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Should You Show a Friend a Text Message Someone Sent You About Them?

As the ladies on The Real Housewives of Potomac have recently learned, technology can complicate friendships — especially if you expose private conversations that were not intended to be shared.

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In this day and age, it’s pretty hard to ensure you are having a private closed conversation — even when you are texting fairly innocent gossip with good friends. Those "receipts" can easily be shown to the person you are talking about, or screenshot for later use. In fact, that exact situation happened on Sunday night’s episode of The Real Housewives of Potomac, when Monique showed Ashley a text conversation Candiace sent her about Ashley, in order to prove Monique wasn't talking behind Ashley’s back.

Monique defending herself by also exposing Candiace puts her relationship with Candiace in jeopardy — it could be seen as a betrayal of trust and also complicates Ashley’s relationship with Candiace.

On the After Show (full clip above), Gizelle even equated showing someone else’s text messages without their consent to “walking in on them in the bathroom — it’s a violation.” Since there’s always at least a potential concern about these types of receipts being exposed, it is important to distinguish between what is appropriate to include in a text and what should be discussed on the phone. Personal Space spoke to Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, relationship and friendship expert to learn how to navigate the boundaries of friendships when it comes to technology.

Exposing Private Messages

Dr. Mills explained that if we are considering sharing private messages with someone other than the person we had the conversation with, it is important “to examine our hearts and weigh the risk… before we cross that threshold.” Sharing private text conversations or emails “at the expense of uncovering someone else” when used “in the pursuit of defending ourselves, to make a point, receive validation, or gain power” can put “that friendship’s trust in jeopardy.”

Those actions also have consequences that reach beyond the relationship with the friend being exposed, negatively impacting both people’s friendship with the third person involved. We should consider all of these ramifications, as well as our own motives before opening that can of worms.

Minimizing Text Message Risks

The best way to safeguard yourself from having a private conversation shared with others, said Dr. Mills is by “connecting in person or on the phone” and not saying anything in a text that you wouldn’t want in a screenshot. The reality is that “we can’t control other people” and “even those we trust the most are still human.” Any time you are communicating sensitive information in a text or email, you run the risk that it will be forwarded or shared with someone else. Even with good friends, it’s wise not to text things that you would prefer to be kept secret.

Dr. Mills noted that “texts are a great resource” and are perfect for having “fun with silly GIFs” and for “group texts that make you laugh,” but “just like anything in life, they can be misused.” That’s why it’s wise not to share too much in text, or be critical about mutual friends in a way that can trace back to you.

Alternative Ways to Show Loyalty

If you would like to prove to a friend that you have their back, like Monique did to Ashley, but don’t want to expose another friend, Dr. Mills suggested having a heart-to-heart in person. Speaking in person, “you’re able to experience eye contact, body language, feelings, expressions” and gauge authenticity in a way that is hard to do just by reading sentences on an iPhone. It’s not easy to fake body language, so an in-person conversation is a perfect opportunity to talk through tough situations, without really having to show text receipts as proof. 

Exceptions for Violating Trust

According to Dr. Mills, “sharing private information is often a breach of trust, but not always.” There are some exceptions that make it okay to expose private conversations, such as “when another’s health, mental well-being, or life is at stake.” However, in a “he said, she said” situation, “it’s important to take a long hard look at whether or not it’s worth the fallout.” Often “there is a solution to be had” that may not require violating the trust of another friend. A different way to handle that sort of situation would be to invite the “third party to share their side of the story or explain a situation,” so that you do not have to uncover private messages behind their back.

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