Trust is an essential component in a healthy marriage or committed relationship. Secrecy destroys that trust!
When you keep a secret from your partner, you are excluding him or her from your life and, in particular, the part of your life that impacts your partner.
Also, that which you are concealing is likely destructive to your partner’s well-being and probably also to the rest of your family.
The classic example of a relationship secret is hiding an illicit relationship — an affair — from a partner. In this example, a cheating spouse hurts the marriage even if his partner never finds out about it (which is highly unlikely — it is only a matter of when). How cheating, even when concealed, injures a marriage is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Cheating on one’s partner is just one example. However, there are many situations where secrecy injures individuals and relationships.
The Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy
Privacy is not the same as secrecy.
A measured amount of privacy is needed for personal health. How much privacy is needed varies from person to person.
Emotional and relationship health requires both time together and time alone. Healthy marriages blend seamlessly and harmoniously with private time and group time.
Secrecy, on the other hand, is used for personal gain at the expense of other family members. The deceiver hides or lies about information that his or her partner should know about. Secrecy has a high price tag since it significantly alters for the worse the lives of ALL family members.
Secrecy builds walls between two partners.
How can you know if withholding information is secrecy or privacy?
Simple, ask yourself the following question:
If my partner would discover what it is I am concealing, would he or she feel betrayed and devastated or would he or she not care?
If the answer is that your partner would feel ‘betrayed and devastated,’ it is secrecy. If their response is ‘indifferent or mildly uncomfortable’ it is privacy.
However, the lines between secrecy and privacy are not always so clear as you will see in the examples discussed below.
Secrecy would include being a cheating spouse, being an alcoholic, gambling to excess, etc. In these examples, when the once secretive activity is discovered, it then creates feelings of betrayal, disappointment, loss of security, and a loss of trust.
Privacy would include closing the bathroom door to avoid embarrassment, withholding sexual fantasies that might hurt the feelings of one’s partner were he or she to know what they were, or withholding an unnecessary opinion to avoid conflict. In these examples, privacy uncovered would create at most only mild irritation and hurt from one’s husband or wife. Often, when privacy is revealed, there is no reaction at all. For example, an accidental opening of the bathroom door, when the room is occupied, would likely lead to a ‘sorry’ and a giggle.
Secrecy is protected with lies. White lies are an exception to secrecy since they are for the benefit of the person who is being lied to. For example, a wife builds her husband’s self-esteem by telling him he is smart or a husband is sensitive to his wife’s self-worth and tells her she is attractive.
Ordinary lies are for selfish gain and are used to protect secrecy. If you find yourself lying for YOUR benefit, you know it is a “black lie.”
The line between secrecy and privacy is not always black and white. Each couple needs to sort out the grey areas. Being discrete can be good or bad for a relationship. For example, is causing a minor scratch to the car and not deliberately announcing this fact common sense, or is it deceit (secrecy) or withholding negative results of a minor medical test to protect a spouse from unnecessary worry secrecy or common sense? Each couple must feel their way through these “grey areas.”
Here is an exercise to help you understand secrecy in your relationship and how to prevent personal and relationship injury.
You may want to print this exercise for ease of use. Click the Print Friendly button below the article. You can also format this exercise into a PDF file or email it to a friend. Note: Printing from a computer works best.
1. List some items you feel fall into the category of secrecy as discussed above.
2. List some items you feel fall into the category of privacy as discussed above.
3. List some items you feel fall in the grey area as discussed above.
4. If your were to discover your partner behaving with secrecy, how would you feel?
When completed, exchange lists.
Take turns reading what your partner wrote and then discuss with each other your thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Sensitize yourself to how your partner feels so you will know how to avoid hurting him or her.