Keeping secrets in your relationship

Is it ok to keep secrets in your relationship?

According to relationship experts Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, the foundation of a strong relationship is trust.  Yet all too often we hold back and keep things from our partners. Keeping a secret, or withholding, is actually just another form of lying to your partner.  If you take nothing else from the article, know that deception is a sure fire way to break down trust and cause problems in your relationship.  

Different types of lies

There’s a continuum from bad to worse on which a lie can fall. There are smaller lies like exaggerations or omissions and there are big ticket, high stakes felony lies, like affairs.  Whether small or large, any type of lie can cause a breakdown of trust in your relationship. When you threaten trust you prevent yourself from really being seen or known by your partner and vice-versa.  If lying can cause all sorts of problems in relationships, why do we do it?    

Why do we lie? 

Every lie has a purpose.  Some lies are meant to make your partner feel good, like “I love the way you dance to Lady Gaga,” when in fact your partner is a terrible dancer.  Some lies serve as protection. For example, you may lie about your wants, needs or feelings in order to manage the fear that your partner could leave you.  If we come to understand the reason for the lie, we can better heal and then prevent it from continuing in the future.   

Lying at the beginning of a relationship

Most of us want to look our best at the beginning of a relationship.  Sometimes that will involve small lies or omissions in order to look good in the eyes of our potential new partner.  For example, you may lie about how much you love showtunes because you’re worried that your new mate will think you’re a dork. (Ok, maybe that’s just me) It’s perfectly natural to want to connect and find similarities with a new partner at the beginning, however you’re in danger of creating a pattern of deception moving forward that can come back to haunt you.

Also, if you’re not showing up as your authentic self at the beginning of a relationship, what do you expect will happen over time when the facade breaks down?   

Being honest with yourself

All too often, we get in the habit of lying to others only after we’ve been lying to ourselves.  The first step to welcoming more transparency in your relationships is to be more truthful with yourself.  By coming to know more about your own wants, needs and feelings you will be better able to share those with others.  You will also be more aware of when you’re tempted to lie, omit or sugarcoat something in the future.  Knowledge is, after all, power.

Is it ok to keep secrets from my partner?  

By now you’re probably aware that I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep secrets from your partner.  If you’re scared of rocking the boat, know that keeping secrets to preserve the peace will not be sustainable forever. It’s important to learn how to have difficult conversations, otherwise you can slip into a pattern of conflict avoidance.   It’s important to get into the practice of being completely honest and authentic with your partner as soon as you can. And I use the word practice because it is a practice. Much like meditation, truthfulness may not come easily for you at first.  But keep at it. It will get easier.  

I don’t want to fight 

One of the main reasons that couples will often use for keeping secrets is that they want to avoid a fight.  While fighting can be unpleasant, there are tools and methods that you can use to communicate more fairly. But if you’re not communicating at all, it will be hard to practice and learn new skills to communicate better.  The goal is not to avoid all conflict, but to learn to have more constructive, curious conversations with one another around difficult topics.  

What if I think my partner is keeping a secret?  

If you think your partner is not being fully honest with you that could be a red flag that you’re having trust issues as a couple.  You may feel able to tackle the topic on your own. If so, check in with your partner and share your concerns. Suppose you don’t feel able to manage that conversation on your own, then find a couples therapist in your area and reach out to them.  

Trust is the foundation for all strong relationships.  If you noticed a crack in the foundation of your actual house I’ll bet you’d seek out the services of a foundation expert.  Your relationship deserves the same attention if you want it to thrive.  

What if I’m keeping a secret from my partner?  

If you’re keeping a secret from your partner, first consider why you’re keeping it.  Spend some time understanding what’s going on for you and then find a way to bring up the topic with your partner.  Again, if you don’t feel able to do that on your own, get support.  

I’m ready to be honest, but I don’t know how

Congratulations!  Deciding to be honest is the first step on a long and scary road that can bring about a stronger relationship.  After you’ve spent some time understanding why you held back or lied, be vulnerable, kind and forthcoming with your partner.  They may not react well, especially depending on the severity of the lie. Give them space, offer support and be patient.

When having any type of difficult conversation it can be helpful to strive for curiosity in place of frustration.  And if you need more support, ask for it. Your relationship deserves it.  

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.