5 Reasons Why Keeping Secrets Can Destroy a Relationship

By: Terry Gaspard
Last Update: November 01, 2016

What I’ve come to realize is that being vulnerable and honest about all aspects of your life is an act of courage. Some people believe they need to keep secrets or lie to survive in a relationship. They lack confidence in their ability to confront unpleasant topics, such as money troubles, or issues related to past or present errors in judgment or mistakes. However, finding healthy ways to honestly express yourself to your partner is the best way to build a trusting relationship that endures the test of time.

But is lying by omission or keeping a secret the same as betrayal? In my opinion, you want to consider how your partner would view your secret if they found out and you neglected to tell them about it. Also, if you feel guilty or uneasy about not disclosing information to them, it’s a red flag that you need to do so.

For instance, Megan never told her husband Ryan that she had dinner alone with John, a male co-worker, while away at a conference.  She explains: “I don’t really see a reason to tell Ryan because it was just dinner, but I do feel that John may have had ulterior motives because he asked me out after we returned home. I just don’t want Ryan to judge me harshly because he is very jealous and possessive.”

When I attempted to explore with Megan the reasons why honesty is essential to a trusting relationship, she said: “I guess I never saw myself as being dishonest, but I do feel guilty.” At this point, I asked her to consider that mistrust erodes the quality of any relationship and that keeping crucial information secret from Ryan isn’t a way to build trust with him.

Like Megan, many of my clients tell me they're keeping secrets from their partner because they believe telling the truth will make things worse. Or they’ve convinced themselves that their significant other simply can’t handle the truth and might abandon them. While it is true that some partners will feel angry, hurt, and betrayed when they learn their love interest has done something unacceptable to them, honestly confronting issues is the best way to foster trust and intimacy with a partner.

Certainly, keeping secrets from a partner is a common dilemma that needs to be addressed on many levels. In fact, recent research shows that one in five people are keeping a major secret, such as infidelity or money troubles, from their spouse in the United Kingdom. Surprisingly, a quarter of respondents in this study said they kept this secret for more than 25 years. Further, one in four of those people who kept a secret in this study said that it was so big, they worried that it would destroy their marriage. Common secrets reported include money troubles, viewing pornography, and various forms of betrayal such as infidelity.

Experts agree that trust can be easily broken and hard to repair.  When your partner withholds important information from you regardless of their reasons, it’s normal to feel betrayed. For many people, any form of deceit can be a deal breaker. For example, Karen, a 39-year-old teacher, explains: “Trust is a huge issue for me. It takes a lot to rebuild my trust, and if it’s broken, there’s a chance it may not be earned back.” Karen is a daughter of divorce who watched both her father and step-father betray her mother – leaving her family without crucial financial support.

How much will you put up with before ending a relationship when you feel betrayed? According to author Kristen Houghton, relationships are made up of many components and people will put up with many quirks to keep a relationship going. She writes: “But if you are consistently made to feel uncomfortable or uneasy because you feel as if you cannot trust your partner, then making the decision not to take him or her back is the logical one for you. Life needs quality and a sense of security.” In other words, by keeping secrets or lying to your partner, you run the risk of losing their trust and putting your relationship in jeopardy.

5 reasons why keeping secrets can destroy a relationship:

  1. Keeping secrets is being dishonest. Honesty is always the best policy, and most of us have a moral code that tells us that keeping secrets is akin to lying. For most of us, being dishonest is only acceptable when we are in dire straits – like trying to save someone’s life or survive a disaster.
  2. Keeping major secrets is a form of deceit. The more time that passes, the harder it is to tell the truth.
  3. Being deceitful breeds mistrust. Further, once a person loses trust, it is hard to regain – especially for those who have been betrayed by a parent, former romantic partner, or spouse.
  4. Keeping secrets is a hotbed for betrayal. Leaving out important facts can lead to further deception or betrayal, according to author Dr. Lisa Firestone. Whereas being open with your partner will promote trust and honest communication.
  5. Relationships are damaged by lies and couples grow apart. It’s hard to feel emotionally connected to someone when you catch them in a lie or find out that they’ve kept a secret from you.

Trust is about so much more than catching your partner in a truth or lie. It is about believing that he or she truly has your best interests at heart. Mistrust is a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that your partner does not truly love you or may abandon you. So much about trust is walking the talk. Your partner may tell you he/she loves you, but do his/her actions support that? All too often, when people aren’t feeling safe enough in a relationship to be honest and open with their partner, it’s because they don’t believe that their partner truly loves them or they are overly protective of their own interests.

Let’s end on the words of relationship expert Dr. John Gottman: “Despite how dangerous and widespread betrayal is, I can offer couples hope. By analyzing the anatomy of this poison, I have figured out how to defeat it. I now know that there is a fundamental principle for making relationships work that serves as an antidote to unfaithfulness. That principle is trust.”


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