Everyone has secrets. In relationship, the very concept of keeping secrets often feels as though it is shrouded in taboo. “Secret” becomes a dirty word. However, not all secrets are nefarious. In fact, secrets can be healthy in a relationship. While some relationship advice will tell you that no secrets are healthy secrets, it’s simply not true.
The reasons that couple keep secrets from each other can be as varied as the secrets themselves. Some secrets can be as minor as hiding an innocent (though embarrassing) penchant for cheesy romance novels or a tendency to read comic books.
These types of secrets are completely harmless to your partner, but they’re kept to insulate you from potential embarrassment. Human beings are naturally cautious of judgement and criticism; especially from those to whom we feel closest.
Other secrets are designed to protect our partners from hurt feelings or to boost their self-esteem. Your partner certainly doesn’t need to know that you really don’t think they make the most incredible pie you’ve ever tasted or that their mother isn’t one of your favorite people on earth.
In any relationship, there will be secrets. In one online survey, 60% of the participants admitted to keeping a secret from their partners at some point in their relationship. 25% said that they were currently keeping at least one secret. These admissions typically refer to the types of secrets that hurt—or even destroy- relationships.
Harmless, healthy secrets become almost second nature in successful relationships, making it almost impossible to measure the statistics with any real accuracy. That being said, numbers are surely near 100% when it comes to the healthy (and even altruistic) little secrets we keep from each other every day.
Major secrets like infidelity or enormous hidden debts have the potential to devastate a relationship. These types of secrets are clearly damaging. So what types of secrets are okay to keep from your partner or spouse? Which secrets are healthy for a relationship?
As human beings, we’re naturally curious. The temptation to ask your partner how many previous lovers they’ve had can be a strong one, but this question is one that is best left unasked. Adopting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on this subject is a good idea. While you may think you want to know the answer, you might find that you wish you’d never asked. Likewise, you may not wish to answer this question yourself.
Besides, this question is commonly answered with a lie. In one study, 21% of the men and 15% of the women surveyed admitted to giving an untruthful response to researchers. Imagine how high the rate of lying likely is when answering a partner!
Spending habits can be a real source of contention among couples. If an addiction is involved (such as shopping or gambling) or spending is out of control to the point of wreaking financial havoc in the form of crushing debts, secrets are unhealthy.
However, it’s okay to keep some of your spending habits secret from your partner. If you have a separate personal bank account or you contribute enough to afford your spending habits, don’t feel bad about keeping a couple secrets.
Your partner doesn’t necessarily need to know that your daily morning routine includes an $8 gourmet coffee or that you sometimes splurge on a designer bag or the latest techno-gadget you’ve had your eye on. If you can afford it, you should treat yourself! If the money itself isn’t an issue, keeping secrets related to spending can save your partner a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
The In-Laws (Theirs & Yours)
Maybe your mother-in-law has an obnoxious laugh that drives you up the wall. Maybe your brother-in-law acts pretentious around you and you have a low opinion of your sister-in-law’s seemingly excessive dating escapades. Maybe your father-in-law has a snore that could wake the dead. It’s always a good idea to keep these types of nitpicky opinions to yourself!
Your partner most likely loves their family, and you should respect that. Likewise, you probably have some dirt on your own family that doesn’t necessarily need to be shared with your partner. Keeping certain things to yourself will help you to foster and maintain a loving, harmonious relationship that feels like the safe refuge it should be.
It’s only natural to engage in a little bit of harmless flirting from time to time. When your charming co-worker or the cute gym regular flirts with you, there’s absolutely no reason that you need to tell your partner about it. As long as no lines are being crossed and the flirting is completely casual and innocent, keep it to yourself. Flirting in small doses is good for your self-esteem, and feeling good about yourself is good for your relationship as well.
Secrets can be healthy and safe, but only when those secrets are the right kind. If you’re feeling unsure about your own secrets or are suspicious about things your partner may be hiding, relationship conseling can help you both to create healthy boundaries and clarify expectations.
In both dating relationships and marriage, it’s important to keep a sense of individuality. It can be easy to get swept up and lose yourself in your identity as a couple. Keeping healthy secrets and allowing room for that much-needed individual privacy, you can enjoy a close and thriving relationship with your partner. Whether you’re protecting yourself, protecting your partner or just keeping unnecessary fodder out of the mix, secrets can be an essential ingredient for a healthy and lasting relationship.