joreth: (Purple Mobius)
Listening to people justify giving romantic partners full access* to each other's phones & emails in the aftermath of a broken trust in order to rebuild that trust. Saying that because someone did something related to texting that was "against their rules", it sucks, but it might be a necessary way to regain the trust of the person who was betrayed.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

If someone has broken an agreement or betrayed the trust of the other person, giving someone full access to things that DON'T BELONG TO ONLY THE PERSON IN THE COUPLE IN QUESTION is not acceptable. Texts and other communication owned by the "betrayer" are not their sole property. Those communiques (and, more importantly, the thoughts and intimacy they contain) also belong to the person who sent them. You are not sharing something that is private to the person who broke the rule, you are sharing something that is private of someone who is not in the relationship where the broken trust occurred.

By insisting on full access to the communications of a third party, you are pawning off the burden of repairing your broken trust onto that third party. The *third person* is the one who has to shoulder the responsibility for the "betrayer's" actions and for the "betrayed's" fear. And not just that person who participated in whatever action constitutes a "betrayal", but ALL third parties who might communicate with the "betrayer" in that manner - every single person has to give up their own privacy (and potentially hamper their own intimacy, even platonic and familial ones) to assuage the "betrayed" and fix this now "broken" relationship. All friends, all family, even all future partners (for those in open relationships) have to pay for what the "betrayer" and some other person did.

If your relationship is now "broken" and you are trying to rebuild trust between the two of you, it is your ethical responsibility to find a way to work through that pain and fear in a way that makes the two of YOU shoulder the entire burden for the work involved. It is not ethically right to violate the privacy and intimacy of people who are not in your relationship, who did not break any agreements (because they didn't make those agreements with you since they are not your partner), and who are not trying to rebuild any broken trust with you. New metamours may be trying to *build* trust with you, but they should not have added onto their load the responsibility of *REbuilding* the trust that someone else broke.

If you are choosing to put the work into this relationship so that you can eventually trust your partner again, that is your choice and you need to shoulder the burdens of your own fears regarding your partner's lack of trustworthiness. I'm not saying it doesn't suck. I'm saying it's YOUR burden to carry. All too often, poly people carry into polyamory with them bad habits from monogamy that go unchallenged in monogamous culture.

Until the industrial revolution, and really until WWI, marriage was not considered the One Relationship To Rule Them All.  In fact, just the opposite.  Philosophical treatises were written and sermons were preached condemning the act of making one's spouse the sole source of all types of support.  People were expected to find emotional, financial, labor, and sometimes even sexual support from all manner of relationships other than their spouse.  Placing one's spouse in a position of one's Everything was considered to be an affront to God himself because it was seen as replacing God with a human being.  Men and women were expected to have strong emotional ties to people of the same gender, and in some eras, those ties were expected to be stronger than the ties to one's spouse.  Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family in general were expected to live under the same roof, or at least nearby, to help with the labor of running a household and raising children.  One's pastor or preacher was expected to carry the burden of one's religious commitments and spiritual support.  And, in certain eras and locations, sex with one's spouse was considered a necessity for procreation but sex for pleasure was expected to be saved for one's lovers.  It was considered "unseemly" to be "too in love" or too infatuated or too attracted to one's own spouse.  That wasn't their role.

But then, somewhere along the line, mainly about the time that the industrial cities took over as holding the bulk of the population, all that changed.  With famine and war, people left the countryside in droves and flooded the urban centers, leaving behind extended family, generational churches, and best friends.  The nuclear family took over because single adults left their entire network behind to make a living in the big cities and started raising families alone, while existing families could often only pack up themselves (the spouses and kids) to search for a "better life" in the city, again leaving behind their support networks.  Suddenly, spouses HAD to become one's Everything because all they had was each other.

Although the U.S. has made attempts to build other sorts of networks from the wreckage the Urban Influx left on the old-style networks, the nuclear family and the myth of the One reigns supreme.  We have elevated the role of the spouse (and by extension, any singular romantic partner) to such a degree that people, even those of us conscientious objectors who ought to know better, can't even see the ethical dilemma with privileging one role above all others.  When faced with questions like "should your spouse have unrestricted access to your text messages", we don't even blink an eye when we shout "of course!"  That's not even a question for most people - it's taken for granted that spouses would share everything.  Even those things that don't belong to the other spouse to share.  It's written into marriage vows.  It's part of the cultural fabric.  And if some third party would dare to suggest that this thing here doesn't belong solely to the spouse in question to be giving permission to access, it's just flat out assumed that the romantic primary couple has "priority" so of course anything belonging even in part to the spouse belongs entirely to the spouse and simultaneously belongs to the other spouse.  Requests for privacy are seen as direct challenges to the primacy of the couple.

Personally, if my romantic relationship isn't strong enough to accommodate for individual privacy, I would say that the relationship isn't as "primary" as one would think.  The specialness and strength of my relationships and of my role within those relationships comes from the connection itself which is comprised of the individuals that make up the relationship, and nothing can take that away short of the individuals themselves.  Including the rights of the individual within the relationships.  Once the rights and integrity and very personhood of the individuals within the relationship are seen as less important than the relationship itself, the relationship is inherently doomed because the foundation of the relationship is the individuals in it.

So no one has "unrestricted access" or "full access" to those paths of intimacy, including communication, that involve anyone other than the two of us on that path together.  Some of my partners and metamours may have emergency access, but that is not "full access" or "unrestricted access".  Attempting to access the communications and therefore possible paths of intimacy of my other partners and loved ones is seen as a boundary violation, both my own boundaries and those of the other people, by the one doing the accessing.  It is understood that the wrongdoing here is in the accessing of data, not in the keeping of privacy.

When I was a teenager, my sister used to sneak into my room and steal my clothing and my cassette tapes.  No amount of shouting or sneaking into her room to steal them back would stop her.  I begged my parents for a lock on my door to keep her out.  They responded that a locked door would enable me to hide things from THEM, and as my parents, they had a right to access every space in the house, including my space.  I had no right to privacy as their daughter living on their property.  These are the kinds of assumptions that we bring with us into poly relationships - property and ownership of other people - their bodies and their minds.


As a child, I knew this was wrong.  As an adult, I know now why.  This is a violation of my very autonomy, the thing that makes me a person.  So, in my romantic relationships I can leave the metaphorical door unlocked because everyone knows that opening that door without an emergency-based reason would harm the relationship between myself and the person who opened that door.  My partners are not children or pets who can't be trusted to stay out of my room, nor are they overprotective parents who think that I am not entitled to my own autonomy.  Should I ever feel the need or the desire to lock my door, my partners understand that it's my room to lock and they didn't have a right to access that space anyway.  But, because they understand this, I can leave the door unlocked for safety purposes and everything that anyone gives me that I keep in that room is safe from anyone else getting to it.

I understand the desire to infringe on someone else's rights in order to make the bad feelings go away.  I understand how scary it is to shoulder my own burdens in a relationship where there is fear, insecurity, and broken trust.  I've been there, I've done that.  To this day, I may feel a strong enough fear to prompt me to ask to violate someone's boundaries for my own comfort.  But the key is that I do not assume it is my right to do so, and I must shoulder the burden myself to do the work on repairing the broken trust and calming that fear.  The allure of making someone else carry one's own burden is strong.  It will take everyone's effort to stand up to that allure and to create a culture that does not support the violation of other people's boundaries, privacy, and intimacy in service to our own fears and pain.



* By "full access", I do not mean that one *must* keep a lock on their phone and *never* show any texts to one's partner.  My phone doesn't even have a lock because it's a dumb flip phone, and I have a shared document online with passwords and other instructions for access to my files in the event of emergencies where someone else needs to run my life on my behalf.  But my partners have no interest in accessing my data short of an emergency, and everyone who communicates with me has a reasonable expectation that what they say to me will be held in confidence if they ask for it.  When they communicate with me, they know that they are communicating *with me*.  They do not have to communicate with me under the assumption that they are also communicating or sharing with someone else.  Assuming that all communications will be shared with someone else creates a built-in filter that hampers and infringes on the intimacy we can build together because they can only build as much intimacy with me as they are willing to build with this other person who will have access to that intimacy.

Partners who ask for "full access", in this context, are not asking for pragmatic, emergency-based access, nor do they technically have access but a lack of interest in accessing data.  Those are different situations and one that I am not addressing, so please don't derail the comments with "I can read my husband's texts because we trust each other but I don't because I don't care / we trust each other."  That's not what I'm talking about.  "Full access", in this context, is when one partner is suspected (or known) of possible relationship agreement violations and the other partner deliberately goes into their data (or wants the ability to do so) in order to check up on them.  They either want to police their activity like a child who can't be trusted to do their homework without the teacher sending home a homework sheet that the parents check off every night, or they want the threat of checking their activity to act as a deterrent to prevent their partner from misbehaving.

And these people will justify their actions or their request to violate privacy on the grounds that their partner has already proven that they can't be trusted, therefore punitive and corrective action is necessary.  That or if an infidelity of some kind hasn't actually happened, they will hand-wave away their violations with things like "if he's not hiding anything, then it shouldn't matter if I have access" and other hand-wavy justifications like the ones my parents used to deny me a lock on my door, which all have the underlying root of couple privilege and ownership.  It's not about "hiding" things, it's about treating partners as adults who have the right to make their own decisions (even bad ones), and about respecting the autonomy of both partners and third parties, AND about carrying one's own relationship burdens and responsibilities without pawning the work off onto someone else.
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