Everyone keeps secrets. They sit with us, like stones in our pockets. Some weigh us down. Others just exist. All are present. In fact, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people keep 13 of them on average. The most common secrets are sexual in nature, researchers found: either having to do with behavior or having romantic thoughts about someone outside of the confines of your primary relationship. But all secrets, big and small, have a profound effect on you and your marriage whether you notice it or not.
Secrets in relationships common. But a body of research suggests they can negatively affect mental and even physical health. Secrets become a problem because people’s minds tend to often wander to the secrets they’re keeping, which can lead to a reduced sense of well-being, concluded researchers.
Another study suggested that keeping secrets from a partner makes him or her less trustful of the secret-keeper, which creates a cycle that ultimately damages the relationship. Concealing negative personal information lowered subjects’ tolerance of pain.
Other researchers found that “important, unhappy” secrets had negative effects on health and tended to cause more shame and guilt than revealing them did. Yet another study suggested that unloading secrets seems to help people to stop stewing about the secret and increases the self-esteem of the revealer but only when they got a positive response from the person who heard it.
Scientists are fascinated by secrets. It would be a mistake, however, to oversimplify the research findings and assume secrets always cause harm and revealing them always makes things better.
Most people, however, are honest because of one thing: fear.
It’s difficult to generalize about the body of research that secrets are bad for you. Many of the studies were small in scale and involved artificial situations.
For example, take the study concluding that revealing secrets made people feel better as long as they weren’t judged harshly for what they told. It’s just as likely that the study revealed subjects’ gravitation toward people who would tell them what they wanted to hear as it reflected a cathartic effect from revealing a secret to just anyone.
If you’re cheating on your wife, for example, it might be helpful to vocalize it, but you’re probably going to choose a person to tell who will align with you, not the friend across the country who goes to church every Sunday and has had one sexual partner his entire life.
There’s enough evidence to conclude, however, that, for a significant number of people, secrets can cause stress and anxiety and affect the health of relationships.
At the most basic level, we’re about survival, and by connecting with people on a primal level, we improve our chances of survival. When we keep secrets or are being deceptive because we think we’ll be rejected by people, it increases the body’s insulin and cortisol, can create heart palpitations and affect the brain.
These effects heavily depend upon the individual, however, if lying to a partner or hiding something damaging doesn’t make a person anxious, they’re not going to experience those signs of physiological stress.
Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists, for example, won’t be bothered in the slightest by lying to others or hiding things. However, if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and have a secret, you might want to keep it to yourself. Revealing secrets to narcissists only gives them more ammunition to degrade you, which really goes back to the quality of a relationship.
Although how well you can emotionally handle secrets does have to do with your sense of morality and empathy for other people, it’s not cut and dry.
Highly moralistic people will find it torturous to hold onto a secret, and for them, it can lead to IBS, anxiety, and chest pains. The reality is that people cheat all over the place and are dishonest.”
It’s “a lovely benchmark” to assume that most people will suffer negative effects when they’re not honest with their partners about serious things they might be hiding, such as cheating, a gambling or drug problem, bad investments, losing a job, or criminal behavior.
Even if you’re never caught in a lie and don’t feel anxious about the secrets you’re keeping from your partner, marriages can suffer slow and subtle negative effects due to secrets and lying. For one example the mind-wandering aspect of secrets undeniably saps attention from your primary relationship.
Or, say you had a fling with a co-worker that your wife doesn’t know about, and you’re suddenly struggling to explain your desire to avoid work events or why you want a new job when your career had been going so well. Your wife might be confused or suspicious and therefore trust you less, or if she believes your explanations, you might feel like a jerk, which also could increase the distance between you. In addition, if you’re cheating and your partner thinks she’s in a faithful and monogamous relationship, you’re robbing her of her free will to make informed decisions about your relationship.
The index is if there’s guilt and shame involved, that’s taking up your mental energy.
Having secrets saps mental energy and does tend to wear on most people over time.
When asked what they regretted most, the number one answer from long term couples was that they weren’t able to be fully honest with their partners.
Meeting things head on is almost always universally better. If it’s something you can live with and you don’t value the other person knowing the truth, it’s up to you. But you might have to take a risk. If it matters to you to be completely honest, you have to find a way to tell the truth.
Truthfulness does appear to be a major factor in keeping couples happy in the long term. In interviews with older people, couples cited honesty and open communication as the two most important elements of a successful, lasting relationship. When asked what they regretted most, the number one answer was that they weren’t able to be fully honest with their partners.
But it’s also true that the risks of revealing secrets can be real and devastating so should be considered carefully. Porn habits are surprisingly common deal breakers in many relationships,. A husband revealing past homosexual experiences also has proved to be too much for some wives to handle. Telling a partner about a history of sex abuse might not be helpful if a partner isn’t equipped to handle the information and be supportive.
It’s really sad when someone opens up and their partner rejects them. Hopefully, your partner sees value in sharing secrets that deal with authenticity, difficult experiences, and/or learning from mistakes. If revealing a secret to your partner causes them to reject you then it may not be a good-quality relationship in the first place.
Many people decide to reveal a secret such as cheating to move forward in a relationship, despite the risks.
However honesty isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Researchers found that those who were 65 and older and grew up in a time when people weren’t as honest about sexual behavior and desires, for example, often had to learn how to do. But when they reflected on what makes for strong relationships, honesty topped the list.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.