Secrets kill a relationship. There is no way around it. Secrets kill a relationship. To clarify for this post, “secrets” is not referring to a surprise birthday party, keeping a trip with your mate spontaneous, or other things that bring joy and surprise while mutually enhancing the covenant marriage relationship. The secrets that I am referring to are things meant to distract your spouse from your intentional choices that would prove harmful to the marriage, hiding things to manipulate your mate or give yourself a sense of control or superiority over your mate, and/or rejecting the one-flesh concept of marriage by keeping yourself walled off from your spouse.
In the short term, keeping secrets often seems easier. Just omit a little bit of the truth. Engage in some careful misdirection. If necessary, be adamant about your “rights” and throw in a little guilt for good measure. “But, I have a right to my privacy. I don’t know why you are making such a big deal out of this.”
Privacy and secrets are not the same thing. There is a stark difference between privacy for the sake of time with your own thoughts for meaningful self-reflection, rest, and recover, and repentance (or even privacy for basic dignity), and secrecy that is meant to hide something from your spouse. When secrets enter into a marriage relationship, several things happen.
- We allow our mate’s imagination to go to dark places. “You are not allowed to look in this drawer.” “You don’t need the password to my phone, now quit asking!” When you tell your mate that some aspect of your life is off limits, you destroy trust in all areas of the relationship. And—whether your mate’s suspicions are true or not—one thought leads to another, and then to another, as his/her imagination flows freely through the cracks of mistrust. “If you're hiding this from me, what else are you hiding?” becomes a common thought.
- You deprioritize your spouse as keeping the secret becomes more important than the relationship. “You don’t have a right to know.” “Why do you have to keep harping on me about this? It’s none of your business.” What does it say to your spouse when you shut him/her out? What does it say about your covenant promises to cherish him/her above all else? Secrets clearly communicate that you hold something else as more important than your marriage relationship.
- Secrets perpetuate lies. In order to maintain secrets, one lie leads to another, and then to another, and then to another. Once a person begins down the path of destructive secrecy, you constantly have to be thinking about how to cover up every deception with misdirection. “If she searches the history on the computer, I’ll remind her that it sits on my desk at work and is accessible by anyone.” “If he notices money is missing from the account, I’ll say I had some unexpected work expenses.”
- Secrets create an environment that invites more secrets. As strange as it seems, we sometimes feel justified in doing back to others the very thing that hurts us. Once a husband or wife begins keeping secrets, it is easy for the other to respond by doing the same. “Well if I can’t know about X, then I have the right to go out and do Y and never tell you about it.” Walls are quickly built up, and secrets cause spouses to grow further and further apart.
So how do we keep secrets from destroying our marriages?
- No restricted technology. All computers, websites, mobile devices, social media, passcodes and passwords, etc. should be easily accessible to both partners. “I don’t want to know his/her passcode because he/she has a right to his/her privacy,” should be a foreign language to you. It should be as if the other person is talking gibberish when saying such things.
- Full truth, even if it hurts. The truth might hurt, but it is better to endure short-term pain and ask for forgiveness and grace than it is to suffer through the long-term pain you and your spouse will both endure if he/she has to wade through a sea of lies.
- Share information before you are asked for it. It is always easy to assume that if your mate wants to know something he/she will ask, but don’t wait for an invitation to share information. Consistent, healthy, loving, forgiving Christ-centered communication eradicates destructive secrets. Check in with your mate regularly, and freely share. It is much harder for information to become destructive if it is never given a chance to get rooted in secrecy.