Privacy and secrecy are thorny issues in relationships. Couples often struggle with knowing what can be held back and what should be revealed. There can be confusion between a desire for privacy (or private time) and a feeling that we need to hide something from our partner. You should determine why you are keeping a secret as all secrets are not 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 secrets that enhance a relationship and build connection. 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 may seem small to one partner but will slowly erode trust if the other partner believes that the issue is a large one and discovers the deception. Money is often an example of something that can hold very different values and ideas about how much is acceptable to spend.
Some secrets can wreak havoc on the very foundation of a relationship. These secrets are actions or parts of ourselves that we deliberately keep hidden out of fear of its impact on 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. A person who is holding secrets will begin to create a false persona that they will hide behind 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 can be impossible for couples to recover from revelations of this kind. The way to determine the difference between wanting privacy or keeping secrets is to think about whether there is fear of your spouse’s reaction. If you are worried about the fallout of revealing the issue, you are likely holding a secret.
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). 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 to ourselves, time to listen to our inner thoughts, time to relax and refresh from the busyness of our lives. Privacy can be an important component of relationship and should be built into all relationships to strengthen the bonds between partners.
There are also private matters that may include your beliefs, fantasies, or daydreams. Some private matters are mixed with feelings of shame (how will others judge me if they know what I really am or what I really think). Finding a safe and trustworthy person to discuss this with can help you to make up your mind to share something that you might not be inclined to do on your own. They can help you to determine whether this is an issue of privacy or a secret and whether it will be “safe” to reveal to your partner. If it is a secret, you should look at why you can’t share it and whether you are able to be fully committed to the relationship. The revelation of private matters can often allow one’s partner insight into who you 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.
Couples often struggle with the difference between privacy and secrets. Determine whether the privacy is a secret that you feel you can’t share or something that you want to keep to yourself to help you grow as a person. What you talk about in a therapy session is often a boundary that is healthy to keep. Privacy may also be simply a need for some time alone. A discussion with your spouse about a need for private time is necessary 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 your partner creates a closeness and openness that ultimately brings the confidence and security of a strong healthy relationship.