According to a 2018 study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people on average keep around 13 secrets at a time, five of which have never been revealed to anyone.
It’s worth mentioning that individuals should maintain their right to privacy, even within relationships—as long as the topic that they’re keeping private doesn’t negatively affect their partner. Otherwise, secrets (even the tiniest ones) can hurt relationships over time.
The researchers of the aforementioned study, psychologists Michael Slepian, Nir Halevy, and Adam Galinsky, found a correlation between carrying secrets and a negative sense of well-being, which can have a serious impact on the way partners interact with each other.
People keep secrets for a myriad of reasons. They might be fearful that their partners will reject them if they discover the truth, or that they will feel embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, or criminalized. However, not revealing secrets means that the relationship is already suffering from restricted emotional communication and continuing deceit.
Still not convinced? Here are five reasons to let go of fear and embrace truth.
Secrets create a barrier to connecting
It’s difficult to truly connect with someone when you’re not being 100 percent authentic. In the study, the psychologists noticed that secret-keepers generally felt less satisfied in life, and were more likely to be fatigued, lonely, sad, and hostile.
Secrets fuel an atmosphere of mistrust in a relationship
When trust has been severed, the process of rebuilding it is challenging, because feelings of resentment and suspicion are difficult to overcome. The deceived partner will probably need constant reassurance that there are no other secrets, or that the secret-keeping behavior won’t continue.
Secrets impede the ability to communicate naturally
When people are hiding something, they impede communication between them and those closest to them. A lot of overthinking is involved to ensure that the secret isn’t revealed, and this fear can be overwhelming. This could also lead to frustration and confusion on the deceived partner’s side as to why conversations feel stilted.
Deceit begets deceit
Deceit has a funny way of eroding the foundation of a partnership. If this erosion isn’t addressed, then the original deceit only deepens, especially if the secret-keeper feels emboldened by their success at keeping secrets in the first place, encouraging them to continue the behavior.
You can become physically sick
Internalizing deceptions can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame, and stress, which can induce headaches, digestive issues, and sleep problems.
Breaking the pattern of keeping secrets
To break the pattern of secret-keeping, it’s of utmost importance to not act impulsively, especially if you’re sharing a significant secret. The revelation of the secret may be jarring to your partner (and yourself), so it’s crucial that you carefully evaluate a number of factors, such as timing, location, mood, and the mental and emotional state of your partner.
If the secret is inherently distressing for your relationship (such as infidelity or bankruptcy), then you may want to invite a non-partial third-party present like a couple’s counselor or therapist. Then, remember to be straightforward, kind, and compassionate.
Slepian, Halevy, and Galinsky’s research demonstrated that those who choose to unburden themselves of their secrets ended up feeling happier and more authentic while boosting the intimacy of their relationships.
Remember—being transparent, honest, and forgiving, are not just good for your relationship, but for your own personal wellbeing. Even if your partner does not respond well, the fact that you are owning your truth will have an extremely positive effect on your physical and mental health and will hopefully encourage more honesty in future relationships with your partner, friends, family, and loved ones.
Source study: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin – The solitude of secrecy: thinking about secrets evokes goal conflict and feelings of fatigue