The Dangers Of Keeping Secrets In Relationships

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Have you ever noticed how, the longer you let time pass without telling your partner how you honestly feel, the larger the disconnect grows between you? Meanwhile, your partner may have no idea you're quietly hiding hurt or annoyed feelings which are now morphing into resentment.

You keep promising yourself that you’re going to tell him, but then you don't. The last conversation you two had was just like every conversation before. They are the only one talking.

Whether the topic is work, money, or your partner's wants and needs, you feel yourself shrinking on the inside as you swallow your true feelings and opinions, keeping them as secrets for yourself.

You know that trust is important in a relationship, but when they're talking, you can actually feel the discomfort and stress in your body. Your throat closes up and your mind freezes. You’re not yourself in those moments. Your real self is hiding.

Why secrets are damaging in a relationship

Researchers Hugh Follet, Ph.D. and George Graham, Ph.D. assert that even well-intentioned dishonesty corrodes relationship intimacy, and that, conversely, merely talking to your partner about your efforts to be more honest can increase intimacy in your relationship in important ways.

Sharing your true self, including your honest opinions, is essential to both your personal happiness and a healthy relationship. As marriage and family therapist Yvette Currie says, "Sharing the complete self can lead to an intimacy deeper than ever imagined."

When you stuff your feelings, thoughts or self-knowledge away, you frequently suffer. The longer you wait, the bigger the problem becomes. You build a mental prison in your mind, leaving both you (and your partner, without them realizing it) trapped as a result.

In order for your relationship to support a healthy interactive exchange of ideas, hopes, fears, and future plans, there is one non-negotiable requirement: That you both (and that means you, too) demonstrate mutual emotional support for one another.

Additionally, once your partner has discovered you've been keeping secrets, it may be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to ever regain their trust.

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Are all secrets harmful?

No, not necessarily. If you know that keeping a particularly secret won't hurt or negatively impact your partner or your relationship, or if perhaps, it's simply a matter of privacy that is also innocuous, it probably won't harm your partner.

What would be even better would be for the two of you to have a conversation up front about what kinds of secrets you each are and are not OK with keeping from each other.

Why do people keep secrets in relationships?

People who keep secrets from their partner may do so for a number of reasons.

They may be afraid their partner will get mad. They may be concerned they will hurt their partner's feelings, or worry that their partner will reject them.

Whatever the reasons, you'll likely feel guilty for not telling them the truth sooner.

How can your intimate partner love you without knowing the real you? The answer is simple: they can’t. You must show up and be present in the relationship by getting in touch with your own feelings and then sharing them out loud.

Practice keeping your composure in emotionally-charged situations so neither one of you feels threatened and shuts down any kind of conversation that makes them feel vulnerable or emotionally wounded.

Yes, you'll likely disagree on topics and have different feelings about various situations.

When that happens, you simply speak up (versus emotionally reacting) and say something like the following:

  • "Really? I kind of saw that differently from you."
  • "Actually, I can hear what you’re saying, and I think..."
  • "From my perspective, I feel that..."

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Privacy is different than dishonesty

Mutual respect for each other's privacy is essential, and the same holds true when honoring one another's bravery in being honest.

Speak without judging their reaction, while simultaneously sharing your honest thoughts in return. You deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin, voicing your true inner thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and opinions to this very special person in your life.

Will they be shocked when you decide to start revealing more of yourself? Maybe. But you might ultimately be surprised to find your partner starts telling you how wonderful you are and that they've missed the real you for a long time.

When you begin, you can say something like, "This is really hard for me to tell you, but I love you and want to be honest with you about it."

A healthy relationship is built on trust. And trust is built on consistent honesty. When you create space for your honest thoughts and feelings and your partner's honest thoughts and feelings, watch the love grow.

If you live in real fear that if you speak up your partner will become emotionally, physically, or psychologically abusive toward you, then they're probably not the right partner for you in the first place.

Intimacy is the caring connection between two people who honestly trust each other, acknowledge their own truth, and share their truth with their partner.

Love yourself (or at least like yourself) and love each other without condition. It sounds like a mouthful, but it is the basic building block for a solid relationship.

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Margot Brown is a doctor of psychology, licensed marriage and family therapist, and the author of Kickstart Your Relationship Now! Move On Or Move Out, a guide for communication between couples.