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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Secrets

In our critique group this week, one of the members told a lovely story about her supportive husband and mentioned in passing that they read each other’s email. Several other members spoke up and said they read their spouse’s email and vice versa. I was a little surprised by the number of couples just in our group who have adopted this practice.

Being the curious sort, I asked how this habit developed and why. The answers I received were that they didn’t have secrets between them, and they had established this behavior at the beginning of their relationship, or else their relationship with email. (Some of them were married long before the invention of email.) Also, it seemed to develop naturally rather than the couple making a conscious decision to read each other’s electronic correspondence.

The good news was that it didn’t stem from any mistrust or broken trust. This is the same reason I don’t read my husband’s email. I trust him. We talk and are involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis, the same as the email-sharing couples.

Maybe there are many people engaging in the practice of reading each other’s emails. I think this is great for couples who choose to be open in this way, but I have to admit it makes me rethink how open I want to be with people who share email with their partners. I know I don’t want to share anything personal with someone I don’t really know, so I will probably censor myself more. I think I’ll also ask some of my friends if their spouses read their emails, because truly, this never dawned on me before. (I have one friend who has her name and her husband’s name on their address so I know he shares the account with her, and it does influence what I send to that account.)

In reality, I know women share things with their significant others, but hopefully with a little editing. Or if they know that friend wouldn’t want something shared, they keep that part to themselves. When they share an email account with a spouse, there isn’t that option to keep things private between you and your friend. If I were on the telephone with a friend, I wouldn’t want her significant other on the other line listening to our conversation.

I can understand not having secrets from each other, but what if the secret belongs to someone else? Should there be disclosure that the email account is not private? (Yes, I realize there are hackers, but hopefully I’ll never go out to dinner with one of them.) Maybe I’m totally weird in my thinking on this topic, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Do you and your partner read each other’s email? If yes, do your friends know? Would it change what you shared with that friend if you knew someone else also read your email?


  1. My husband and I are sharers, and yes I do try to make sure anyone who writes personal emails to me knows this, and of course everyone in our families knows. For example, if my mom sends an email about my hubby's Christmas gift, she'll write at the top "For your eyes only!"

    In my personal life, I don't write or receive very sensitive emails, because I believe those discussions are meant to be in person or on the phone. Another reason is that emails seem so easy to get in the wrong hands—they can be forwarded, bcc'ed, or mis-addressed.

    My hubby and I don't generally read the actual email, but may ask the other what's going on with the e-mailer or what they had to say.
    If I don't know the person, than I really don't have any interest. I know for a fact my hubby would rather eat sawdust than read any of my crit group emails (which automatically go to a separate folder due to the copious amount of them-lol). If I see an email from his family, or if my brother sends pics of the kids, those are the ones we open—I almost never forward anything to him, and vica versa.

    We definitely have no secrets between us. I trust him with my heart, my life, and my love, and I never would think of it as us checking up on each other or not trusting each other. I totally respect people that wish to keep their accounts private. For us, it just works :)

  2. Samantha, I was surprised to learn how many spouses read each other's e-mail. It never occurred to me to read my husband's and when I asked him, he said it never occurred to him to read mine. To me it is like opening someone else's mail (those handwritten letters that were delivered by the postman before e-mail was invented - lol). On Monday we will celebrate our 24th Wedding Anniversary and while I do share everything of importance with him, the e-mails between my friends, critique group, etc. are not. Besides, keeping some things private allows us to still surprise each other. Like you, I will be more careful in what I say, not knowing who else may be reading my message.

  3. LOL. I can relate to the eating sawdust sentiment. :)

    I agree that in person is a better place to discuss sensitive issues, and I don't tend to share online very often, although I have a close friend in Australia, so in-person discussions aren't feasible. (We do Skype or chat.) However, I have received some fairly sensitive emails from friends too far away to meet at a coffee shop. I guess I see email as the modern day equivalent of pen pals.

    I like that you do full disclosure and that family know to put "for your eyes only". I think both are good policies.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I find this an interesting topic. :)

  4. Great blog, Michelle. As usual, you've given us lots to think about. My husband and I do read each other's emails, but not ALL of each other's emails. We have one account that the entire family uses. And,I have one account for really important stuff that I don't want to lose. He might read that one too.

    But he would have no idea how to get into my yahoo account which I use for friends, writers groups, and classes. I often wonder if I should write the password down in case I drop dead or something. I have heard of people being mad at someone who simply stopped showing up to a crit group for example. Months later, they learned that the person had died, but no one knew how to contact the crit partners or get into their mail.

  5. Samatha,
    As I said before my husband and I know each other's passwords out of necessity since we use the same account for our gaming hobby. However, he doesn't just go into my account and read at random. I'm sure he would feel awkward about it, if he did. And the same with myself, I have his email password but I only use it to communicate with his family and d/l pictures sent from his family or whatnot.

    So while we're completely trusting of each other we aren't nosy either. However I will say this I've been in a relationship with someone who felt he had to have his own private things and well needless to say people who are more open normally have nothing to hide.

    Being open with each other and allowing the oppertunity to check on each other generally gives reassurance of complete trust and because of that you don't feel the need to check on each other because you know can. Does that make sense?

    Great topic

  6. We don't share, but I'm not hiding anything. We know each other's passwords and *could* look if either wanted to.

  7. Great post, Samantha!

    My hubby learned that I was a snoop really early on. He would leave me in his apartment to go to work or something and I would immediately start rummaging through his stuff. I'm totally the type who looks in your medicine cabinet when you have me over for dinner :) LOL! There's nothing malicious or suspicious in me doing it, either...just sheer curiosity. So the "everything is shared" mentality started a loooong time ago.

    Like the rest have said, we don't really read each others emails on a regular basis, but we know each other's passwords, and we don't ever shut down our computers, so the email is always there for anyone to see. (By the way, we could never actually share an account...we both get upwards of 100 emails a day, so that would just be a mess!)

    As far as sharing stuff from friends...well, we mostly have mutual friends, and most of them will come to us as a couple with their problems. If they don't, they fully expect we'll share with the other. Sometimes they even specify "You can't tell anybody about this...well, except Eric, of course." LOL! And if it's an online friend (like the crit group), he probably wouldn't really care, anyways, so I don't tend to share a lot of that stuff with him.

    Great post!

  8. I can't even keep up with my own email...

  9. I hear you, Jessica. I have two work emails, a personal one and one under my pen name.

    Amy, Congratulations on you upcoming anniversary. Like you, I love to discover something new about my husband. We've been married for almost 14 years.

    Clarissa, It's sad to say I've actually thought of how my online friends would know if anything happened to me.

    Melissa, I think you have a great point that if someone is acting suspiciously, it sends up red flags. I was discussing this topic with my husband this morning, and he said he'd never go into my email, but then he clarified, "Well, I would if you started acting crazy." :)

    Candyland, I definitely think there is a distinction between having the ability to access each others' private information and choosing not to verses being shut out from that part of a person's life.

    Thanks to everyone for their insightful comments.
    I don't think anyone who really knows you wouldn't know you share everything with Eric. :)

  10. Fascinating post. I suppose hubby *could* look at my email if he wanted...it's not like either of my laptops are password protected. I doubt he ever would though, and why would he want to? I certainly have no interest in looking at hubby's email...if there's something I need to know, he'll tell me. If not, I can't say I'm really all that curious. We do have a "joint" account of sorts, but he administrates that, and most of what we get jointly there is party rsvp's and such.

    I actually never considered that people would read their spouse's emails...but I suppose it doesn't really matter much. I expect spouses to share knowledge with each other, so even if I'm emailing about something personal, I still expect that the recipient could mention it to their spouse. It's part of being married, IMO.

  11. Thanks, Jamie. I suppose it is part of being married to share stories with your spouse. If it makes anyone feel better, my hubby doesn't seem to hear 3/4 of what I say anyway. ;)

  12. Good question! I think it's really interesting to see how people feel on this topic. I consider email to be like my purse. That's my purse and while I don't expect husband to go in it, he can if he needs to. We each have our computers on and open most of the time. If not, we can log on as one another because we use the same password. So, while he's not looking through my mail every day, I can call him at any time and say "Hey, check for whatever for me in my email," and he can. And the same goes in reverse. Anything one of my friends would tell me, I tell him anyway. Occasionally, I gripe about him, but he knows how I feel at that moment anyway. It's no secret when he asks "What did I do?" and I say "You're breathing. Now, knock it off." :-) There's nothing in my email I wouldn't say to him. But that's just me.

  13. Tammy,

    <"What did I do?" and I say "You're breathing. Now, knock it off.">

    Too funny! :)

  14. Like everyone else, my husband and I can read each others email. The accounts are on separate computers with different access passwords that we each know, but we choose not read them. We do talk occassionally about some of the emails we get, but it does depend on the subject.

    Hubby is in business so his stuff includes incredibly boring detail, my stuff is full of personal stuff involving other peoples lives and he'd really rather not know about too much.

    We have a nice balance going. :o)