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Are Some Secrets Okay to Keep?

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistMarch 11, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Is keeping secrets from your partner always a bad thing? Aren’t there some things that are better not told to your partner? If you are just beginning a relationship, you might want to keep the fact that you have herpes to yourself. If you are in a long-term relationship, you might think it’s better not to tell your partner about a one-night stand that you know never should have happened. You might also think it’s better not to tell your partner that you are bisexual or that you are turned off by their body odor. Truly, the issues go on and on. So, the big question is: Are some secrets okay to keep?

Most people would agree that honesty is fundamental to any close relationship – and that keeping secrets is the opposite of being honest. But acting on these beliefs is not always so clear-cut in real life. Partners are often dishonest – either by lying or by just neglecting to disclose something – because they fear the truth would hurt their partner or prompt them to leave. Both of these reasons are understandable, but that doesn’t automatically mean that keeping a secret is a good idea. In deciding whether to keep a secret, you need to consider your motivation more fully.

If you are hiding something from your partner because you are afraid you will lose them, then you need to think about whether you really “have” them. You may not be sure that they fully accept and love the total you – including your weaknesses, difficulties, and missteps. And this uncertainty might be what’s preventing you from being fully honest. If that’s the case, it’s time to reconsider your relationship, or at least how you are approaching it. Do you really want to be in a relationship that makes you feel the need to hide parts of yourself? By keeping things from your partner, are you possibly getting in the way of the two of you connecting in a deeper, more fully loving way? After all, if you do share the secret and your partner responds positively, you will feel emotionally closer and more loved.

Maybe your reason for keeping a secret is that you don’t want to hurt your partner. That can sound like a good plan, but think about what might happen if the secret gets out. Then, not only will they feel hurt, but they will also feel betrayed by your dishonesty. And, even if they never find out, you know the truth. Consider this: If the situation involved two people whom you’ve never met, would you think that a partner would have the right to know this secret? Is hiding the truth disrespecting that person? Also, if your partner had a similar secret, do you think you have a right to know? This is complicated stuff. There is no one right answer. Whatever your decision, though, it is important that you give this the serious thought it deserves.

In the end, deciding whether to tell the secret is up to you. If you are leaning toward keeping the secret, make sure that you think through how this will or can affect your relationship in big and small ways. If you decide to share your secret with your partner, proceed thoughtfully. Bring it up at a time when you and your partner feel connected. Explain the situation as clearly as you can, along with your emotional struggles related to it. Then allow your partner to have their reaction. Instead of defending yourself, listen and try to understand their reaction. Be there for them to the best that you can; and be prepared to work the issue through together.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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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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