Tools for Couples Happiness — 25 July 2012
Are you keeping a secret from your spouse?

Our personal privacy is a given freedom that is carefully safeguarded in our society. Yet, in marriage we are encouraged to be honest, open and forthcoming with our thoughts and feelings to maintain an intimate and bonded relationship. How can we preserve our personal privacy concomitantly with creating an open and healthy couple connection?

Most people harbor at least a few secrets. They may be about their family of origin, childhood experiences, life events or current personal conduct that is feared to taint their image should it be revealed.

Some people keep deep secrets not only from others but also from their intimate partner. Since the opinion of a spouse is vital to our self-esteem, withholding information that may possibly tarnish our reputation seems wise. Yet, secrets create a distance between mates.

Keeping secrets is commonly propelled by embarrassment, fear, shame and worry about oneself and the concern that the divulged information may hurt, burden or compromise the spouse as well.

Most commonly, secrets between spouses involve: previous relationships, personal trauma, misuse of money, illegal, immoral or unethical conduct, addictive behaviors, pornography and emotional or sexual affairs.

Psychologist James Pennebaker studied the impact of silence and secrecy on rape and incest victims. He found that when these subjects shared the event with another person, their levels of stress hormones decreased, their health improved and the frequency of their doctor visits was reduced.

The secret-keeper is often plagued by two opposing impulses. One promotes disclosure and the other advocates secrecy about the issue. The neuroscientist, David Eagleman describes this internal battle as occurring between “The Team of Rivals.” He defines a secret as “the result of the struggle between competing parties in the brain – one for telling, and one for withholding.”

Dr. Eagleman observed that since “The main reason for not divulging a secret is the aversion to the long-term consequences, the neural conflict can be dissipated by telling the secret to total strangers, such as reciting one’s marital troubles to a stranger on an airplane.” This researcher also mentions the website as an anonymous forum for personal confessions.

The emotional energy required to subjugate the natural need to tell the secret is exhausting. Silence is risky to your health and relationship. If you decide to share your personal secret with your partner, request that your mate listen with compassion and avoid any suggestions. If the secret may impact your relationship, you are advised to seek the help of an experienced couple therapist to assure a healthy and safe outcome for both of you.

Holding a secret?

  • Realize that it is common for most people to harbor some secrets and that telling them is freeing and health promoting.
  • Understand that if you need to keep any current behavior secret from your mate, a part of you disapproves of your conduct and you may need to change it.
  • Know that healthy unions flourish in a secret-free environment.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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