Understand the difference between privacy and secrecy (DW#355)

One of the things that makes marriages vulnerable to infidelity is the keeping of secrets. Sometimes people try to rationalize the keeping of secrets by claiming the right to privacy but there are major differences between privacy and secrecy that we need to understand to protect the integrity of our relationships.

Privacy is the state of being unobserved, being free from public attention such as when you are changing your clothes or grooming yourself, for example. It comes from a sense of modesty or of having a need for personal boundaries and space. It is healthy to have privacy for oneself, even in a relationship. It is important for spouses to give each other privacy based on a sense of trust and respect.

Secrecy, on the other hand, is the act of keeping things hidden or of withholding information in order to mislead. This sometimes comes from a sense of fear – fear of being found out or of the other person’s reaction if they were to find out. People keep secrets because they believe that the cost of disclosing something is too high.

There are significant problems with keeping secrets from your spouse:

  • Withholding information takes energy and attention – energy and attention that you could invest in seeking intimacy with your spouse.
  • Secrets create a barrier between your spouse and yourself, creating emotional distance and eroding trust.
  • Keeping secrets usually involves information that your spouse would be expecting to be aware of – such as where you are, who you are with, what is the state of your finances etc. Keeping things such as these hidden creates a chasm that makes it difficult for a couple to feel close and truly connected. When secrets of this nature are discovered or revealed, they shake the underpinnings of a relationship and create feelings of betrayal, vulnerability and insecurity in one’s partner.
  • The damage caused by keeping secrets is compounded when it involves disclosing the information to a person other than your spouse.

To summarize, consider this quote:

"In marriage, secrets are as dangerous as lies. Marriage must be built on a foundation of total transparency and trust. You must prioritize trust and transparency in the marriage ahead of your own personal privacy. Unless you’re planning a surprise party or hiding a holiday gift, there are no places for secrets in marriage. Anytime you’re having a conversation, making a purchase, (making financial decisions) sending a text message, doing an internet search or doing anything else you hope your spouse never finds out about, your secrecy is actually an act of infidelity." (Dave Willis)

To keep our relationships strong, we need to understand the difference between privacy and secrecy and honestly answer the following question before keeping something from our spouses:

If the person I am keeping this information from knew the entire truth, would he or she be hurt or angry? If the answer is yes, then we are keeping a secret which WILL damage our relationship.

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