Secrets: to keep or not to keep

It is a widely-held belief/assumption that happiness in a marriage/relationship depends a lot on being completely open to one’s spouse through full disclosure.

We are taught that clear communication is the best policy. Books like Fifty Shades of Grey strongly suggest that sharing our deepest sexual fantasies will improve intimacy. Others say secrets will ultimately destroy your marriage/relationship.

In truth, most successful long-term relationships are based on strong emotional and physical connections. But intimacy isn’t necessarily equated with complete honesty. There are many couples that don’t “tell all,” yet maintain a trusting, fulfilling relationship.

Likewise, there are some couples that suffer a great deal when well-kept secrets (or ultimately revealed ones) lead to mistrust and hurt.

Here are some types of secrets and my recommendation on whether to tell your partner/spouse.

The Affair
Confessing to an on-going affair or sharing one from your past has wreaked havoc in many marriages and long-term relationships. Experts are beginning to understand that not all affairs are a direct path to separation or divorce. Some serve to highlight already existing relationship problems and can actually promote working on them.

While a double life will certainly put distance between you and your partner, it may be more important to discuss why the desire for a lover began in the first place, rather than focus on the affair itself.

For most couples, affairs suggest disconnection, not just sexually but emotionally as well. If you decide to talk to your partner — whether about an actual affair, a fantasy about one or one you had years ago — think about how to use the discussion to heal your current situation or how it can serve to push you toward an inevitable separation.

Neither option is simple, but the most important thing is to be aware of the impact either choice may have on your relationship.

Your Debt
Keeping a partner in the dark about debt is never a good thing. Many couples today enter long-term relationships burdened with student loans, credit card debt or little money in the bank. Learning about these money matters later almost always leads to feelings of betrayal and mistrust.

Being upfront and clear about what you have, what you owe and your plan for how to deal with it will gain you much more respect and trust than learning about it later.

Lack of Libido and Impotence
Sad truth is this, many women keep their disinterest in sex a secret and some even fake their orgasms. Many men keep their Viagra/Cialis etc. in a super-secret hiding place. While these particular issues tend to appear round about “mid-life” when hormonal activity may impact sexual performance/desire, research has shown that younger couples tend to avoid intimacy altogether rather than reveal their lack of interest.

We live in a time when matters dealing with about eroticism are less taboo and pornography is increasingly popular. In today’s culture, sexual secrets are often kept between partners. Some view a lack of arousal as an inadequacy, a lack of femininity or masculinity. Yet partners can misinterpret physical disinterest as lack of emotional interest.

I encourage both men and women who feel low — or loss of — libido to talk to their health care providers first. Most often, discussing the issue with a professional paves the way to a more productive discussion with a partner.

Note carefully that not talking about sexual intimacy doesn’t make the issue disappear. Ultimately, it will impact the relationship. It’s more about how you tell your partner than whether or not you tell them. One way or another, your partner will know. And once the elephant in the room is talked about, connection most often improves.

Past ‘Bad’ Behaviour
I could write a book on this, in fact, I probably should. Anyway, the decision to share past illegal or immoral activities is complicated. Some are no-brainers — crimes and jail time are best revealed and explained, as they are available on public record. Keeping them hidden can create tremendous guilt, and if exposed, can cause a deep fear in your partner that the behaviour could be repeated.

Here’s where it gets a little unclear because many of us have had wild experiences during adolescence and young adulthood that led to trouble with the law — speeding, rampant promiscuity, cheating, fist fights, drug use, shop-lifting — activities we know will never recur and are best forgotten.

We all want our partners to think the best of us and these ‘childish’ activities were often not the best of times. I’m sure most of us have a list of actions we are not proud of, but hopefully we have learned from them.

Past ‘bad’ behaviours that are clearly no longer part of our present are secrets that exist even among couples that are intimate about most everything else in their lives. They can lie dormant, safely kept between you and you. This leads me to my next point…

Health disorders/Diseases/Sexually Transmitted Infections
If you’re in a long-term relationship, especially if you’re heading towards marriage there should be no health secrets (for the most part). Your partner deserves to know about your health, after all, their role may just become that of primary caregiver if/when things go wrong.

If making a family is on the cards, discussions about health must be thorough.
On the matter of sexually transmitted infections honesty is the best policy especially if you’re carrying something incurable such as HIV or Herpes. There is a school of thought which strongly recommends remaining tight-lipped about sexually transmitted infections which you contracted and subsequently had treated prior to meeting your current partner.

I say, you should know your partner well enough to determine their likely reaction to such a confession and whether you can handle such a reaction.

Eating Disorders, Alcohol or Drug Use
Quite often these disorders remain hidden from even best friends, husbands and wives. Many couples fear that their addiction — past or present — will cause a loss of respect, while often it’s the secrecy which causes the loss of respect.

On-going substance abuse will almost always interfere with a couple’s intimacy, as the object of desire is something other than your partner. Unless addressed, addiction will ultimately destroy most relationships

Closing note
Intimacy and complete openness are not one and the same. A successful long-term relationship means being willing to share your vulnerabilities and strengths, but requires sensitivity to the consequences that sharing brings.

Sometimes you have to keep calm and keep(or share) a secret 🙂

Published by Garth O. Williams

A seasoned journalist and communications practitioner; professional MC/moderator, voice-over actor and entrepreneur.

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