“Sharing Personal Secrets With Each Other Makes A Marriage Strong” is step 2 in the series, “7 Steps to a Healthy Marriage.” This series aims to respond to 1 of the most asked questions of my 50-year pastoral ministry. In part 1 of this series, I said that developing a lasting best friendship is the basis for a healthy marriage. Next, I emphasized that healthy couples take time to talk.“. That brings us to step 2 – “Sharing Personal Secrets With Each Other.” When couples talk together often, one or the other will eventually deal with something secret. That’s when a decision has to be made whether or not to tell.
“…we all know that secrets are not always harmless.”
From the time we are small children, we learn to tell and keep secrets. Often, they are harmless, or part of a game like Password. or a friend telling you in secret about having a “crush” on someone. Telling and keeping secrets between friends is deeply ingrained in the culture of most school-age children. However, we all know that secrets are not always harmless. Children learn at a young age that a secret can hold the power to be hurtful. More often than not, secrets cause confusion, hurt, embarrassment, and alienation regardless of age. A couple needs understanding and strategies for sharing important information.
We all have secrets: individuals, couples, parents, and families. The reason is that we or someone we know have all done or said things that we’d rather not tell everyone. Consider the following: “Secrets are a universal human phenomenon. Almost everyone has something to hide (though, of course, not all secrets are of the deep, dark variety)” Weir, Kirsten. “Exposing the hidden world of secrets.” American Psychological Association. 09/01/20. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/09/hidden-world-secrets#:~:text=Secrets%20are%20a%20universal%20human,the%20deep%2C%20dark%20variety)
“Secrets are easily told and rarely kept.”
The online world couldn’t exist without the urge to tell, keep, and use secrets. With the stroke of a key, you can find your favorite celebrity’s age, birthday, net worth, and sexual preference. If you apply for a job, the odds are that the prospective employer will search the internet, and social media accounts, and with permission, run a full background check. In neighborhoods across America, nosy neighbors search county records to determine the value of someone’s home, if they have a mortgage, and how much they owe. They can also learn if any of their neighbors are on a sex offender’s list. Secrets are easily told and rarely kept. Everybody has that 1 special friend “who would never tell.” The problem is that they also have that 1 special friend, who has that 1 special friend, and so on.
“Some of those secrets are important for a marriage to have a chance to be healthy.”
If secrets can be such a problem, then why should couples share their secrets? Because secrets can be such a problem. When two people marry, they each enter the marriage with a personal history. That history contains secrets. Some of those secrets are important for a marriage to have a chance to be healthy. When I mention this point in pre-marital counseling, I am usually asked 3 questions: Do we have to share every secret? When is the best time to share a secret? Why is it necessary?”
In my research for step 2 – “Sharing Personal Secrets With Each Other Makes A Marriage Strong,” I came across a helpful article in the professional journal “Psychology Today” that says, “There’s no question that family secrets are destructive. But it matters mightily when and how you reveal them.” The author goes on to say “Today’s families face special dilemmas about secrecy, privacy, silence, and openness.” I encourage you to read the entire (brief) article. Inber-Black, Evan. The Power of Secrets – They divide people. They deter new relationships. And they freeze the development of individuals.” Psychology Today. 7/1/1998, 6/9/2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199807/the-power-secrets
“There is… a difference between secrets and privacy”
A recent article found on the website “VeryWellMind.com” suggests that there is a difference between secrets and privacy when it comes to intimate relationships. The author states, “Privacy refers to your boundaries about your history, thoughts, opinions, and experiences separate from your partner and relationship. Secrecy, on the other hand, involves something that you are intentionally hiding from your partner.”
“In a healthy relationship, you honor the sense of emotional and physical privacy needed for yourself and your partner.”
She continues, “For example, secrecy involves dishonesty, violation of trust, hiding or misleading, being hurtful or disruptive, and it’s toxic.” Privacy is not dishonest, doesn’t violate trust, involves being unobserved and alone, is not disruptive or harmful, and is healthy…In a healthy relationship, you honor the sense of emotional and physical privacy needed for yourself and your partner. Otherwise, ironically, you end up limiting your intimacy with one another, not enhancing it.”
“Secrets that can hurt your marriage are ones concerning (such as):
- Having an affair
- Job problems
- Keeping an addiction or substance use habits hidden
- Legal problems
- Lending money
- Lying about how you spend money
- Not paying bills
- Not revealing an illness
- Seeing family and friends secretly”
Sheri Stritof. “How Much Relationship Privacy Do You Need?“ https://www.verywellmind.com. March 23, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/secrets-in-marriage-2303980#:~:text=Privacy%20refers%20to%20your%20personal,intentionally%20hiding%20from%20your%20partner.
“First, is the secret relevant to your relationship?”
In my opinion, there a several things to consider before sharing secrets. First, is the secret relevant to your relationship? This question should be fairly easy to answer. In essence, is it about you now or is it something that has happened to you or in your family that might have an impact on your marriage? Then ask yourself if and how the secret information matters to your relationship
Next, does your secret involve another person besides your spouse? Is it about a former relationship?
There are other considerations as well. Next, does your secret involve another person besides your spouse? Is it about a former relationship? If so, do you have that person’s permission to reveal that information? This is very important and should be considered thoroughly. When a person shares a secret about a relationship with another person, that might cross a line that is both legal and of Christian ethics. It is neither Christian nor is it legal to impugn another person’s character.
Discussing this 2nd step wouldn’t be complete unless we presented the real possibility of defamation. Defamation is, “The taking from one’s reputation. The offense of injuring a person’s character, fame, or reputation by false and malicious statements. The term seems to be comprehensive of both libel and slander.” Even if the information is true, a person needs to tread very lightly here. Where relationships are involved, emotions can quickly confuse the facts.
“Will this information be better shared with a therapist, counselor, or pastor?
Finally, we should ask will this information be better shared with a therapist, counselor, or pastor. You should probably take that route anyway since an objective professional is better equipped to help you navigate the situation. Sometimes, sharing your secret might make you feel better but make your partner feel worse. Hurting your spouse to relieve yourself of a secret is counterproductive and can cause a deep rift in the relationship. In a healthy marriage, sharing secrets that are pertinent to the relationship can be very beneficial. If handled in a timely and wise manner, it can precede beautiful seasons of healing and drawing closer together.