Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Couples and Secrets

Recently, I received a reporter’s query asking for my thoughts about Couples and Secrets. Ironically, I had just finished taping a segment for "Relationships 101" on the impact of family secrets on individuals who remain in the dark about very important parts of a family member’s – and therefore, their own – history. I thought I’d share the reporter’s questions and my answers. Perhaps they will provide some guidelines for managing secrets in your intimate relationships.

Is it okay for couples to keep secrets?
It depends on the nature of the secret. The only instance I can think of where keeping a secret is acceptable is when disclosure of it would only hurt a partner. For example, sharing how many lovers you’ve had previously and how good the sex was is in this category. Divulging such information could unnecessarily bruise your new partner. This is especially so if the partner has self-esteem issues.

What secrets should be shared?
It is essential to disclose family secrets or salient information about your past. To not share such information, only to have it discovered later, will feel like a bait and switch. This could cause your partner to question your veracity about everything. For example, a parent or grandparent’s mental illness, having terminated a pregnancy, and having filed for bankruptcy are pieces of information that must carefully be shared.

When do you open up and share? Before or after marriage?
Of course, it is always a risk to divulge any highly vulnerable material. And it should be shared before a couple marry. This allows both partners to decide whether or not they still want to be in the relationship in light of this disclosure. Just as the partner on the receiving end of the information gets to decide, the person sharing also has decisions to make based on the partner’s reaction. If, for example, an individual shares her decision to terminate a pregnancy and her partner flies into a rage and begins preaching hellfire and brimstone, that person won’t feel very safe for disclosing other sensitive information. Then this could severely compromise the relationship.

Do you wait to share a secret until you know you’re in a committed relationship?
Disclosing delicate information like a personal or family secret can become an avenue to strengthen the bond of already committed partners or facilitate their making a commitment.

If you are uncertain about how to manage a personal or family secret, feel free to call my office (888-546-1580) for a free consultation. I can help you decide how to proceed in everyone’s best interests.

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