Privacy Versus Secrecy; Whats The Difference?

Secrecy and privacy are different, and understanding these differences may be crucial in your relationship.  For instance, what if you think that talking to a friend of the opposite sex on the phone or having lunch together is simply a part of your private life and doesn’t need to be shared with your spouse?  You are not purposely keeping it from them, but what if they find out?  Will they feel that you were keeping the information from them? 

Put yourself in their shoes for a moment; how do you think they will feel?  Will they assume that you were hiding something from them?  And if this misunderstanding comes between you, will you feel that every time you have lunch with a friend you will have to call your partner and tell them?  Will you resent having to ask permission to be with your friends?   Will your partner feel guilty and resent you for making them feel like your parent?

This is exactly what happened to Rob and Melissa.   Melissa failed to share with Rob that she had a friend at work, Mike, with whom she enjoyed many long and talkative lunches with during the week.  She was afraid that if she told Rob he would make more of it then there was.  But by not telling him, when he heard that she was spending two or three days a week with Mike, he felt betrayed.  Melissa felt ashamed and guilty, even though nothing romantic was happening between her and Mike.

A secret, in this context, is something kept from someone else to protect behavior that you don’t want to give up, but that you know your partner might not approve of.  You may be, embarrassed about it or feel what you are doing might be questionable. Secrecy, then, is when we choose to keep something to ourselves knowing that there may be negative consequences if it were to be revealed. 

Privacy is a choice
we make to have our own boundaries around what we will reveal or not reveal to our partner.  Privacy is the inner space that is like an inner sanctum protected from outsiders.  What we choose to keep to ourselves may be things that we want only for ourselves, but that are agreed upon as private space. 

Privacy can be a choice to not reveal intimate details about an experience with a friend.   What Melissa and Mike talked about at lunch was sometimes Melissa about her marriage.  She didn’t want Rob to know that she used Mike as a sounding board and that he gave her advice about what to do at home.  He would most times side with Rob and Melissa would go home and apologize to Rob for some small disagreement from the night before.  She liked Mike’s male opinion but felt Rob might object to her sharing their intimate life with a friend. 

Privacy feels different then secrecy in that it is an agreement between partners about what will not be discussed.  Keeping a secret is different in that it could potentially damage your relationship if it was revealed.  Decide with your partner what you see as secret and what you see as private. Make this something you discuss today, and avoid any betrayal or hurt.  This could be one discussion that has a long term affect for both of you.


Dr Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert and the author of What’s Eating You?, Getting the Sex You Want and the upcoming The New Monogamy due out in 2012.  Connect with Tammy at http://www.drtammynelson.com