It happens all the time. We’re chatting with our co-workers on Monday morning discussing what we did over the weekend and one of our co-workers say something like “don’t tell my husband/wife this, but….”. or they tell you what they did over the weekend but then say “and if my husband/wife ever knew they’d kill me”. Sometimes we laugh because the comment was made in jest, but sometimes it makes us awkward because the comment was serious and the thing they don’t want their spouse to find out out about is a little on the shady side.
Every Couple Has Secrets
First of all, let me state the obvious that every couple has secrets. After all, nobody wants to tell their spouse all the dirty details of their past relationships. What good would that do? But whether or not secrets are okay in marriage depends entirely on the secret. And I have come up with two categories of secrets to help you decide whether that secret is okay or not. The categories are 1) self-protective and 2) spouse-protective.
The Two Types of Secrets and Which One is Okay.
1) Self-protective The worst of these two secrets are the secrets that fall into the self-protective category. These are the ones that you don’t want to tell your spouse because they’ll get you into trouble. In other words, these are things you shouldn’t have done and don’t want to tell your spouse because you know they’ll be mad at you for it. Like when you told your spouse you were going on a work dinner but you really raised some ruckus with your friends. These are usually the secrets that damage a relationship. They damage it because you know your spouse will be mad/hurt and instead of owning up and trying to make amends for it, you hide it.
Self-protective secrets are the most damaging because they keep your spouse in the dark- which doesn’t allow them to connect with the real you. Your spouse, only knowing the lies you’ve told them, connects with a false perception of you. And because you know they’re connecting with a false perception of you, you withdraw and it keeps you both from having the kind of close, personal relationship you both want.
A good example of this self-protective type of secret is the closet sex addict who has several affairs but doesn’t tell their spouse. They hide it to protect themselves from getting caught and facing the consequences.
2) Spouse-Protective. The secrets that fall into the the spouse-protective category are usually okay to keep hidden…usually. These are the ones that are of little consequence because you wouldn’t mind if your spouse knew them but it would be hurtful to your spouse if they did. So you keep it a secret because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.
The most important thing about this category of secrets is that you’re not hiding anything that your partner would disapprove of. You’re still being true to yourself so your spouse is in love with the real you, and the secret is of little consequence and would only be hurtful to them if they knew- so it stays a secret.
A good example of this not telling your spouse all the dirty details about your previous relationships. Those other relationships don’t matter to you anymore (and don’t matter to your spouse) but discussing all the dirty details may create unnecessary jealousy or resentment for your spouse. And your primary reason for not talking about it is because it will only create unnecessary feelings of worry, fear etc. so to protect your spouse from these unnecessary feelings, you choose with withhold information.
Whether or not secrets are meant to protect yourself or protect your spouse, there’s one other (perhaps more important) factor to consider when deciding whether or not to keep a secret from your partner. That is whether or not the secret has any meaningful consequence .The only secrets that are okay are the ones that are inconsequential to your relationship.
If you’re hiding a big secret that your spouse would be upset about or has serious implications for your spouse but you hide it from them to keep from hurting their feelings that this is not okay. An example of this would be not telling your spouse about a child you had in a previous relationship that was put up for adoption. This has serious implications for your spouse even though it may not be an issue for you anymore.
So go ahead and keep secrets from your spouse. They don’t need to know what a hellraiser you were back in the day anyway. As long as you’re keeping it a secret just to protect them…and as long as it has no consequence anyway.