If You Snoop and Find Something, Is the Snooping Justified?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make your call on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

Dear Em & Lo,

I know it’s wrong to snoop. I know I’m supposed to trust my partner and not, you know, guess his email password or read his texts when he’s in the shower or look at his incoming call log. But what if I screwed up, just a little bit, and snooped, just a little bit… and then find out that I was right — and it turns out HE screwed up a big bit by cheating and all my suspicions were right? In this case, it seems like the snooping was justified, right? And therefore, logically, isn’t ALL snooping justified, so long as you do it because you suspect something, and not because you’re a control freak with insecurity issues?

For the record, I haven’t snooped. Not yet. And I’m not a control freak with insecurity issues. I have a bad feeling that if I do snoop, I might find something. So…is it okay to snoop, just to confirm my suspicions? Because what if, on the off chance, I turn out to be wrong — won’t it be better to find this out by snooping, rather than my confronting my partner and making it seem like I don’t trust him?

— Ms. Sherlock

Should Ms. Sherlock snoop?
Share your advice below


  1. I understand the intellectual argument for not snooping; it all makes sense. But there’s this lingering “but…” Sometimes kind, nice, totally trustworthy people cheat; and asking them about it only gives them an opportunity to deny it and then cover their tracks.

  2. The only time I’ve ever been motivated to snoop, I found out he was cheating. Maybe it was wrong of me, but I saw enough to know that my instincts were right and that I needed to end it. I didn’t feel guilty in the least.

    If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, I think you should acknowledge it. If you feel like you can’t trust him, there’s probably a reason for it. The bigger question to ask yourself is why stay with someone you can’t trust?

  3. I’m curious how you would feel if he did the same to you. Another technique that I use personally is to imagine an impartial observer floating overhead, who sincerely cares about both parties equally. What advice would this observer give to you?

    How you treat your partner reflects who you are. It may also influence what kind of relationship you end up in. What kind of relationship do you want to be in, keeping in mind that you are (and are responsible for) half of the relationship? Your call.

    If I were evaluating whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my life with someone, and then I discovered that they were going through my emails/phone numbers/texts behind my back because they “felt justified in doing so” . . . I would probably look elsewhere for a partner.

    “And therefore, logically, isn’t ALL snooping justified, so long as you do it because you suspect something, and not because you’re a control freak with insecurity issues?” No, but from the information above I would compassionately and honestly take another look at your own issues.

  4. You have not built a case for your suspicions here. Have you… I don’t know… smelled another woman’s perfume? Found a hair not of your color? Lipstick on the collar? Anything?

    I’m guessing no. I’m guessing that if you had something on him, you’d have mentioned it here. “I suspect my boyfriend of cheating because…”? I mean, come on. You’re asking for justification to violate your guy’s privacy in a huge way.

    So, no. Search warrant denied due to paucity of evidence.

    As for the ends justifying the means… well… if you found something, then yes, I’d give you a pass. I’m a practical kind of thinker. The flip side of that is, if you DON’T find anything, your BF should get to dump you for it. But he’s not going to get that chance, is he? Because if your search turns up nothing, you’re not going to confess. You’re just going to pretend you never did the bad, bad thing.

    So, again, doubly no.

    But you’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you.

  5. “won’t it be better to find this out by snooping, rather than my confronting my partner and making it seem like I don’t trust him?”

    Actually, you don’t trust your partner. You already suspect he is cheating. Let’s assume he is cheating. Bad behavior on his part will not justify your bad behavior. On the other hand, let’s assume he is not cheating. Your bad behavior will demonstrate to him that you are incapable of being trusted. If you have concerns about your relationship, be direct and talk to your partner. Be open about what is bothering you. It is possible that your partner may not be truthful. Yet, depending on how your partner answers, truthful or not (make sure you engage the b.s. detector during this conversation), you can determine how to proceed in the relationship. Snooping through your partner’s computer, phone, mail, etc., will only create more problems.

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