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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Reading Partner's Emails

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Sleeping With Friend's Ex | Reading Partner's Emails

Quick Access:
Sleeping with My Friend's Ex - Can I?
Reading my Partner's Emails - Is it OK?

Is it ever OK to sleep with a friend's ex?


I’d have to say “maybe.” It all depends on the circumstances.

In high school, I remember that people seemed to pick up, drop and switch boyfriends and girlfriends constantly. I guess that made some sense back then – kids usually don’t have serious relationships in mind. They act in the moment and leave future consequences to the wind. Pairing up with a friend’s “ex” at this age seems more normal than abominable. But, let’s fast forward to adulthood.

For adults, there are many issues to consider. If a friend’s break up was amicable, then there’s no good reason why either party in the previous couple (your friend and the ex) shouldn’t be free to find happiness elsewhere. But we know that often break ups are not amicable, especially when they happen to marriages or other seriously committed relationships. In these cases, there might be mitigating circumstances whereby getting involved with a friend’s ex would be ill-advised, because it would be deeply hurtful to your friend. Examples could include immoral or unethical behavior by the friend’s ex, such as infidelity or abuse.

You also must take into account how close of a friend the person really is. There are clearly differences when it comes to acquaintances versus friends versus family members. In fact, I’d say that getting involved with the ex of a family member is a major no, no.  There are too many awkward aspects to such arrangements for most people to overcome them well. In the end, it comes down to two issues: your own personal happiness and your connections to family and friends. Both are important when evaluating whether or not someone is right for you. Contemplate them both seriously, and weigh their impact in a way that makes you comfortable. After all, you’re the one who has to live the decision.

Should I read my partner's emails to check up on him?

While my answer to the previous question was “maybe,” this time my answer is “no.”  And I mean a firm “no.”  Disagree with me if you want, but I stand strongly behind that advice. We didn’t like or respect it when our parents read our diaries without permission or when they rifled through our rooms looking for stuff, so why is it okay now to do it to someone else?  If you feel the need to check up on your partner, then there are serious trust issues at work that should take precedence over snooping. Rather than snoop, simply be direct with your partner and ask for clarification or reassurance. You can even ask that he or she show you their email inbox to calm your fears. That’s the more ethical way to take a peek at that you wanted.

Feel free to ask to see things and ask pointed questions about what you want to know, but it’s questionable at the very least to snoop. It’s also rather ineffective. Snooping may yield material, but it doesn’t give a context for it. How many misunderstandings have occurred when people jump to conclusions over little bits of information, rather than having the full facts? You get the point. So rather than add to the ambiguity and pain of not knowing and ruminating over “what ifs,” it’s better to tackle your fears and apprehensions head on. A person’s reaction to spontaneous and pointed questions often gives the answers you’re seeking. But play it straight with others, so they’ll play it straight with you.

I recommend that all readers bone up on what trust really is between people. It’s an empty word and empty ideal without some clear understanding of what trust, respect and reliance mean to you, and what you expect from a partner.

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