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Relationships

Is it OK for couples to have secrets?

When it comes to having a healthy and successful relationship, is honesty the best policy, or are there some things we really should keep to ourselves?

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius
1 Dec 2011 | 12:00 am
  • Couple arguing

    "Trust and secrets cannot exist side by side,and so there's no space for secrets," says Aquarius Editor Kate Birch.

    Source:Gulf News Archived

YES

Louisa Wilkins, divorced and currently single

Believing that couples shouldn't keep secrets from each other is like believing in Santa. You cling on to it because it makes you feel cosy and safe, but deep down you know it is an unrealistic ideal.

Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The Lighthouse Arabia (www.lighthousearabia.com), says that although couples should strive for transparency, there are instances when secrets are OK. She says, "If someone tells you something in confidence, you absolutely should not tell your partner, or anyone else. Also, although you shouldn't lie about your past, it's fair to say you don't have to share everything either."

Another area that deserves a degree of privacy is finances. Whether women are earning or not, they deserve access to money that can be spent without fear of reprimand or inquisition; a birthday pressie for the hubbie doesn't feel like a gift if it shows up on his bank statement.

And would total honesty be good anyway? What good would it do to tell your partner that you find his brother attractive? Or, for your partner to tell you that he really doesn't like it that you've put on weight?

Some people keep secrets from their partner because they are ashamed (of a spending habit, for example), others because their behaviour goes against the convention of marriage (such as an affair) - neither are condonable. However, if a secret's truth would not harm the relationship, where's the harm in keeping it to yourself? Iris Krasnow, author of The Secret Lives of Wives (Gotham Books), interviewed 200 wives about their relationships. She says, "A secret is different than a lie. We all have secrets. People dye their hair, get plastic surgery, wear Spanx. I think secrets are healthy..."

To say that couples shouldn't have any secrets implies a state of total divulgence - access to text messages, Facebook, bank statements, childhood diaries, therapy session disclosures and the like. Agreed, there's no reason why this should cause a problem if you have nothing to hide, but why would anyone want that much access in the first place? Dr Afridi says, "People need to ask themselves, why is there a need for secrecy? Is there a lack of safety, or acceptance, in the relationship? And why does the partner want to know so much?" In this light, what is professed to be a desire for honesty starts to look more like a need for control mixed with a large measure of distrust.

Josef Fritzl and Tiger Woods aside, everyone is entitled to privacy and independence. One plus one cannot make one. Dr Afridi says, "People need to think about their relationship as having three different entities... you, me and us. It's OK for couples not to have full disclosure of every moment in their lives. If, at the end of the day, you can look in the mirror and feel good about your secret, then you are OK."

NO

Kate Birch, divorced and now remarried

Couples shouldn't have secrets, with one exception: when it's a nice surprise. In fact, I'm such a stickler for banishing secrets, I often bully my husband into telling me his secret surprises. Luckily, he doesn't mind telling me. Or so he says.

And that's the problem with secrets - the moment you doubt anything about your partner, you're on a slippery slope where you don't believe anything. It's about trust.

"Trust is essential for the most basic of relationships," says Dr Jared Alden, psychotherapist at German Neuroscience Center in Dubai. "We must trust our partner. Without trust, relationships don't function."

For me, trust and secrets cannot exist side by side, and so there's no space for secrets. You will have noticed I haven't mentioned lies, but isn't a secret just an undiscovered lie? If you have a secret from someone, you're not telling the truth. For me, that's lying. But then maybe I'm being extreme.

"I have my own thoughts and feelings and not all are shared with everyone," says Dr Alden. "It's important that your partner knows your intentions and feelings, but it's not important they know what you think about their mother."

OK, doctor, so maybe I have a black-and-white view on secrets. But I refuse to have any grey areas on this matter, as I believe secrets create suspicion and distance. Lack of secrecy is not a bad thing. You can still have space and individuality in a relationship - a couple is still two people, after all. Not having secrets doesn't have to be the equivalent of going to the toilet with the bathroom door open, it's just telling the person you love when you need to go.

And people who argue that couples can have secrets because the other person doesn't need to know, like about ex-girlfriends, are missing the point. These experiences have shaped the person you're with, and made them what they are today. Good or bad, you should know those things.

"When someone betrays our trust, we are forced to look at what trust means to us," says Dr Alden. "Not only does a betrayal affect our sense of doubt with that person but it tends to have a global effect on our trust in general.

"Human nature dictates that we will create the worst story in the absence of truth. Carrying that burden will destroy the working relationship between two people quicker than disease or economic misfortune."

Having secrets kept from you is bad enough, but surely not as bad as keeping them yourself. I've had girlfriends who have gone crazy keeping secrets: it starts small and spirals out of control. They go so far down the road that they end up living the lies they've created to keep the secret intact.

"Secrets are heavy and we all get tired of carrying them around," admits Dr Alden. "It is only a matter of time before we drop them. Constant monitoring and checking only makes the burden heavier." And that's why I don't think secrets are good in a relationship. Honestly.

What you say

"It depends on the secret and the time of occurrence. Was it before marriage or after? Some secrets must always stay as secrets and some must be revealed."
- Aquarius Facebook fan Elahe Sadeghi

"A BIG NO! As a couple you should maintain a healthy and transparent relationship with each other for a happy, long-lasting relationship. Secrets are always the gateway to misunderstandings, distrust and suspicions, which eventually ruin even the best of relationships." 
- Aquarius Facebook fan Seema Shelatr 

"For secrets that are ghosts from the past and have no relevance to your present, or future, what you don't know will not hurt you. A secret told honestly and innocently may, or may not, wreak havoc on your current happy life. So its better to be safe than sorry."  
  - Aquarius Facebook fan Sabs Siddiqui

Next month's debate: Is it OK to put your child on a diet?  To voice your view log on to www.facebook.com/AquariusMagazine.

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius