Honesty is the best policy—most of the time. We all keep the occasional secret from our partners, often to avoid an argument or spare their feelings. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him, right? The short answer: It depends.
We talked to Linda Reid, a registered clinical counsellor in Nanaimo, B.C., who specializes in couples and families, about when it’s okay to keep secrets from your spouse—and when doing so could mean your relationship is headed for trouble.
The secret: Staying in touch with your ex online
Out of curiosity, you look him up on Facebook. An innocent “poke” leads to a message…and now you’ve friended each other and are flirting up a storm. It’s harmless, you think—you’d never take it further. But this behaviour is “almost always a no,” says Reid. Partners who discover the flirting usually feel hurt, deceived and betrayed. “He’s going to wonder ‘Why is this a secret? If it’s innocent, then presumably you’d be able to talk to me about it,’” she says. “There will probably be consequences in the form of judgment or argument or hurt.” Better to bring it out into the open and discuss how he feels about your keeping in touch with a former flame.
The secret: Hiding your shopping purchases
You just had to buy those charming silver ballet flats—they fit perfectly and you swear you heard them call your name. But you know what your husband will say: “Don’t you have another pair exactly like those?” (The fact that the other pair is black won’t matter much.) So you tuck the box into your closet and wait a while before wearing them. No biggie, right? It depends on the larger context, says Reid. Go ahead and buy shoes if it makes you happy but think about why you’re concealing it—are you dipping into shared money? Is shoe shopping a compulsion that you’re struggling with? The occasional splurge is fine, but you should seek help if it’s out of control.
The secret: Late-night snacking
It might seem innocuous, but before you reach for the Gouda and crackers think about why you’re munching on the sly. If doing so makes you feel ashamed, you need to stop indulging, says Reid. “Enlist some help to manage that behaviour and understand where it comes from.” (If you’re snacking because you’re hungry, adjust your eating habits to avoid cravings.)
The secret: Expensive beauty treatments
Once in a while, you slink off to a spa to indulge in a facial or get a hit of Botox. Does your hubby need to know? Reid thinks beauty treatments are okay to keep to yourself as long as you’re not blowing your household budget on them. “The key point is: Does it make you feel better? I don’t mean a false self-esteem boost, but as part of self-care. Women are entitled to use beauty aids—we have for millennia.” If you can’t shake a negative self-image, however, consider talking to a therapist.
The secret: You can’t stand your in-laws
You dread seeing your husband’s family—they’ve never really warmed up to you, and you’re tired of trying to win them over. He’d feel hurt if he knew, so you stew quietly. You’ve got to tell him, says Reid. Pretending everything is fine will eat at you, and besides, you may already be conveying your feelings unconsciously. Most communication is non-verbal, she points out. “If the secret is going to become obvious imminently, why continue to act in an inauthentic way?”
The secret: Hiding debt
This is a no-no. Legally speaking, your partner could be partly liable for the money you owe, so it’s unfair to rack up debts without his knowledge. Hiding debt may also indicate deeper issues, such as compulsive spending. “The potential for a toxic element coming into the relationship is greater with something like hidden debt than hiding shoe purchases,” says Reid. “Hiding debt has some pretty serious repercussions in terms of trust and accountability.” Come clean about it to your husband, and if you can’t resolve it together, consider seeking help in the form of credit counselling or marriage coaching.
The secret: Fantasizing about other guys
Go ahead, imagine yourself shagging Clive or Jude or that fella you saw at Whole Foods—it’s your little secret. “We’re entitled to our own internal fantasies,” says Reid. “It’s okay if you’re not acting on it.” But if you’re constantly lusting after someone specific—an ex-lover or maybe a co-worker—that could mean you’re dissatisfied with your current relationship. “I’d have to do an assessment of a couple and see what else is going on,” says Reid. “If there are secrets showing up in a number of places, then clearly there’s a problem.”