You read my emails?
I can’t report every move I make in the course of a day.
Why can’t I check out my high school girlfriend on Facebook?
When it comes to relationships, partners often underestimate the importance of privacy and the danger of secrecy.
Privacy in relationships reflects trust and enhances intimacy. Secrecy in relationships impairs trust and impedes intimacy.
What is Privacy?
Privacy is defined as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people. It is the state of being free from public exposure and attention.
Why We Need Privacy As Individuals
Psychologically, we understand that whereas secure attachment is key to early development, the growing capacity of the child to internalize this attachment and to separate–to have room to be, to play alone, to have private thoughts, to have space, to develop an authentic self–is crucial.
Why We Need Privacy In Relationships
As adults we continue to need different degrees of privacy to re-charge, regulate stress and nurture a sense of self–be it a solitary hobby or reading the paper alone.
We also need intimacy. We need to be and share with another, to be known by them in a way that no one else knows us.
Boundary Changes in Relationships
As such, in committed and intimate relationship, our individual boundaries of privacy change. In most cases, we choose to share bedrooms, sex, money, food, pets, chores, vacations, confidences, fears, and hardships– the best and worst of ourselves–with another. We also share a respect for each other’s privacy.
Disclosure Expectations in Relationships
While one partner may be more disclosing than the other, we can’t expect to hear or share every thought, action, urge or memory of our partner. In a trusting relationship, we have neither the need to check each other’s phone, emails, mail or daily moves, nor the obligation to disclose all. If we enjoy such sharing, it is mutual sharing that fuels our connection.
When thinking about privacy in a relationship it is worth considering:
We rarely fantasize about someone standing next to us–at all times.
When Does Privacy Become Secrecy?
Privacy becomes secrecy when there is conscious motivation to keep something unknown, hidden or unseen from one’s partner—something that directly impacts that person and the bond shared.
Secrets can be motivated by betrayal, shame, fear, or anger. Secrets disqualify intimacy because they prevent authenticity. Psychologically when a partner is holding a secret, a part of them is not available for connection.
Sometimes there is no betrayal in the relationship, but a partner’s insistence to know all, see all, and hear all is so intrusive and unwarranted that it triggers angry withholding and secrecy in the other. It is an assault of privacy and an insult to fidelity. Driven by his/her history, self-esteem difficulties etc., the intrusive partner has created the very secrecy they fear.
As seen in the situations of secrecy above, acting out pain, reacting to pain, or trying to get needs met in the shadow of secrecy—never brings forth the bright light of true connection.
As frightening as it seems, it is the risk of verbalizing needs, of balancing privacy and attachment, of confronting the secrets, and of accepting human frailty that turns strangers back into partners.
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Last reviewed: 4 Mar 2013