Doing Life Together

struggling coupleI was in the grocery store yesterday, and the tabloids were headlining the secret love child of yet another celebrity couple. Even though we tend to expect this sort of thing from celebrity relationships, secrets are a problem. They don’t usually end well.

I am often asked if it is a good idea to reveal secrets to a partner or a friend. The answer to this begins with a question. How does it feel to find out a secret after the fact? For instance, do you really want to be surprised with a secret ten years into a marriage, especially one that may have impacted your decision to marry in the first place? Or do you want to hear about something very personal from a stranger in a public place? Revealed secrets become gossip fodder in the wrong hands.

In my experience as a relationship therapist, keeping secrets usually backfires. Yes, secrets are difficult to bring out into the light, but keeping them sets the stage for heartache down the road. The hidden thing often surfaces later. Then the reaction is even more intense because now it is associated with dishonesty. Dishonesty makes the impact worse.

The person living with a secret carries a burden. That burden may interfere with intimacy as well. It’s hard to live with secrets—the guilt, the fear, and anxiety of being found out rarely helps a relationship.

Whom you share secrets with is important. In relationships where trust is absent, self-disclosure can open the door to betrayal, gossip, and violations of your privacy. So don’t reveal your secrets to people whom you can’t trust. I also don’t recommend broadcasting secrets to people not involved in your affairs. There is no need for this (unless you are a public figure who has violated the trust of the public, or a leader who has violated the trust of a specific group). In fact, it’s better to keep those secrets between you and the person involved and those directly affected.

In our tell-all culture, where privacy is seriously lacking, discretion is needed. Be wise. Talk to the people involved in your secret, work on repair, and then carefully pray about whether or not this is something that needs to be shared with others.

Excerpt and adapted from We Need To Talk (Baker, 2015)

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