Private Practice: Carli Whitwell comes clean about curbing her snooping

Image of Snooping Eye


I found out that my husband was cheating when I read our iPad Internet history. “It’s against the rules to Google clues to The New York Times Saturday Crossword,” I grumbled, shocked that Tim—who has a vocabulary that Rory Gilmore would be jealous of—had resorted to such treachery. He was sheepish but not surprised that I had found him out—this wasn’t the first time my snooping had unearthed a secret in our relationship. And the time before, it was something far more serious than “What’s a four-letter word for new pop of 1924?” (Nehi, if you’re wondering.)

Five years ago, my all-consuming curiosity ruined the surprise marriage proposal Tim had planned for a weekend getaway in Montreal. It started innocently enough. A few weeks prior, we had been debating the age difference between then couple Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly. (Don’t ask.) I borrowed his phone to look for the answer, and when I opened the browser, a window with a search for engagement rings popped up. Most people would hand back the phone calmly while internally combusting, get their nails done and then hunker down to wait out a proposal. But I couldn’t let it go.

At the first opportunity, I searched the Web history of our computer. And I found links to rings! So many sparkly rings! From Tiffany’s! And Birks! Then I did what no person should ever do: I read his email (I know his password, which, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., is common—about two-thirds of couples share this info) and saw a note from my best friend that contained a hearty “Good luck, Tim!”


I knew, and because I’m a rotten liar and panicked every time he knelt down to tie his shoe or reached into his pocket for his wallet, he knew that I knew. After a day of sightseeing and too much poutine, he ended up proposing while we were sitting on the bed in our hotel room eating Tootsie Rolls. He held out his hand, mumbling with a resigned air something about how I probably knew this was coming, and I’ll always regret robbing him of the moment that should have been.

You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but I snoop more than ever now. I regularly creep Tim’s email inbox and read his text messages. I don’t even know what I’m looking for. And I’m not a sociopath – I know I shouldn’t do it, and I do feel badly about it. It’s a violation of his trust and the Criminal Code of Canada, and I would be livid if he ever did the same to me. I’m not the only one doing this, though. According to a 2013 survey by a U.K. mobile phone company, 62 percent of men and 34 percent of women have scrolled through a partner’s phone. So why do we do it? Jennifer Pink, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Simon Fraser University who has studied snooping and its effect on relationships, says that one of the most common reasons is also the most obvious: trust or a lack thereof.

A 2012 study published in College Student Journal found that 66 percent of college students felt that it was okay to snoop when they were curious or suspicious about the actions of someone they were dating. Technology has made it so much easier: If you’re worried your BF is being unfaithful, you are far less likely to get caught reading a phone than rifling through his desk for receipts and sniffing his coat for perfume as if you’d stepped onto the set of Days of Our Lives.

I wasn’t spying because I was worried that Tim was having an affair—he’s no Noah Solloway. In fact, he probably hasn’t talked to a woman outside our circle of friends since 2007. On the other hand, he’s not overly emotional or expressive—I’ve seen him cry only twice in 10 years, and once was while watching Field of Dreams—so it can be tough to know what he’s thinking. He also sometimes forgets to tell me things, big things, like when he got a bonus at work or the day that a bunch of people got fired from his company. Maybe that’s where my urge to check up on him comes in.

Pink agrees. “If you’re feeling like your partner isn’t as open as you’d like him or her to be, that can lead to uncertainty about ‘What is my partner thinking and feeling about this issue?’ or ‘What’s the future of our relationship?’ So that snooping can really be an effort to seek reassurance.”

For me, it was also a question of self-control: Once I’d started, it was hard to stop. “You’ve taught yourself ‘If I just indulge, I can soothe this curiosity,’” explains Shyamala Kiru, a marriage therapist based in Newmarket, Ont., who notes that this behaviour is common. If you read that text and don’t find the evidence you were looking for, you feel relieved. Maybe you’ll justify your teensy transgression because your worries were assuaged, and next time you’ll feel more inclined to peek. And on it continues.

As of writing this article, I’ve been snoop-free for three months. Here’s why. Two things happened the last time I checked Tim’s phone in this case to read a text message from his cousin to see what he was up to. Tim (finally) vented his frustrations with my bad habit, which started a fight but (eventually) got us communicating about topics and issues we were regularly glossing over.

I also realized that I don’t really want to know everything he’s doing. Having some non-relation-ship-damaging secrets from your spouse is totally normal. I haven’t told Tim how much my Mansur Gavriel bag really cost or where I hide the good cheese in the fridge. He shouldn’t have to bare all either. “Privacy and autonomy are equally as important as intimacy and connection,” says Kiru. “The healthiest relationships that I’ve seen are the ones where the couple is able to balance that separateness with that togetherness, and privacy allows us to foster that separateness.” Even if that means letting go of the odd crossword cheat now and then.


1. Come clean and apologize. “Say ‘Listen, I have done this; I don’t want to continue because I don’t like the way it makes me feel and I don’t like what it does to our relationship,’” says Kiru.

2. Figure out why you snooped, and talk about it. “What need is snooping fulfilling for you? Is it curiosity? Uncertainty? Are you looking to feel closer?” asks Pink. “Once you know that, talk to your partner and, as a team, come up with ways you can meet that need.” For example, if you feel the urge to peep at your man’s bank balance because you’re worried he spent the rent money adding to his Stan Smith collection, find some middle ground: Tell him you don’t want to police his budgeting and sug-gest that he limit new shoes to one pair a month or you look at his account together every six weeks.

3. Make it impossible for you to snoop. If you feel the urge—mine gets bad after a glass of Malbec—ask him to change his passwords.

4. And if you find something you should be worried about? You’re not off the hook, says Kiru. “Share that you were feeling anxious about the relationship, which led you to make a choice that you realize was a boundary violation. Don’t minimize your partner’s feelings about your snooping just because you’ve uncovered a secret. Then express your concern.” She adds that at this point you may need to see a therapist. “There are likely some bigger issues at stake that require more focused attention.”

Justin and Sophie: They stare because they care

Justin and Sophie Trudeau

Photo, Norman Jean Roy/VOGUE.

The way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, gaze at each other has become a bit of a political punchline.

But they may get the last laugh. In a lengthy feature published recently in The Globe and MailGrégoire Trudeau revealed that staring into each other’s eyes was an exercise she and Trudeau practised in couples therapy — something that’s helped them connect on an emotional level and sustain their relationship.

“When humans look at each other and look long enough into their eyes, some people are totally uncomfortable with that. I am not,” she told The Globe’s Sarah Hampson. “We’ve even done couples therapy where you need to look at each other’s eyes and stand there until you become vulnerable enough for your truth and your suffering to come out. Wow, it’s cathartic!”

What she described sounds like Emotionally Focused Therapy, a technique frequently used in couples counselling, says Newmarket, Ont.-based registered psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist Shyamala Kiru. She explained it to Chatelaine.

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

This type of therapy is rooted in early 1900s psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s attachment theory, which suggests children need a strong attachment to an adult in order to survive and thrive. In the 1990s, Ottawa-based therapist Dr. Sue Johnson created the emotionally focused therapy approach, essentially applying the idea to adult couples, to help them connect with one another and communicate their needs. According to research put forth by Johnson and affiliated study authors, the approach helped 70 to 75 percent of couples recover from distress in their marriage. Kiru uses it with most of her clients who come in for couples therapy. “It’s really about connecting with your partner in a very vulnerable way and in a very emotionally focused way,” Kiru says.

How it works

The client tells the therapist how certain things their partner has said or done has made them feel — often they are articulating these feelings for the very first time, Kiru says. The therapist then asks the person to turn to his or her partner, look them in the eyes and repeat their words. “The goal of that therapy is to turn to your partner and share that pain with them,” Kiru says. “So there’s a lot of eye contact in that model of therapy, there’s a lot of turning towards one another…there’s a lot of experiencing right in the moment what your partner is feeling.”

The goal

It helps a person really “see” their partner’s vulnerability, which has a lasting effect, Kiru says. Clients can be straight-faced when they share their feelings with their therapist, but when they turn to their partner, “that’s when the waterworks start,” she says. “The other person is seen and feels heard, but for the partner who is listening and seeing, it changes them. To really see your partner’s vulnerabilities and fears, their darkest places . . . that’s where the change actually happens for that couple.”

How it feels

It can be awkward,” Kiru says. “Sometimes the longer you’ve been with a person, the more rigid your patterns of relating are,” she says. But most people work through it.

How you can use it outside of therapy

Grégoire Trudeau suggests this has helped both her and Trudeau connect with family and even constituents, which makes sense to Kiru. “Once you identify what you are carrying inside, I think it’s just easier to make eye contact . . . and be authentic and vulnerable with others,” she says. Though she does suggest being judicious about where you show that vulnerability — particularly if you’re the prime minister.

The Benefits of Breathing Heavy

Did you know that there’s a strong connection between mind and body wellness? Research indicates that individuals that are physically active are better able to manage depression, anxiety and stress. In some cases, physical activity can be as effective as medication in the treatment of depression.

 Prescription for Using Exercise to Manage Moods:

  1. 30 minutes, 3 times per week

Research indicates that exercising in a steady, rhythmical state (running, walking, cycling, swimming, elliptical machine, etc) can enhance moods. Choose a steady state (rather than interval training or weight lifting) cardiovascular workout in order to maximize benefits to mental health.

  1. Remain Mindful

Another key to maximizing the effectiveness of exercise as a tool to beat depression is to remain mindful during the workout. Rather than get lost in watching t.v. or your anxious thoughts, try staying connected to your breath as a way to bring your focus inward. Remind yourself that your workout is a practice in self care.

  1. Have Fun

Research also indicates that when we enjoy our workout or see it as a fun activity, we tend to decrease the tendency to overeat as a “reward”. Find an activity that you can enjoy. With summer around the corner, getting outdoors is a great way to add some exercise to your day.

  1. Be Consistent

As with any change, consistency is absolutely key. In order to feel the long term benefits of exercise as it relates to your mental health, commit to making it a consistent part of your lifestyle.

Feel it, Name it, Breathe: Regulating Your Emotions

Information enters the brain through our senses. When information is overwhelming or stressful, instinct takes over. Instead of choosing a response, we become reactive.   The three most common reactive tendencies are flight, fight and freeze. Emotional self-regulation is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and foundational in developing mental wellness.

Strategy: Feel it, Name it, Breathe

GOAL: increase responsiveness

TASK: identify and regulate emotions

1.  Identify your reactive tendency. What are you most likely to do in a stressful situation? This is your go-to coping strategy for dealing with conflict:

Flight (withdraw/placate)

Fight (pursue/attack)

Freeze (shut down)

2.  Identify your preferred response, ie: share my feelings/thoughts in a tricky situation.

3.  Feel it: When you are feeling overwhelmed, slow down and allow the emotion to surface. Do not push it away or ignore it.

4 . Name it: Identify the nuance of the emotion. Use a feeling chart if needed.

5.   Breathe deeply through the experience, counting backwards from 10. Remind yourself that the feeling will pass.

6.  Choose how you would like to respond.

Creating Purpose, Fuelling Passion: Goal Setting 101

Do you find yourself setting goals for the New Year only to neglect them completely by the following week? How many times have you said “This is the year I get fit, save money, make a career change, invest in my relationships…?” The list is endless and yet most people find it nearly impossible to follow through on the goals they felt very passionate about in January.


Self-discipline is simply the congruency between our words and our actions. When what you say, matches what you do, voila, you have self-discipline. Easier said than done, right?


Vision boards are a great way to increase self-discipline, by increasing our motivation. They are a great way to keep motivation alive and fuel your efforts towards those lofty goals.



A vision board is a visual representation of our goals. Typically, I recommend that vision boards represent goals in 3-5 areas, over the course of 3-5 years. Did you know that when individuals’ look at a vision board daily, they are 75% more likely to achieve their goals?! 


  • Reminds us of the bigger picture for our lives
  • Encourages us to think outside the box and tap into our dreams
  • Connects goals/dreams with positive emotions
  • Highly motivating, therefore they increase the likelihood of accomplishing goals
  • Provides a visually stimulating and emotion-provoking reminder of our goals


  1. Select 3-5 areas of your life you would like to focus on. Some examples of focus areas would be academic/career, relationships, leisure, recreation, health, fitness, character, spirituality, etc.
  2. List 2-3 goals for each area that reflect your dreams for the next 3-5 years. Remember to use the SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, time sensitive) formula to create workable goals.
  3. Find pictures that represent your identified dream goals.
  4. Paste them onto vision board.
  5. Display vision board in a highly visible place so that you will look at it daily (bedroom, desk at office).

Stay focused on your dreams and live life with purpose and passion!!