It’s no secret that many couples hide things from each other. In fact, research has shown that 1 in 5 people admit to keeping a major secret from their romantic partner. My question is, even though it is common, is secret-keeping ever ok?
What is a secret?
Put simply, a secret is something that is deliberately kept hidden or unexplained; and it’s no easy feat!
“I often don’t say this out loud, even when I should. I contain and compartmentalize to a disturbing degree: In my belly-basement are hundreds of bottles of rage, despair, fear, but you’d never guess from looking at me.”
“The bigger the lie, the more they believe it.”
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Not only do we bury the secret, but pile story after story on top of it, until we ourselves become embroiled in our own fiction. Needless to say, secret-keeping can be messy business – not to mention hurtful for others. In my professional experience, though, this is exactly what people do.
There are many different kinds of secrets you might keep from your partner. Some of the most common ones are:
- Financial. You might be hiding debt, a credit card, excessive spending, savings, or even your salary. Studies have shown that a fifth of us are keeping a financial secret.
- Sexual. You might be concealing a sexual preference, a gender identity, a sexual problem or pregnancy / fertility issues.
- Your past. There might be something from your past that you’d rather your spouse didn’t know, such as abuse, a relationship, a conviction, an addiction or just about anything you feel ashamed of.
- An addiction. If you are drinking too much, secretly using substances or even suffering from a behavioural addiction like sex or shopping, you might hide this from your partner.
Why do we keep secrets?
There’s no simple explanation as to why we keep secrets. Some theories suggest it is a survival instinct – we keep secrets to keep ourselves ‘safe’ from negative consequences. In the context of a relationship, these consequences could include:
- The relationship ending
- Your partner becoming angry, lashing out or shouting
- Your partner experiencing hurt / heartbreak
- Your partner putting a stop to what you’re doing when you don’t want to stop.
In other cases, revealing a secret can not only devastate your partner, but damage the very core of your identity and sense of self. Your secret might have impacts on your culture, your religion, your wider family and community. It’s understandable, therefore, that many people choose to bury the truth and uphold the lie – even if it means lying to ourselves.
Is secret keeping ever ok?
Some secrets, such as those described above, can have truly devastating consequences. For example, keeping debt as a secret could cause an immense build-up of financial problems that ultimately affect your partner’s life too. So often, people in debt don’t reveal the problem until their house in being repossessed, and at this point, the trust between partners has been catastrophically damaged.
You might be asking yourself – what if it’s just a small secret? Surely they are ok? Well… It depends. Because often, small secrets can easily turn into big ones.
By revealing small secrets early, we can avoid crisis. For example, if you are secretly flirting with a colleague and hiding your texts and emails from your spouse, you are covering up deeper relationship issues, which if left unaddressed, can lead to a full-blown affair and all the fall-out that comes with it. Prevention is better than cure, and if you feel yourself keeping small secrets, it is your responsibility to prevent them from snowballing into bigger problems.
What if the secret hurts nobody?
It is up to you how much you reveal to your partner. But, in my experience, if the secret causes pain (to you or to someone else) it needs to be dealt with. There are, of course, secrets that you may feel are harmless. In this instance, I might ask you – why do you feel the need to keep this secret? Could it develop into a harmful secret? And what is preventing you from being completely transparent? Another problem is that secret-keeping can compromise your dignity, self worth and congruence. My question might be, what are the consequences to you if you keep these secrets? Could they be symptomatic of ‘splitting’ (seeing the world in extremes) or reveal your true perspective on how y
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