Secrecy is a thorny issue in relationships. Couples often struggle with knowing what can be held back and what should be revealed between each other. There can be confusion between a desire for private time and a feeling that one’s partner is hiding something from us. Not all secrets are created equal; some are small and innocuous while others can rip the fabric of a relationship to shreds. Planning a surprise birthday party for one’s spouse or hiding the destination for a special evening out are the secrets that enhance a relationship and build connections. These secrets show our partner that we are thinking about them and care about their happiness and the well being of the relationship.
Some secrets seem small but slowly erode trust. Fear of a spouse’s reaction can cause us to begin to hide something that we purchased or to say that we were at the office when we were with friends. A distance will begin to grow between us and our spouse bit by bit until we are looking across a huge chasm at him or her.
Other secrets can wreak havoc on the very foundation of a relationship. These secrets are actions, beliefs or parts of ourselves that we deliberately keep hidden out of fear of its impact on ourselves or our partner or what the revelation will do to our relationship. Affairs, drug and alcohol use, sexual orientation or pornography are examples of secrets that one fears will have disastrous consequences if revealed or discovered. The secrets of this nature erode trust and security and create a chasm that makes it difficult for a couple to feel close and truly connected. A person who is holding secrets will begin to create a false persona that they will hide behind in order to keep the secret hidden.
Over time this mask begins to take on a sense of authenticity to the secret holder (this is who I show the world that I am so this must be who I really am). When secrets of this nature are discovered or revealed they shake the underpinnings of a relationship and create feelings of betrayal, vulnerability and insecurity in one’s partner. It is difficult and sometimes impossible for couples to recover from revelations of this kind.
Privacy on the other hand is “the state of being alone: the state of being away from other people, hidden from public view” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). Private matters may include our beliefs, fantasies, or daydreams. While private matters can sometimes be mixed with feelings of shame (how will others judge me if they know what I really am or what I really think) in general, the revelation of private matters gives one’s partner insight into whom we really are. Sharing private matters with one’s partner will expand the knowledge and understanding that you each have for the other, which creates trust and deepens security. The more we know about our partner the stronger the emotional bond that exists between us.
Creating privacy in a relationship is a way of setting boundaries around that part of us that yearns for time alone to develop a deeper sense of Self. We all need time for ourselves, time to listen to our inner thoughts, time to relax and refresh from the busyness of our lives. Privacy is an important component of relationship and should be built into all relationships to strengthen the bonds between partners.
Couples often struggle with the difference between private time and secrets. A discussion with your spouse about a need for privacy is necessary in order to help you both to determine how much alone time feels acceptable to each of you. Honesty about our feelings and a willingness to share this with our partners creates a closeness and openness that ultimately bring the confidence and security of a strong healthy relationship.