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

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 mate 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.

There are many couples who 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 is important to many people.

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

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

3 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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  2. Derlaga VJ, Chaikin AL. Privacy and self-disclosure in social relationships. Journal of Social Issues. 1977; 33(3). doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1977.tb01885.x

  3. Slepian ML, Masicampo EJ, Toosi NR, Ambady N. The physical burdens of secrecy. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2012;141(4):619-24. doi:10.1037/a0027598