A couple of years ago I was in a training with some colleagues and the topic of betrayed wives "snooping" in the aftermath of disclosure/discovery came up. Personally, I'm not fond of the word "snooping." I prefer to look at this behavior as "information gathering" and I think it's something most wives do at some point.
Back in the bad old days (of the sex addiction field), information gathering was labeled "maladaptive" and "pathological"—a sign that the wife lacked boundaries and was a co-addict, or at least co-dependent. And while I think the field has made much forward progress in understanding the wife's experience (i.e., it's trauma we're dealing with), I still regularly hear of women being condemned for this practice.
How "Snooping" Helps
In the video below you will hear sex addiction and partner specialist, Jake Porter explain how the trauma that comes with the discovery of betrayal (especially a series of them) disrupts both our understanding of our identity and of our story. Because we need to understand "our past" in order to calculate how to protect ourselves in the future, traumatised brains become obsessed with trying to piece together our story. And because the person with the addiction has a history of lying and hiding important parts of our "marital relationship" story from us, it's not surprising we don't trust him to help us put the pieces together.
Moreover, because the betrayal hurt so badly (endangered us, as far as our brains are concerned), we are on the alert to make sure his hidden activities are not still going on. Due to the fact we often feel alone in this, (and are the only ones who are strongly motivated to make sure the betrayal isn't continuing) we will often resort to measures that we wouldn't normally take: i.e., invading another's privacy.
Now in an ideal world, our husband has read Jason Martinkus' Worthy of Her Trust and has responded to his call to go beyond honesty to transparency. According to Martinkus, this means not only laying open his private life and actions to us, but actually inviting us to come in and take a look around on a regular basis.” As he explains:
“Try to anticipate what your wife might want to know. You don't need to be a mind reader. But you can be accommodating, proactive and empathetic enough to help her avoid taking on a private investigator role. Remember, most wives don't want to be in that role and are incredibly disappointed in themselves when they adopt it.”
This is why, in my PDF for family and friends of sex addicts/betrayed women, I suggest that if they find out she's been "snooping" they have a word with him, not her. Wives whose husbands are living as Martinkus suggests will find they do not have to be looking over his shoulder (or at his credit card bills, bank records, text messages) unbeknownst to him... at least not for long.
For some wives—who have not been given the gift of transparency—the snooping was actually a lifesaver. I've known multiple women who found out that their "online only" husband had given them an incredibly dangerous STI only because they caught him out through their information gathering work. His acting out and lies could have cost them (and in one case their baby) their lives. As it was, the information they uncovered allowed them to get the truth and get help.
How Snooping Hurts
Still, there are drawbacks to information gathering that women encounter. One is discovering things they would rather not have known (at least not at that level of detail). Another is feeling they are not living up to their own values. Winding up with more questions than they got answered, is another potential pitfall.
In any of these cases, the wife will have made some gains in putting her story together, but when asked if she had more peace before or after she went "gathering" the answer is frequently "before." Unfortunately we can't "unknow" some details. We can't get honest answers to newly raised questions from a husband who's left us. It will take some work with loving and validating people before we feel that maybe we haven't let ourselves, and God, down through these behaviors.
Finally, a pattern of snooping can be expensive, in terms of money, time and emotional energy. If that's the place you find yourself, consider asking your husband if he is willing to allow you to monitor his communications and online activities. Back up your case with this post or a book like Worthy of Her Trust. If your husband resists, claiming he has a "right to his privacy," etc., etc... you've just gathered another very critical piece of information.
While it may be difficult to trust God right now (that's trauma again), the reality is that He alone can keep us safe in this world: that is in a place of peace despite traumatizing circumstances. A husband who is determined to act out will do so. But God, who knows the pain of betrayal first hand, promises such a man will not be able to keep this information hidden forever (Luke 12:2-3). God is the God of justice as well as grace, and as we (re)learn to make him our "refuge," He will lead us toward rest... possibly while suggesting we check out that phone SIM that fell out of his wallet.