Trust is a fundamental and foundational element in any and every relationship, platonic or romantic. It's the key to a relationship's success, longevity, stability, and well-being. Trust can be given freely, but it should be earned.
In today's technologically dependent world, everything from computers to phones to email to front doors are protected by passwords and passwords protect us. Most of the time, we believe these passwords protect our bodies, identities, and financials from strangers. But I learned the hard way that passwords also protect us from those we love and believe we can trust.
I lived in an old house near the courthouse. As a criminal defense and family law attorney, being close to the courthouse made it easy on the days I was in court, and on the days I was not, I could work from home.
One day, I was in my home office, sitting at my desk, getting work done like the productive part of society I strive to be. My girlfriend, who would become my wife, called me out of the blue. I loved seeing her face pop up on my phone, even as I was working. I thought it would be just another conversation about her day or a call to set up our next date night or what she should wear to a birthday party. I thought it would be just another wonderful conversation between two people that would disappear into the melange of other lovely conversations we've had and would have over the years.
I was wrong.
The first thing she said to me after I picked up, “I need to know I can trust you. I have been lied to and cheated on so many times. Every time I start dating someone, I trust them, and they betray that trust. I don't want to get hurt again. I need to know I can trust you.” I was worried about her. The woman I care about is calling me upset, saying she doesn't know whether she can trust me or not.
We had been together long enough, I thought she already trusted me. I thought I had shown her I was trustworthy and that I wouldn't betray her heart or her trust. In mere seconds of what had seemed to be an innocuous phone call, she made me question the foundation of our relationship.
I was stunned. I paused because I didn't have words to describe the pain she must be going through and the pain she was putting me through. I did not know what to do or say to make her feel better and remedy this problem. Before I could respond, she stated, “I need to know your email passwords. All of them. I won't be able to trust you without them. I need to know I can trust you.” I resisted at first and asked her, “Why do you want them?”
Did I have something to hide? Was I avoiding a healthy relationship based on transparency? Was I sidestepping radical honesty? How would I feel if I asked her the same and she withheld her passwords? Was I subconsciously trying to sabotage a wonderful relationship with a fabulous woman because of a few simple email passwords?
I questioned everything because I wanted the woman I loved to trust me. I ended up giving her the passwords to my emails. It was an exchange. I gave her the passwords and she trusted me.
That day, there was a shift in our relationship. I should have held firm. I should have said no. I should have made that an uncrossable boundary. Instead, I started giving up pieces of myself. I was slowly ceding control. Not control in the relationship because a healthy relationship is a partnership. I no longer had control over myself. I could no longer independently communicate with the world. My words were being monitored, which made me self-censor and become an inauthentic version of myself.
I thought I would lose her if I didn't give her the passwords. I thought losing her would be the worst thing in the world. I was wrong. Losing myself was and always will be far worse than ending a relationship with anyone. I was asking the wrong question. I was questioning if she would still be with me without those passwords. I should have been asking myself if it was worth being and staying in a relationship where I was not allowed to be myself.
By giving over my passwords, she was cutting me off from the world and taking away my independence and freedom of thought.
A few months after I gave her my passwords, I rarely even checked my email. She had taken it over completely. I was the second person to read my emails. If anything important was sent to me, she would call or text me about it. If there was anything remotely out of the ordinary, I would be on the receiving end of an irate phone call.
If I deleted an email, that was the start of an even bigger fight. She immediately assumed I had something to hide. I kept telling myself that this is what transparency looks like. I was building trust because I didn't have anything to hide. After months and years of being monitored and interrogated, I began to question my intentions. Did I have something to hide? Had I done enough to earn her trust.
Yes. I had.
After several years together, I still was not in control of my email. It wasn't until I filed for divorce and left my marriage that I was able to take control of my passwords again.