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Thursday, July 25, 2024

The unspoken rules of sharing passwords with your partner

To share or not to share?

That’s the question plaguing couples today — each of whom probably holds dozens of online accounts from banking to health care to streaming.

Combining accounts comes with benefits. You can use one monthly Spotify subscription instead of two. You can pay the rent without having to Venmo each other. You can even use his Instagram password to peek into his DMs, if that’s your sort of thing.

But combining online profiles comes with costs, too. A shared Netflix password won’t protect your relationship from disaster, and detangling your accounts after a breakup can be time consuming and — in some cases — dangerous.

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From finances to Facebook, here’s what we’ve learned about the risks and rewards of account-sharing in the internet age. If you’re feeling unsure, stick to these rules.

If it’s too soon to post each other on Instagram, it’s probably too soon to start sharing accounts.

Like real-life love, online enmeshment shouldn’t happen all at once. Let digital sharing follow the natural progression of your relationship. Start with low-risk accounts like HBO Max or Libby, my colleague Heather Kelly wrote. If that goes well, feel free to experiment with something more important such as location sharing. In cases where mismanagement could create lasting consequences — such as a bank account or social media profile — wait until you know that person well. How do they handle their finances? How do they react to rejection, and how would they respond if your relationship ends?

This process doesn’t have to be intuitive; talk with your partner along the way about how much of your digital lives you’re willing to share. Consider adding it to conversations about communication styles, romantic exclusivity and plans for the future.

A password here and there might not feel like a big deal, but think about the ripple effects. What will it mean if your partner has ongoing access to your WhatsApp messages or real-time location? Once you make privacy concessions, it can be tough to walk them back.

Account-sharing can also change the power dynamics of a relationship. If the bank account is in her name, she might start making financial decisions unilaterally. If his name comes first on the joint Facebook profile, he might take over posting and messaging. Some personal accounts — including iCloud and Google — should almost always stay personal to protect your identity. (Access to Apple and Google is often how abusers steal sensitive photos or break into additional accounts through multifactor authentication.)

Other times, combining accounts strikes the right note. Starting a cellphone plan together, for instance, might mark the formation of a new family (we can’t all stay on our parents’ plans into our 30s, I maintain). Sharing locations indefinitely might make for less stress as co-parents. At each step, consider what message the shared account is sending and what that means for future you.

For some couples, sharing passwords and accounts is a sign of trust or transparency. But is it really trust if you’re keeping tabs on your partner’s online life?

A desire for transparency can quickly turn into control or entitlement, some relationship experts say. You might feel more secure with top-to-bottom access to your partner’s accounts, but you’re not entitled to it. Talk about how to balance both of your needs for trust, safety and freedom.

When possible, try not to freeload. If your main goal is to save a buck on Disney Plus, maybe share with your brother instead of your girlfriend. That way you can save the embarrassment of getting caught still using the account long after the breakup.

Keep it realistic, not cynical

In your efforts to protect your autonomy, don’t forget that relationships require some give and take. If marriage, for example, means sharing a life for a long time, what’s it hurt to make a joint checking account or share your location during that messy Nashville bachelorette party weekend? If you’re not willing to share any aspects of your digital life, make that clear up front and let your partner decide if they’re willing to roll with it.

Our online lives can make relationships feel more complicated. But love is still real (we think) and worth the effort. So if you think she’s the one, consider asking for her Audible password.

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