Flirting. Sharing relationship secrets with members of the opposite sex online. Pornography.
What do married couples consider unacceptable uses of the internet? Do they check up on each other? If so, how?
To find out Helsper and Whitty (2010) recruited a representative sample of 992 British couples and asked them what is acceptable and whether they snoop on each other.
What is unacceptable?
Unacceptable behaviours were all the usual culprits. People were unhappy if:
- their partner fell in love online (90%),
- had cybersex with someone else (84%),
- flirted with someone else (69%),
- or communicated relationship troubles with someone else (70%).
Husbands and wives didn’t always agree, with wives generally more unhappy about all these behaviours than husbands. In fact women were more likely to think that both their own and/or their partner’s internet use was problematic.
Less controversial were entertainment behaviours like shopping, viewing adult material and playing games, on which partners were more likely to agree with each other.
So, do partners spy on their other halves?
Yes, in 44% of couples there was at least one partner secretly monitoring the other. Amongst these snoopers, 20% of men were sole snoopers, 43% of women were sole snoopers and 37% of couples monitored each other.
When partners snooped on each other, men and women were about equal, but when only one partner snooped on the other, it was more likely to be the woman snooping on the man.
Here are the three most common ways everyone reported snooping:
1. Reading emails:
- 10% of couples snooped on each other’s emails,
- 22% of partners had one email snooper.
2. Reading phone text messages:
- 10% of couples snooped on each other’s texts,
- 20% of couples had one text snooper.
3. Checking web browsing history:
- 4% of couples looked through each other’s browsing history,
- 16% of couples had one browsing history snooper.
Other less frequent activities included reading instant messaging logs, using monitoring software and pretending to be another person.
Are you being watched?
Chances are that if you snoop on your partner, then they are snooping on you (monitoring behaviour was similar for 73% of couples in the current sample). Women were, though, more likely than men to snoop on their partners. This may be because of greater worries about infidelity, ‘internet addiction’ (see Mind Hacks) or pornography. Or more simply because, on average, women worry more than men.
Bear in mind that all these figures may well be underestimates since people are likely to be reluctant to admit spying on their partners as it suggests a lack of trust. In fact I’m surprised this many people admitted it. Real world numbers could be higher.