How Much Privacy Is Healthy in a Relationship?

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How Much Privacy Is Healthy in a Relationship?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Photo: picjumbo_com/Pixabay


To create a healthy, emotionally close relationship, partners need to share what’s in their heart – but that doesn’t mean they need to share everything that they think or feel. In fact, when partners don’t recognize their individual needs for privacy, their relationship often suffers.

While sharing experiences is important, partners also need some privacy to develop and experience life as a separate person – whether by keeping a personal journal or simply not talking much about particular ideas as they work through some of their thoughts. This gives them time to grow as individuals. As a result, partners can always find something new to discover about each other.

Although everyone needs the opportunity for personal growth, partners often differ in the amount of privacy they feel that they need. Unfortunately, this difference can cause tension. People who need more individual space and privacy can feel smothered by a partner who wants to know everything they are thinking, feeling, and doing. By contrast, those who need more closeness can feel rejected by partners who are more private. Generally speaking, it’s not that one of them is right and the other is wrong; it’s just that they have different needs.

However, people can go too far with wanting too much or too little privacy. On one end, too much privacy can result in partners leading parallel lives. On the other end, too little privacy can lead to partners losing the space to be themselves as a person separate from the couple. The way to keep from being at one end or another is to respect that healthy couples are a combination of being autonomous, independent individuals and a connected, dependent unit.

You can find a balance in your relationship by keeping the lines of communication open with regards to how much “space” and privacy you each need. It’s important to respect your differences in these areas and talk about them. If you feel bothered that your partner does not tell you about her conversation with friends during their evening out, you might share that. In this situation, you are asking your partner to be less private. But also try to understand how she might feel smothered by an expectation that she “report back” every detail of her evening. In this case, she would need you to respect her need for greater privacy.

A failure to recognize each other’s differing needs for privacy and individual space can eventually lead to a breakdown of the whole relationship. Instead of insisting on your partner accommodating to your needs, try focusing on how their behavior is affecting you – such as making you feel alone or rejected; or suffocated. Then pay attention to how your behavior is affecting them. If one or the other of you has great difficulty in being flexible, it’s important to continue supporting each other and making a united effort to find an acceptable balance for both of you. This might include extra efforts on the part of one of you to help the other. For instance, a partner who needs more privacy might provide extra assurances that they care, even as they keep texts private or delay sharing their thoughts and feelings about particular topics.

When it comes to how much privacy to have in your relationship, it can help to think about it as a co-created decision. It’s important that you both feel heard, respected, supported, and accepted. When you find ways to accommodate your differences, you will each feel that the other one cares even when your privacy needs are not being fully met in the moment.


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