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Is it OK to Have Secrets in Your Relationship?

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJanuary 04, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

Many people in the Relationships and Coping community have asked at various times whether they should tell (or show) their partner or potential partner some particular thing. Should I tell her I had an affair? Should I tell her I snooped? Should I tell him I’m bisexual? Should I tell her I have herpes?

The possible questions are infinite. The answers, likewise, are infinite, since every situation requires its own response. However, there are some basic ways of approaching relationships that can be very helpful.

Most fundamental to any close relationship is good communication. Sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences is the only way for partners to really get to know each other so that they can feel emotionally intimate, understood and truly supported. If you lie or are less than fully honest with your partner, how can you possibly be close?

While such honesty sounds good in theory, its importance becomes less clear in many particular situations—such as the ones suggested in the above questions. Two of the most common reasons that people are dishonest (overtly or covertly) is that they don’t want to lose their partners or hurt them; or both. If you are hiding something or actively lying about something, you might want to think about your motivation.

If you are being dishonest because you fear losing your partner, then you need to think about whether you really “have” your partner to begin with. Just because people spend time together does not mean that they understand or truly support each other. If your partner does not know something important that might change how they think or feel about you, then they are not really with YOU. They are with who they think you are. And this is not the same as being with you. In this circumstance, ask yourself: Am I being respectful of him or her? Am I being fair to me (possibly depriving yourself the experience of being accepted for who you really are)?

If your dishonesty or avoidance is based in not wanting to hurt your partner, consider how they would feel if they found out that you are hiding this information. Ask yourself whether you are really being respectful of them – of their right to know this and decide for themselves how to proceed. How would you feel if similar information were kept from you? The answers to these questions are not simple and there is no single response that fits all situations.

If you decide to disclose your secret to your partner, then think about the best way to do this, anticipate the possible responses, and consider the best ways to handle those responses. If you are leaning toward keeping your secret, make sure you take into account how this creates distance in your relationship (even if only in a small way) – is it a problem?

Although open communication is definitely essential in relationships, as they say, “The devil is in the details.” Think about your situation.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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