Q&A with Geoff: Should I expect to know my husband's phone code?

q&a with geoff Jul 16, 2020


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? 


It’s understandable that you would automatically believe that your husband might be cheating on you because he won’t let you see his phone. But 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 you’ll want to consider.

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 appropriate. When it’s a major departure from openness, we naturally panic. 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 the worst case scenario as a way of bracing us for our biggest fears. However, 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 to 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 haven’t 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 refuse 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.

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