How to Deal With Secrets in Marriage Use these 4 tips to manage the secrets in your marriage that may be hindering the intimacy with your spouse. BY DENISE J. CHARLES
There are many reasons we keep secrets, but sometimes not opening up can cause more damage.
“ Secret-keeping in marriage may largely be motivated by fear of exposure, fear of rejection, self-centeredness or by a sense of personal shame and embarrassment.”
"Secrets close doors between people. The secret-keeper has to skirt important subjects and becomes silent when the conversation gets too close." ~ Jane Isay
Can we keep secrets in our marriage and expect it to thrive? Intimacy is predicated on our ability to expose all of ourselves to someone we love. The ideal behind this idea is the belief that true love will cover the multitude of wrongs. If we're naked and exposed with all of our flaws, yet still loved, then there must be something worthwhile about us after all.
Deep intimacy is something we all seek in our marriage relationships. We want to be loved in spite of our failures, idiosyncrasies or checkered pasts. There may be aspects of our past or present about which we are cardinally ashamed. We may have been involved in some disappointing behavior; something that went against our values which we therefore hide. We may also be harboring a deep sense of shame over some unfortunate experience which we previously had. Whatever the case, we do ourselves and our marriage a disservice when we deliberately decide to keep secrets from our spouse.
The decision to withhold a personal or relationship secret may never be an easy one, but it is easily one which is guaranteed to disrupt the free flow of genuineness or authenticity in a committed relationship like marriage. What exactly are we referencing when we refer to secrets?
Secrets can involve a range of issues including hidden addictions, secret affairs, abortions, the hidden identity of a child's father, significant personal debt, mental illness, abuse, rape, diagnosed disease or even phobias. These examples are not exhaustive by any means, but are representative of the diverse range of issues which partners in a marriage or long-term relationship can keep from each other.
Since many of us seem to crave love in the context of a deep and knowing intimacy, what exactly then prompts us to keep secrets? Secret-keeping in marriage may largely be motivated by fear of exposure, fear of rejection, self-centeredness or by a sense of personal shame and embarrassment. But as our opening quotation suggests, secret-keeping effectively closes the door to the establishment or growth of intimacy between a couple. Because so much energy is expended in hiding facts or covering up behaviors, our relationship is easily robbed of the dynamism needed to strengthen the couple-bond.
The danger with the keeping of secrets is that it is usually just a matter of time before they are exposed. What individuals must assess is whether the energy used to cover up a secret is worth the danger that will erupt when such is eventually exposed. Guarding our relationship from the possible devastation of secrets will only become possible when a couple, together, makes certain decisions from the outset about how they will manage their relationship. The following represents some key areas requiring consideration.
1. Share Values: It helps when a couple operates from a similar value base. Having shared views on honesty, openness, and personal integrity can influence how a couple goes about exposing painful or personal issues of a sensitive nature. When honesty is prized above personal comfort, then uncovering harmful secrets will take priority simply because the individual’s moral base makes this the right thing to do.
2. Communicate Sensitively: Uncovering the truth in a relationship should not mean blurting it out with a casual disregard for how your spouse might feel. Being sensitive means having regard for timing, place and manner when communicating news, which your spouse may not want to hear.
3. Own the Issue: When confronted by personal shortcomings, apportioning blame to someone else can become an easy cop out. Except for secrets where an individual may have been taken advantage of (e.g., an incident of rape or abuse) it is important that we accept ownership for the challenging behavior we have kept a secret. When we avoid excusing ourselves, we are free to learn and grow from our mistakes. This ownership may also include seeking help from a professional who may be needed to assist us in transitioning from deception to honesty.
4. Consider the Relationship's Greater Good: While it may be common to want to relieve yourself of burdensome guilt, this should not be the primary motivation behind confession. The objective should not be first and foremost of personal relief, rather individuals should be inspired to seek the greater good of the marriage. This means considering the issue from all angles before sharing, and taking care to minimize the pain or fallout by assuming personal responsibility for deception. Ultimately, our motivation should be about realigning loyalties to the one we are committed to and strengthening relationship intimacy.