By Sarah Stanton
Have you ever had the urge to read a significant other's journal? We already know that people are more likely to engage in intrusive behaviour, such as spying on a partner, if they don't trust that person. But, high levels of trust may not be all you need if you want to avoid snooping around. Non-snoopers may simply have high levels of self-control, a.k.a. the ability to override or inhibit impulses and adjust behaviour in order to effectively achieve goals.
Some scholars have argued recently that snooping and other intrusive behaviours occur when someone puts his or her own self-interest and need for reassurance above a partner’s need for privacy. So, how can you put a stop to snooping? With trust, self-control, or both? To answer this question, researchers recruited 189 heterosexual married couples and asked them to fill out questionnaires over three study sessions, each one year apart. The couples reported their trust, self-control, and intrusive behaviours using well-validated measures.
The researchers found that the key to putting the brakes on intrusive behaviour in relationships was neither trust nor self-control alone, but the combination of both. For people who didn't have much trust in their partners, self-control didn’t matter. Similarly, those with low self-control engaged in the same amount of snooping no matter how much they trusted their partners. People with high levels of both trust and self-control were the least likely to snoop over time.
This means that trusting your partner may not be enough to keep away those occasional (or not-so-occasional) urges to snoop. You'll also need the self-control necessary to keep impulses to intrude in check.