Have you ever wondered, or thought about asking a couples therapist, if it’s healthy to share your location with your partner? Has sharing locations ever been an issue in your relationship? It’s a modern problem that couples often face. How much access should we really have to each other?
Last week, to get some professional answers, I interviewed an experienced couples therapist, Kristin Donato, MFT, to ask her to shed some light on this ever-present question in modern relationships: should couples share their location? If you’ve struggled with this in your relationships, her answer might help you.
The first thing you should know is that it’s not a simple yes or no question. Before she told me her thoughts on location sharing specifically, Donato shared some basic relationship fundamentals that apply to any question or problem a couple might be facing, including this one.
There has to be a commitment, a “willingness to sacrifice your needs for the needs of the relationship”, as Donato put it. This question, and any question in a relationship, is about negotiation. It’s not about the results of the negotiation, but how the couple negotiates.
In any relationship when you negotiate, according to Donato, it’s important to do so with empathy and capacity for self-reflection. For a successful negotiation, there has to be a certain willingness to compromise your needs.
Basically, if your partner asks you to share your location, regardless of what you ultimately decide on, it’s about respecting their feelings and listening to the other person’s needs. If that conversation doesn’t go well, that’s okay. It’s taught you something important about your partner. If you find yourself consistently unhappy or hurt by how your partner negotiates, you might want to ask yourself if this is the kind of person you really want to be with.
There is something important to pay attention to in these kinds of negotiations, as they can be an indicator that something is seriously wrong. “A woman who is with a partner who is on that narcissistic spectrum, when they are in conversation, they find themselves being gaslighted or led in circles – if that’s what you get to in this conversation, I would say get out of the relationship,” said Donato.
So, from the perspective of a couples therapist, is it healthy for couples to share their location? As it turns out, there’s no such thing as a standard. Donato said, “Standards come from family, trauma, character anything. It doesn’t matter, what matters is how you negotiate.” There’s no one right way to do things in a relationship. Every person is different and brings different things with them into the relationship. What may be totally normal for one couple is super weird for another.
In a relationship, one partner might come into it insecure while the other comes in with a need for independence. For a couple like this, sharing location might be a difficult conversation, but not an impossible one.
“In couples, there is often a person who needs autonomy. It’s not a psychological problem, it’s an existential thing they’re just born with. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Donato, “We often see this in men. The very notion that they have to is what ruffles their feathers, makes them feel trapped. There’s nothing wrong with it, but can wreak havoc.”
On the other side of the coin is insecurity. Hookup culture creates an environment where women especially have lots of experiences of being treated like they’re disposable. This kind of thing causes what Donato calls “micro-traumas”. For some, these micro-traumas cause a feeling of instability and anxiety around dating. This anxiety can create a difficult dynamic when it comes to questions like sharing locations and phone passwords.
“When these women come into relationships, they need a little TLC. For them, you need to put it out there that you’ve had this trauma and you want someone who doesn’t mind sharing their location. Look for someone who doesn’t have a high need for autonomy. Sharing location bridges the gap”
If your partner is a little insecure and wants you to share your location, Donato has fairly simple advice: just do it. “Throw her a bone. Over time once she realizes you’re always where you say you’re going to be, she stops checking”.
If it’s trauma or an anxiety disorder that’s fueling the need for location sharing, Donato says there’s nothing wrong with asking. “Any healthy partner that has nothing to hide and would be like sure. If a partner is tricky about it, it better be a need for autonomy or the hair on the back of my neck goes up,” said Donato.
When it comes to sharing location, the stage of your relationship and phase in life also definitely makes a difference. As always, timing really matters. “As the relationship matures, people find out their capacity for the need to control information,” says Donato. She also points out that once you start raising kids together, it might become a matter of convenience and safety to share locations with your partner.
In many ways, we’re in uncharted territory here. When it comes to relationships and technology, we’re facing questions that our grandparents and the generations before them never could have imagined. “For the first time in history, you’re able to cheat on your partner laying in bed next to them. You’re able to know exactly where your partner is at all times”. In some ways, this is amazing. We can meet people we never would have met before and do all sorts of wonderful things, but it can complicate a relationship.
On the frontier of this new domain, couples have a lot of new things to contend with, but at the same time, it’s fundamentally no different than it’s ever been. In relationships, the most fundamental question is and always has been: can I trust this person? Is this person trustworthy?
A successful relationship is based on building safety. With sharing locations, or anything else really, the key is “demonstrating to your partner that you care about making them feel safe”, said Donato, “If someone says they don’t feel safe if they don’t have your location, can the person honor that? For whom is the sacrifice greater? For someone that doesn’t feel safe, is it easier for them to feel safe without the location or for the autonomous partner to give up the location?”
Often when it comes down to asking these kinds of relationship questions, Donato finds that patients sometimes use the argument “well she asked me, but I never would ask her to do that”. For Donato, that’s never relevant. It’s important to her but it’s not important to you. People have different standards and different needs, and it’s important to respect that.
It’s not about the answer, and there is no right or wrong. It’s about what you learn in the negotiation. Donato said that she loves conflict, as long as it’s done right. Conflict is always an opportunity to become intimate and to grow. You may feel tense when you have this conversation, whether it’s about sharing locations or anything else. If you’re feeling justified, like you’re digging your heels in or feeling hurt, try to get over yourself and be grateful that you’re having this opportunity to learn who your partner really is.