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Open Phone Policy in Relationships: Does It Work?

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Our phones know all our secrets. In 2024, it’s not a stretch to say that our search history, inbox, and screen time across various apps says a lot about who we are, and not all of it is flattering. So what would you do if your partner — the person who, ideally, you shouldn’t be keeping any secrets from — suddenly wants full access to your phone? What does it mean that they’re asking, and what would it mean if you said yes — or no — to an open phone policy with your partner?

The concept of an open phone policy is pretty controversial in the marriage and long-term relationship communities. A post on the topic in the r/Marriage Reddit forum earlier this year, for example, racked up a whopping 717 comments as Redditors lobbed strong opinions from both sides. “We always had an open policy and it’s never been changed or questioned,” one person said. “We barely use each others phone but knowing we can is important.”

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For others, having an open phone policy signifies an egregious breach of privacy. “Needing [an] open phone policy screams no trust and a lot of insecurity in the relationship and would be a dealbreaker for me,” said one commenter. Another agreed that “the trust required to allow us both some privacy is more important to us.” And that’s only one of many open phone policy posts on the site over the last few years.

Trust, privacy, security — the decision to have an open phone policy (or not) cuts right to the core of so many relationship issues. So why do some people swear by them, and others swear off them — and most importantly, is it worth considering one in your own relationship? We talked to two relationship experts to find out.

What Is an Open Phone Policy?

First, what exactly does an open phone policy entail, and what does it mean if you have one? According to licensed marriage and family therapist Laurie Singer, MS, BCBA, “an open phone policy refers to an agreement between partners to share access to each other’s phone conversations, emails, text messages, and search history.”

A full open phone policy means you’re giving your partner free rein to your phone and everything in it, at any time — but there’s no real, set-in-stone definition. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” therapist Lea Trageser, LMFT, of Helix Marriage and Family Therapy tells SheKnows. Some couples might agree to share texts but not app access, or vice versa, or enact the policy for some time periods but not others. When it comes to building an open phone policy, “you and your partner can come up with agreed-upon boundaries that work for you and your relationship,” Trageser explains.

Close-up of housewife wiping floor with mop during housework in the living room

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Open Phone Policy Pros and Cons

Implementing an open phone policy is a big decision in a relationship, and weighing the possible benefits and drawbacks can help. On the pros side, Singer and Trageser say, an open phone policy can help:

Develop trust, openness, and accountability. “Some couples believe that sharing passwords, accessing each other’s electronic devices, and sharing their phone usage can build a stronger relationship,” Singer says.

Rebuild a relationship after a breach of trust. If one partner has cheated or otherwise betrayed their significant other’s trust, trying an open phone policy “might be a good idea” to help stabilize the relationship, Singer says. In this case, the open phone policy might be temporary, with the partners agreeing to pause or end it as that trust is rebuilt.

Make things convenient. Sometimes you need a phone, and your partner’s is the closest to hand. With an open phone policy, you don’t have to think twice about grabbing it to make an urgent call or look up a quick piece of information.

While there are some benefits, “an open phone policy isn’t for everyone,” Singer says. When it comes to drawbacks, an open phone policy might:

Invade your privacy. “Many believe their phone is private and shouldn’t be checked without their knowledge,” Singer points out.

Indicate lack of trust. While allowing your partner to check your phone can indicate the trust you have in them and your relationship, the flip side is also true; your partner wanting to see your phone could speak to a lack of trust they have in you.

Become weaponized. It’s possible that one or both partners could use the open phone policy as a weapon, threatening their partner with it or using it not to make the relationship stronger but to bring their partner down.

Lead to resentment. No one likes to feel like they’re constantly being monitored, let alone by their partner. A partner under an open phone policy “may feel as if they have no privacy in the relationship and this can lead to resentment,” Singer explains. “They may feel they’re being monitored which can make it difficult to express themselves or make their own choices.”

Should you and your partner have an open phone policy?

If you or your partner are considering an open phone policy, communication is essential. “The most important thing when deciding the boundaries around phones and privacy with your partner is to openly communicate about expectations, intent, wants, and how you both want to navigate this,” Trageser explains. That includes understanding why you or your partner want an open phone policy in the first place.

“Phone privacy can, but not always, be a manifestation of a larger relationship concern,” Trageser notes. “Safety, trust, and relationship security are topics that I would explore more in order to better understand someone’s experience in their relationship.” If, for example, the open phone policy is about holding power and control in the relationship, “that is a red flag,” Trageser says.

For Singer, it’s a case-by-case question. “While accountability and honesty are crucial in a good relationship, it’s just as important to establish healthy boundaries and respect one another’s personal space,” she says. If your relationship has trust issues, then sure, an open phone policy might ease your mind, but it’s not addressing the root of the problem. “Working through the mistrust goes deeper than the open phone policy and should be worked on together or with a trained therapist,” Singer explains.  

Like many relationship decisions, having an open phone policy (or not) is a personal choice. Only you and your partner know what’s best for your relationship, and talking about it honestly is the only way to find out if it’s the right option for you. Whether or not you know each other’s passcodes and recent texts, trust is crucial in a relationship, and it’s up to you and your partner to determine how you establish it.

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