead of maintaining separate identities. This means that they both know about the others’ friends, their new projects, and the manner in which they interact with the people around them.
Ben told me, “We decided to merge accounts at some point during our engagement. I was contacted by an old High School girlfriend who wanted to chat again, even though it said on my profile that I was engaged. It’s possible that her reaching out was totally innocent, but we realized that it wasn’t really a question that we wanted to have come up over and over again once we were married.”
“Although both of us lost some friends in the transition,” said Carla, “The truth is that most of those friends were people that we didn’t keep in touch with anymore anyway. We know that we’re building a new life together and that there’s not necessarily room for anyone who doesn’t know us as a couple instead of as two individuals.”
Pat and Jun
Pat and Jun are two people who value their individuality and independence. In fact, deciding whether Jun would take Pat’s last name when they got married was a big deal. Both have their own careers and sets of friends that are independent of the relationship.
When they got married, they decided that they would keep all their own accounts and usernames. So how do they counter threats that could hurt the relationship? “We decided early on that we would make a decision right then to trust each other, and to talk openly about everything,” said Pat. “That means that if someone asks one of us out for a coffee date, we tell the other about it and talk over whether it makes either of us uncomfortable, or if it’s something that doesn’t threaten the relationship at all.”
While Pat and Jun maintain privacy online, even from each other, they both say that when they have kids around, they’re going to set up filters on the internet. “Filters can guard against everything from adult content to total time-wasting or cyber-bullying. I don’t want to censor what my kids can access, but I want to make sure that I’m able to talk to them about every new challenge as it comes, so I want to be aware of what they’re seeing,” said Jun.
By Christine Hill
*names have been changed for the sake of privacy
© Deidre Emme. Design by Fearne and Breezy & Co.