Not everyone feels comfortable laying their heart on their sleeve, even to the person they hold the most dear. Some people bottle things up because they don't like sharing things that are personal. They feel vulnerable when they open up and worry that they will lose their partner's acceptance if they show the "real" them. Others keep secrets from their significant other to protect them. If telling the truth will potentially hurt their partner, they might go to great lengths to keep their lips sealed.
Keeping secrets could be something you've grown up doing, the same way that you've grown up logical, or reflective, or kind - an innate part of your personality. But to your partner, it may be a sign that you have trust issues. According to Kim Olver, author of "Secrets of Happy Couples: Loving Yourself, Your Partner and Your Life," secret-keeping ranks alongside infidelity, abuse and addiction as one of the major deal breakers in a relationship. When you keep things to yourself, you are basically saying that you do not trust your partner enough to share your feelings with them. And when the bond of trust is broken, the integrity of the relationship is broken. For some people, that's enough for them to make the logical decision to end the relationship.
Why Secrets Hurt
Holding things back can ignite feelings of mistrust and resentment in your partner. It's hard to feel emotionally connected to someone when they are not being honest with you. Even in a happy relationship, it's normal for your partner to feel betrayed if they learn that a secret has been hidden from them, especially if that secret is compounded by a lie.
Keeping secrets can hurt the secret keeper, too. For years, psychologists have been researching the impact of secrecy on mental health and the evidence is overwhelming. Symptoms such as anxiety, stress, depression, mood swings, headaches, and digestive problems often occur whenever secrets are concealed, especially if the web is spun over a long period of time. There's evidence to suggest that chronic secret-keepers might even turn to alcohol or other substances to mask their pain.
Not All Secrets Carry the Same Value
Of course, there are secrets and then there are secrets. Not every indiscretion will be harmful. Omitting to tell your partner that you don't share their love of daytime soap operas is one thing; neglecting to tell them that you were married or have a huge hidden debt is quite another.
When a secret is potentially stigmatizing such as infidelity, rape, abortion, substance abuse, money troubles, a pornography habit, or a criminal conviction, keeping the secret can potentially damage the entire family's mental health. One in five people admitted to keeping this type of major secret, according to a recent British survey. And around a quarter of them were so worried that full disclosure would destroy their relationship, they had kept their secret hidden for more than 25 years.
Other secrets might fall into the "none of your business" category. This includes everything from keeping quiet about your sister's flirtation with Jim from work and hiding your spot cream to how much that new jacket really cost. Yet even these small deceptions can rock a relationship. It all depends on the depth of trust you have for one another and your partner's unique insecurities.
To Tell, Or Not To Tell?
Honesty is the best policy, but that doesn't mean you can't keep a few tidbits to yourself. Even when you're in a committed relationship, you are still entitled to your own personal business. In fact, some researchers suggest that keeping a few harmless secrets can spice up a relationship. If you disclose every last detail about yourself now, what flirty details could there possibly be in the future?
But if your secret keeping is taking a toll on you or your partner, then it's a good idea to come clean. Examples include:
- Your relationship is maturing and the secret can no longer hide in plain sight. For example, you may not wish to lay your irritable bowel syndrome on the line on the first date, but keeping it secret from a life partner could have harmful consequences for your health.
- Your partner is starting to become mistrustful. Once a person loses trust, it is incredibly hard to regain it, especially for those who have been let down by a parent or romantic partner before.
- Your secrecy is breeding more and bigger secrets. When secrecy becomes a habit, it can drive an impenetrable wedge between you and your partner. Transparency is lost, and before you know it you're living through an alter ego that is far removed from who you truly are.
- The secrets are a profound source of paranoia, anxiety, or shame.
The bottom line is, we all have secrets. Some personality types live and breathe them every day. For those who like to play their cards close to their chest, secrets give them the freedom to explore who they are without fear of reprisal. They can even add a little fun and mystery to a saggy relationship.
But even the deepest secrets can be shared. Trust is the currency of any close relationship - when trust is broken, it can rock the relationship's foundation. If a person is worthy of your love and commitment, then surely they are worthy of your trust, and worth confiding in. You may be surprised at how good it feels to open up and lay more of your heart on the line.