You need only glance at the newsstand at any store checkout to read about the latest secret or lie exposed in the lives of the Rich and Famous. Why are we interested? Do we understand the impact of secrets and lies in our own relationships?
A secret is defined as something done, made or conducted without the knowledge of other people. When one of those people is a spouse or partner – we not only wonder why, we wonder how it jeopardizes that relationship.
Separation vs. Secrets
- Realistically, no relationship involves full disclosure at all times.
- One definite way to destroy a relationship and dilute passion is to demand constant connection, disclosure and no space away from your partner. No one fantasizes about someone who never leaves his or her side.
- Strong couples are usually are made up of independent people who are comfortable being dependent on each other but retain a clear sense of self and identity.
- Whether you have a hamburger at work or get a pedicure at lunchtime, it is probably not necessary that such events be shared. The fact that you thought the woman on the coffee line looked great or you secretly hate the holidays may or may not matter.
The fact that you have stopped talking about a man at work because you can’t wait to email or have lunch with him is different. A measure of whether you are doing something that will jeopardize your relationship is whether or not you need to keep it secret from your partner.
Reasons for Secrets
There are many feelings that prompt the keeping of a secret from a partner. Secrets depend upon the nature and trust in the relationship and the personalities of the partners.
- If a marriage is demanding and authoritative, fear of judgment or anger for everything from going out with friends to spending too much on groceries may be kept secret.
- If a partner feels shame or self-blame for addictive behavior, misfortunes like the loss of a job or even fear of medical results, secrets might be kept.
- In the case of interest in someone outside the relationship, secrets are often driven by the fantasy, flirtation or wish for something that is not happening in the relationship. Often there is the illusion of having a marriage and a secret relationship.
While differing in rationale and threat to the integrity to a relationship, the problem with secrets is they disqualify authenticity with a partner and preclude discussion or resolution of feelings or issues. The existence of a secret relationship is incompatible with commitment to a partner.
Self-Reflection on Secrets
Recognizing the realistic need for separate space with partners, it is worth reflecting on the reason you may be keeping something secret from your partner.
Are you adjusting to rigid demands? Are you hiding with fear? Are you acting out anger? Are you getting the attention that is missing with your partner?
Secrets may be reconsidered as unspoken communications to self or partner that should not be ignored. Unaddressed they close doors and erode a relationship.
A lie involves making a false statement to another person with the intention of having them believe that it is true. When people are involved in secrets, they often engage in lying to maintain the secrecy. Lying to a partner makes intimacy and trust impossible.
One of the painful parts of finding out that your partner has been lying is the self-blame for believing the lie. In reality, when people are in a relationship they are more likely to judge their partner as truthful than to detect deception. Essentially it is emotionally and cognitively dissonant to believe anyone you love could be betraying you. Consciously you can’t quite take it in.
If you ask partners how they feel after they find that their partner has been lying, they will tell you that the cover-up was worse that the behavior being hidden. As with secrets, most lying is driven by fear and presumption, not a rationale perspective of how the partner would really react if he/she knew about the fender-bender, the online flirtation, or the use of porn. As a result couples get caught in vicious cycles of “Lying–Exposure–Explosion.”
The partner being deceived blows up because of the cover-up and the lying partner becomes defensive, “See, I knew you would react that way!”
The real issues or even authentic arguments never get addressed or resolved. Hurt, retaliation, on-going resentment grows. The opportunity for understanding, remorse, trust and working it out together is lost.
An Honesty Policy
In his continued work to help partners make their marriages the best they can be, marriage expert, M Gary Neuman, draws upon research and clinical experience to suggest that a commitment to honesty in the small and big issues is actually a protective commitment for a couple.
It greatly reduces the chances of cheating because the marriage is built on an infrastructure of trust and safety for disclosure. There will be room to verbalize upset, loneliness or disappointment rather than secretly acting it out.
In his book, Connect for Love, Neuman suggests an action/inaction honesty policy. When it comes to whether she made the deposit for the bank or he made the plan for childcare—the truth matters because it is the basis for ongoing trust and respect. Safety of disclosure re-enforces honestly as the fabric of the relationship.
No Room For Secrets
In a marriage, the problem with secrets and lies is that they just don’t fit. Surprisingly one of the worst kept secrets in a marriage is love and appreciation of one partner by another. Daring to disclose the positive secrets may be the ones overlooked and the best guarantees of love and loyalty a couple can find.
Listen to M Gary Neuman on Psych Up Live address “ Saving the Marriage After The Affair”