How Keeping Secrets Can Affect Your Relationship

You don't have to be a licensed psychologist to know that keeping secrets in a relationship isn't the best idea. The hallmark of any relationship — whether it's your partner, family, or friend — is trust. According to Positive Psychology, trust is a fundamental component of a healthy relationship and without it, the foundation is not as strong. 

When you trust someone, you know that they value and respect you. You know that, in them, you have a soft place to fall where you feel secure and safe. You know, at your core, they have your best interest at the forefront and they will take care of your heart. A lack of trust in your partner is often a big dealbreaker.

While you don't have to tell your family and friends many of the aspects of your life if you so choose, keeping certain secrets from a partner can be detrimental, especially when it breaks trust. Of course, everyone has the right to privacy, which is normal and healthy, but certain types of secrecy border on deception or are blatantly deceiving (per Love At First Fight).

How to draw the line between secrecy and privacy

Being a private person and not sharing every aspect of your life with your partner is vastly different from keeping secrets from them. The line is typically drawn by the intent behind the secret.

Maintaining a private life isn't a bad thing, and is actually healthy. Simply being private doesn't involve dishonesty, as Verywell Mind reported. Perhaps you enjoy singing alone in the house or doing an activity you feel shy about around your partner. Keeping parts of your life private is not in and of itself bad. Simple privacy has no ill will and doesn't compromise trust or the health of the relationship.

However, when you keep secrets, you are being intentionally dishonest for a reason and hiding important information or misleading your partner about something they should know (via DivorceMag). It's a toxic trait and a sign that you really don't care enough about your partner to not hurt them. Keeping secrets simultaneously introduces mistrust into the relationship while also putting up a barrier to being truly close and connected.

Secrets destroy relationships

One of the primary things that keeping secrets does to a romantic relationship is eroding trust. Yet it also introduces other harmful aspects into your daily world. When one partner hides something detrimental, it can leave the other partner feeling insecure and negative about the bond between them, according to Verywell Mind.

Being deceived can also affect both your mental and physical health. It can also cause a person to shut down an isolated, feel lonely, and grow depressed and anxious. They may feel stupid for ever believing their partner in the first place. Not only may it leave someone feeling ashamed or insecure about being involved with a partner who lies and keeps secrets, but being regularly lied to can progress into other areas. It can lead to depression and anxiety disorders, as well as physical problems (via Mind Body Green). In addition, people may become depressed and turn to substances to quell their anxiety and sadness.

Most commonly kept secrets

Typically people keep secrets in relationships about things they don't want their partner to know about. Often they include big topic items surrounding commitment and money: and being secretive can be a sign a partner is cheating.

According to a U.K. survey, the most common secrets kept by couples include financial issues, watching pornography, infidelity, and meeting up with or talking to an ex (via HuffPost). In addition, a whooping quarter of survey participants confessed that they were keeping a secret for more than a quarter of a century.

While there are so many different reasons why people keep secrets, there are some personality types that are more likely to do it. Both anxious attachment personality styles and avoidant attachment personality styles are more likely to keep secrets, whereas secure attachment styles are less likely to do so, per Psychology Today.

However, anxious and avoidant attachments hide things for very different reasons. Anxious attachments fear letting people down and gaining disapproval or judgment. Yet avoidant attachments keep things hidden as a way to keep distance emotionally. While both groups ruminate over being found out, avoidants worry about being found out but don't feel guilt. Anxious people do feel guilt and remorse.

Things that are fine to keep private

On the flip side, there are many things that can be kept private which are perfectly fine. That's because there is no ill intent, manipulation, or attempt to control or deceive behind them. For example, if you or your partner write in a journal, inner thoughts that aren't intended to be shared should never be read. That would be an invasion of privacy.

Another topic is family. If you don't like certain members of their family, there's no need to bring it up (via BestLife). According to clinical psychologist Paul DePompo, "This is one of the hardest secrets to keep, but one of the most important. You certainly don't have to say you love them, but spewing any hate will only backfire."

Other things are common sense to keep private because you don't want to hurt your partner's feelings. There's no need to explain how an ex was great at something that your partner isn't, sex was better with someone else, or reveal any explicit sexual details from past relationships.

How to rebuild trust

Once a deception has occurred, trust is broken so the safety and integrity of the relationship are compromised. The first step in regaining trust in the relationship after a secret is either revealed or discovered is to fully come clean on what was being hidden. The partner at fault should also explain why they kept the secret and what they were hoping to gain from it. It's necessary for both partners to be open to improving the relationship (via Choosing Therapy). Only through full transparency can you even attempt to create a clean slate.

If both parties want to save the relationship, are willing to be vulnerable, and speak openly, a relationship reset can be made — but it will take some work, noted Well + Good. "Put your walls down and your ego aside," says certified professional life coach Antoinette Beauchamp. "Vulnerability invites vulnerability and increases intimacy. Creating intimate moments will help support and rebuild what's broken."