5 Reasons Why Keeping Secrets Can Destroy a Relationship

About Brette Sember, JD | Divorce.com

By Brette Sember, JD Updated Mar 14, 2024


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Many issues can contribute to the end of a marriage or relationship, but keeping secrets can be the downfall of an otherwise healthy union. Research shows that 60% of people have kept secrets from their partners.

Find out how secrets can harm your relationship.

Key Takeaways

  • Partners keep secrets from each other for reasons such as shame, fear of criticism, avoidance, lack of trust, and fear of hurting the other person.
  • Hiding secrets in a relationship can signal that your relationship is already in trouble.
  • Poor communication can result from secret-keeping.
  • Secrets often lead to resentment in both partners.
  • Keeping a secret increases stress and anxiety, which can damage the relationship.
  • Secret-keeping creates a cycle of mistrust that can end a marriage.
  • When you keep secrets, you hurt not only your partner and relationship but also yourself.
  • Some secrets are actually okay (and even good to keep), but it’s important to evaluate whether you have a foundation of honesty in your relationship.

Why Do Partners Keep Secrets From Each Other?

There are many reasons why people keep secrets from their spouse or significant other, but some of the common causes include:

  • Shame. You’re embarrassed or ashamed about something you did and worry your partner will reject you.
  • Fear of judgment or criticism. Sharing something with your spouse can make you vulnerable to your partner’s judgment and critiques.
  • Avoidance. You might know you need to share something with your partner, but you just keep putting it off, telling yourself you will reveal it to them eventually because you don’t like hard conversations.
  • Lack of trust. If you don’t completely trust your partner, sharing something painful or shameful might feel impossible.
  • Fear of hurting your partner. If you know your secret will hurt your partner, you may be holding back to protect your partner. This frequently occurs in difficult in-law situations.
  • Fear of losing your partner. Twenty-three percent of people keeping a secret in a relationship were having an affair and hiding it. You may be keeping a secret to avoid losing your partner.

5 Reasons Why Keeping a Secret Can Destroy Your Relationship

Secrets can be very detrimental to a relationship. Keeping a secret means that you are devoting a lot of time and thought to hiding something, and it would seem like that might hurt your relationship.

A study in “Personal Relationships” found that keeping a secret means that your relationship is already in trouble.

In other words, you’re keeping secrets because your relationship is not healthy, not the other way around. The deterioration of the relationship tends to happen first, and then secrets are kept in reaction to that.

This, of course, sets up a vicious cycle of an unhealthy relationship leading to more secrets, which reinforces the poor relationship.

If you feel the need to keep a secret, take an honest deep dive. It can be a sign that something is wrong with your relationship.

Here are five ways in which concealing things from your partner damages your relationship.

Secrets Create Poor Communication

If you’re hiding something from your partner, it is unlikely you have fully open and honest communication. Instead, you must always hold something back to protect your secret.

A Canadian study shows poor communication is linked to decreased relationship satisfaction. Decreased relationship satisfaction, of course, makes it less likely that the relationship will survive.

Secrets Breed Resentment

If your spouse learns you are keeping secrets, they may resent you. Alternatively, if you are in a relationship that makes you feel as though you need to keep secrets, you may feel guilt and resentment that you have to keep said secret.

Keeping a secret takes a huge toll in any circumstance, particularly in relationships. If you feel frustrated with secrets interfering with and compromising your relationship, that’s normal. You are not alone.

Secrets Are Stressful

Keeping a secret from your partner can be challenging. You must remember what exactly you’ve told them, you must continually work to conceal the information, and you may constantly be worrying they will find out.

Alternatively, keeping a secret often leads to managing significant guilt in the secret keeper.

This creates significant stress and anxiety, which further damages your relationship and your satisfaction with your life.

Secrets Are Stressful

It Creates a Cycle of Mistrust

Once you keep one secret from your partner, you may have to keep secrets related to the original secret. And once you start lying to your partner or not being honest with them, it becomes easier to continue doing so.

Not only do you continue to keep secrets, but it causes you to be more mistrustful of your partner.

If you’re keeping secrets, then surely they must be as well, you might think. If your partner finds out about your secret, they will mistrust you and may end up keeping their own secrets.

This sets up a cycle of mistrust that is hard or impossible to break out of.

Secrets Hurt Not Just Your Partner, But You

Research found that keeping secrets in a relationship results in the person with the secrets having decreased relationship satisfaction and well-being. Physical and mental health are directly impacted in this situation.

When one harbors a secret, it often becomes a heavy burden, weighing on one's conscience and creating a barrier between oneself and their partner. This emotional distance can lead to feelings of isolation, even when in the company of the very person one cares about.

Moreover, the energy expended in concealing the truth can drain one's emotional reserves, leading to fatigue, stress, and even health issues over time.

It's crucial to recognize that while secrets might offer temporary relief or protection from immediate consequences, they often come at a significant long-term cost to one's emotional and physical well-being.

Should You Always Be Honest With Your Partner?

Big secrets can harm a relationship, but it turns out that keeping little secrets can benefit a relationship.

A recent Indiana University study found that 90% of people keep secrets about purchases from their loved ones, even if they don’t believe the loved one would be upset.

However, the study found that keeping that kind of secret leads to some guilt, which then leads the person with the secret to become more involved in the relationship – basically, to try harder to be a good spouse, so the secret ends up helping the relationship.

Obviously, this study was not referring to financial deception or abuse, but rather smaller purchases, such as going to get an extra coffee or buying a t-shirt at a concert.

Should You Always Be Honest With Your Partner?

There are other secrets that can be kept without ruining your relationship, especially short-term ones that are eventually revealed. For example, you might need to keep a secret about a surprise party for your partner or a date night you are planning.

You might not tell them you broke their favorite mug until you can give them a replacement. These are all short-term secrets that are eventually revealed

Additionally, sometimes, you may need time to process something before you share it with your partner. It’s healthy to take the time you need before you discuss something. It is always okay to tell your partner you need to process something as long as you set a time to discuss it.

If you’re keeping secrets, it’s essential to evaluate why and whether doing so harms your relationship.

Final Thoughts

Secrecy in a marriage can lead to severe problems. If you’re hiding things from your partner, be aware of why you’re doing it and what the consequences could be.

Open communication is the bedrock of any strong relationship, and while not every detail needs to be shared, maintaining a foundation of trust is paramount.

Remember, it's not just about the act of keeping a secret, but the reasons behind it and the potential ripple effects it can have on both partners.

It's essential to regularly check in with oneself and one's partner, ensuring that the lines of communication remain open and that both parties feel secure and valued in the relationship.

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