After 25 years of marriage, my husband put a code on his phone and won’t let me know it. It’s now been 11 months and whenever I say anything about it, he gets upset. When he initially did it, he said it’s either going to make or break the marriage, but he’s prepared for any outcome. This really hurts. How should I handle it?
Even though I answered a variation of this question six years ago HERE, your question has a different twist on it that’s worth addressing. The fact that you’ve been married over two decades and your husband is now making this a marriage deal breaker opens up some other possibilities that I didn’t include in my previous treatment of the phone password question. And, since you only shared minimal information about yourself, your husband, and your marriage, I’m going to present you with two potential responses you could have to this situation.
I think your distress about him blocking you from accessing his phone is understandable. It’s easy for your mind to make up stories about what he’s doing when he doesn’t give you information. The stories we make up usually go straight to worst-case-scenario as a way of bracing us for our biggest fears. Unless he has a history of cheating on you, I don’t suggest you start with assuming the worst about his motives.
It’s always a good idea to start by looking at ourselves first to see what we can change. Is your husband setting a boundary to assert his need for privacy? Have you spent years snooping on his phone or invading his privacy? Is he trying to create a space that is his own? If you examine your past and current reactions to him asking for privacy, do you find any patterns where you make it difficult for him to have any personal freedom to express himself? If this is the case, then his phone password might begin to make more sense.
All of us need to know we have the freedom to share our private thoughts and feelings with others when we’re ready. This applies in marriages, parenting, families, and friendships. On the other hand, secrecy is toxic to marriages because it’s blocking information that the other person has a right to know. Naturally, because he’s blocking you in such a dramatic way, you can’t easily tell the difference between secrecy and privacy.
I’m not suggesting his way of handling this is the most mature or helpful way to address this, but if he’s responding to an interaction with you and asserting his need for privacy, this is a good opportunity to address this dynamic between the two of you. Twenty-five years of marriage is long enough to form patterns that strain one or both partners. Take a close look at yourself and your patterns before you jump to conclusions about his motives for locking his phone.
The fact that he’s set such a strong boundary putting the marriage on the line causes me to wonder if he’s responding to a frustrating dynamic that has pushed him beyond his capacity to cope. If you feel this is the best route to address this concern, then find a good time to visit with him and lead out with your own accountability for how you’ve not given him privacy. Express your concerns about him making this a deal-breaker in the marriage and how you’d like to find a better way to help him have the space he needs.
The other option for responding is based on the potential threat that he’s hiding information that puts you and your relationship in harm’s way. If you’ve not snooped and crowded out his privacy over the years, then it’s worth addressing this as a secrecy issue. I believe you can have an expectation as his wife to understand why he’s so adamant that you don’t have access to his phone. It dials up natural suspicion and it’s hard to settle down your nervous system when you’re bracing yourself for terrible news. Be courageous and clear in your expectations that you have an open conversation about this. Even if he’s upset, you can still expect that he shares his reasoning. The truth is that you’re upset as well, and you need information and understanding.
If he continues to block you, defend his position, and refuses to cooperate with your need to understand what’s happening, then you’ll have to decide how much you can tolerate. You may decide you need to prepare yourself for the worst-case-scenario and take measures to protect yourself in case you learn he’s hiding something that undermines your safety and security. I recommend you work closely with a therapist to determine how you can take protective measures for your physical, emotional, and legal security.
While there are several ways you could respond to this situation, the truth is that your husband is pushing you away and keeping you at a distance. That dynamic needs to be addressed as a core issue regardless of what decision is made about the phone. If your behaviors contribute to the pushback you’re receiving, look closely at that and take accountability. If he continues to shut you out in the relationship, you’ll have to decide if you need to protect yourself, give it more time, or find other ways to try and address this with him. Once again, a skilled therapist can ask you questions and help you assess what’s the best response.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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