Secrets in Marriage and the Need for Privacy

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Being honest with your spouse does not necessarily mean you must share every single thought, dream, fear, or fantasy with this person. In fact, honesty may be a double-edged sword in your marriage.

Knowing what to share and what not to share is an important communication skill for couples to learn and use in their marriage. It may also be something that can help or hinder peace and harmony with your spouse.

Keeping Secrets and the Right to Privacy

Privacy refers to your personal boundaries about your history, thoughts, opinions, and experiences separate from your partner and relationship. Secrecy, on the other hand, involves something that you are intentionally hiding from your partner.

Secrecy
  • Dishonest

  • Violates trust

  • Intentionally hides or misleads

  • Hurtful and disruptive

  • Toxic

Privacy
  • Not dishonest

  • Does not violate trust

  • Involves being unobserved and alone

  • Not disruptive or harmful

  • Healthy

It is important to remember that you do not have to share everything with another person in a relationship. Some things to remember in any relationship:

  • You have the right to privacy in any relationship, including with your spouse, partner, and family.
  • In any relationship, you have the right to keep a part of your life secret, no matter how trivial or how important, for the sole reason that you want to.
  • You also have the right to spend some time alone and with only yourself.

In a healthy relationship, you honor the sense of emotional and physical privacy needed for yourself and your partner. Otherwise, ironically, you end up limiting your intimacy with one another, not enhancing it.

You can't be truly intimate with your partner without being in touch with the innermost parts of yourself, too.

Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

There are valid reasons for keeping a secret from your spouse. You shouldn't have to defend not revealing embarrassing or hurtful moments from your past. It is possible that the secret involves someone else who asked that the story not be told.

Many couples have been married for a long time who have personal secrets that they haven't shared with their spouses. The sense of space and the sense of a private part of oneself are essential to many people.

However, honesty is considered a cornerstone of trust in relationships. After all, if you can't believe what your partner says, how can you trust them? Trust is, by definition, the belief that a person is reliable and honest. In addition to building trust, being honest can help:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety in the relationship
  • Improve communication and promotes positive interactions
  • Shows that you respect your partner
  • Demonstrates that you trust your partner enough to disclose things about yourself
  • Improves overall life satisfaction and feelings of self-control

The goal of honesty is to build trust and let your partner understand that they can have faith in you. But this doesn't mean sharing every thought that enters your mind. Instead, focus on sharing truths in a way that protects your partner and your relationship. If you are thinking of sharing a secret, ask yourself if what you want to share is kind, helpful, honest, and necessary. 

Even if you are sharing something difficult, you can do so in a way that lands softly. Honesty can be truthful without being brutal.

How to Decide When to Share a Secret 

If you have a secret that you think you should share, but you are unsure about it, look at your own physical responses when you are hiding the secret. If your blood pressure increases, or you find yourself blinking a lot faster, or your breathing is heavier, or you are perspiring more, then these could be clues that you should share that particular secret.

If you are keeping a secret because you don't want to face responsibility, this can create problems in your marriage. Withholding facts or information your spouse needs to know in decision making is harmful manipulation.

Secrets that can hurt your marriage are ones concerning:

  • Having an affair
  • Job problems
  • Keeping an addiction or substance use habits hidden
  • Legal problems
  • Lending money
  • Lying about how you spend money
  • Not paying bills
  • Not revealing an illness
  • Seeing family and friends secretly

Poor Times to Share a Secret

If you are going to share a secret or difficult issue with your spouse, note that the following times are not a good time to have important conversations:

  • At bedtime
  • During periods of grumpiness
  • If either of you is drunk
  • When either of you is in a stressful situation
  • When either of you is tired or ill
  • When you or your spouse are angry
  • When your spouse is already dealing with bad news

How to Share a Secret With Your Partner

If you decide to share a secret with your partner, some strategies can help make this conversation easier for both of you. 

Be Prepared

Before you begin, accept that this may be a challenging or even stressful talk. It might lead to hurt or even anger, depending on what you are sharing. You might feel defensive, or you both might become emotional. Understanding this from the outset can prepare you to handle what the conversation brings.

Pick the Right Time

Don't share a secret when you are both tired, pressed for time, or not in the right frame of mind. Agree on a time to have the conversation when you can both focus without distractions.

Be Honest, but Not Brutal

Telling the truth about something you want to share can be done in a kind and thoughtful way. Consider using "I statements" to frame what you are saying. Such statements can reduce conflict and are less accusatory.

For example, instead of saying something like, "You always spend money without asking!" you might say, "I feel stressed out when both of us don't stick to the monthly budget."

Don't Make Excuses

If you share something representing a violation of trust or boundaries in your relationship, it is essential to be honest and willing to explain what happened without trying to excuse your actions. Being direct and open is important if you hope to regain your partner's trust. 

Seeking Help

Honesty and trust are vital to the success of a marriage. It's a thin line between what secrets are acceptable and which ones will haunt an individual and hurt a marriage.

A partner who discovers that they have been directly lied to, given a half-truth, or not told critical information can feel an enormous sense of betrayal. These betrayals can be hard to come back from and your partner may never feel a full sense of trust again. If this situation applies to you, the sooner you face it the better. 

If you begin to feel the distance in your marriage and think it may be the result of a secret, then it is time to consult a professional therapist

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.