We hear it continually… “My husband says he needs his privacy.” …“My wife tells me that she should be allowed to have some things that are private, away from me.”
To that we say, yes, some privacy can be fine within marriage. But these spouses aren’t talking about privacy, they’re talking about secrecy. That’s a whole different issue.
“In marriage, secrets are as dangerous as lies. Marriage must be built on a foundation of total transparency and trust. You must prioritize trust and transparency in the marriage ahead of your own personal privacy. Unless you’re planning a surprise party or hiding a holiday gift, there are no places for secrets in marriage. Anytime you’re having a conversation, making a purchase, sending a text message, doing an internet search or doing anything else you hope your spouse never finds out about, your secrecy is actually an act of infidelity.” (Dave Willis)
We totally agree. And that is what we are talking about here—the difference between secrecy and privacy.
Privacy Vs Secrecy in Marriage
The following are a few quotes written by Dr Laura Schlessinger from her book, Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships, that might bring some clarity to this matter:
— “PRIVACY is something you ‘give’ someone out of respect. SECRECY is something you ‘withhold’ from one another.”
— “PRIVACY is when you want to go to the bathroom or pick your nose without your spouse looking —or try to buy them a gift without them knowing. SECRECY is when you feel guilty about something that you can’t tell your spouse.”
— “PRIVACY in marriage is your own personal space. In this, there is trust and respect. The other partner is aware of this space and respects it without intrusion. We all need a little private time to ourselves; otherwise we’d go nuts! SECRECY is destructive in marriage —it’s a lack of trust and respect. This is something the other partner is unaware of, and in essence, it’s a lie.
— PRIVACY is having some quality time or spiritual time alone. SECRECY in a marriage can be a form of deceit.”
— “PRIVACY is the withholding of info concerning yourself, the disclosure of which would be of no benefit to the partner, and which you don’t wish to share. SECRECY, on the other hand, is the withholding of info that may have an effect on the well being of the partner. This effect may be financial, spiritual, physical, or mental. PRIVACY is acceptable. SECRECY is not.”
Explanation of Secrecy
Below is another explanation of secrecy written by Jack in the article, Privacy Vs. Secrecy in a Marriage. (Jack had a “secret” affair. Since that time, he has worked to be open, and has changed his ways, which brought healing to his marriage.) Here’s an excerpt of some of what he has learned:
It is the act of keeping things hidden —that which is secret goes beyond merely private into hidden. While secrecy spills into privacy, not all privacy is secrecy. Secrecy stems from deliberately keeping something from others out of fear. Secrets consist of information that has potentially negative impact —emotionally, physically, or financially. The keeper of secrets believes that if they are revealed either accidentally or purposefully, the revelation may cause harm to the secret-keeper and those around him or her.
Some secrets seem small but slowly erode trust. Fear of a spouse’s reaction can cause us to begin to hide something that we purchased or to say that we were at the office when we were with friends. A distance will begin to grow between us, and our spouse, bit by bit… Other secrets can wreak havoc on the very foundation of a relationship. These secrets are actions, beliefs or parts of ourselves that we deliberately keep hidden out of fear of its impact. Affairs, drug and alcohol use, sexual orientation or fetishes are examples of secrets that could have disastrous consequences if discovered. Secrets of this nature erode trust and security and create a chasm that makes it difficult for a couple to feel close and truly connected.
A person who is holding secrets will begin to create a false persona that they will hide behind in order to keep the secret hidden. When secrets of this nature are discovered or revealed they shake the underpinnings of a relationship and create feelings of betrayal, vulnerability and insecurity in one’s partner.
Another Point of View
This explanation of the two is featured on the Affair care web site (at Affaircare.com) in the article, “Privacy Versus Secrecy – There IS a Difference”:
“PRIVACY is when you close the door when you’re getting dressed or going to the bathroom. To go to the dictionary, it’s the state of being free from public attention. But notice that it’s not a matter of ‘being who you’re not’ or in any way lying or hiding things…it’s just modesty. Privacy is a need for solitude and connection with the self. It’s a way in which a person can retain full control of one’s actions and ideas without responding to feedback from someone else…
“SECRECY is when you purposely cover, hide or keep something concealed in order to mislead. Again to go to the dictionary, it’s something that is kept or meant to be kept, unknown or unseen. So for secrecy you are deciding to keep something hidden and purposely cover the real truth… hiding things that one doesn’t want to be seen. Often, this isn’t innocent and the reason for secrecy is to prevent disapproval or conflict. One hides something in order to keep it going, even when one knows that there will be a problem if it is done openly.
There can be innocent things done secretly (planning surprise parties, self-improvement projects, gift-shopping, or even working out one’s issues). However, there is a problem any time that secrecy involves making another person an ally instead of your spouse. It’s also true any time that secrecy involves interacting with someone else in a way that would hurt your spouse. And any time that secrecy is done for the sake of concealing dishonesty, there is no doubt it’s a problem.
Secretly Hiding From the Truth
Again pertaining to this issue of secrecy, here is what Dr Laura Schlessinger writes:
“When there are sad and serious problems in a relationship, secrets are sometimes the means by which, people try to hide from that truth. Instead of facing the problems, getting help, trying to change, or realizing the sick futility of their predicament, people use the glue of secrets to shore up the dam. It ultimately doesn’t work.”
There IS a difference between giving each other space and grace in marriage, and withholding info that affects your partner. Whatever affects your partner should affect you, and visa versa. That’s how God designed marriage to be —“one for all and all for one.” In marriage, you are told in the Bible to cleave together “as one.” It is troublesome in a marriage to have secret cell phones, usernames and passwords. It’s also problematic when one spouse doesn’t tell the other when he or she meets up, or chats privately with someone else. Secrets are for single people —not for spouses.
In keeping with the vow you made, strive to be as open and upfront with your spouse as it is possible. There should be no room made for secrecy and hiding.
“People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
May the Lord bless you as you reveal and reflect the love of Christ within your marriage,
Cindy and Steve Wright
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18 responses to “Privacy Vs Secrecy in Marriage”
AMEN. Thank you very much and especially for the prayers. So resourceful and such a blessing. More grace to you and family in JESUS NAME AMEN
This would have been really helpful to show my spouse if there hadn’t been a bunch of religious stuff dumped at the end. He outright rejects anything preachy/religious so now the rest of the article is useless.
Sorry Helen. This is a Christian web site; we don’t apologize for pointing people to Christ. We do believe that the Lord can help us to put our priorities straight. I hope your husband is able to find help for this problem in the secular world because this can indeed hurt marriages, and we don’t want that for anyone. My/our best goes out to you.
Thank you. I am so happy that I am not the only one who thinks this way. I feel so relieved. Thank you for this website and teachings on these topics.
Thank you for this service.
Cindy and Steve Wright are well-meaning but I believe they have a rather simplistic view of marriage relationships. Their advice will no doubt be valuable for the average person, but not when one of the spouses has had a relatively simple, conservative and sheltered upbringing compared with the other spouse who has come into a Christian community after a long, complicated, traumatic and perhaps criminal personal history.
In such circumstances complete transparency demands too much from the relatively simple person and can bring unnecessary stress into the relationship. In such circumstances the spouse who has had a long, complicated and traumatic personal history will require a process of private counselling by an experienced psychologist to prepare him or her for personal growth and development in the marriage. I am not advocating dishonesty but it is prudent for both parties to keep focused on their current situation and ongoing relationship, rather than digging up the complicated past and expecting the other person to deal with everything he or she had no choice but to deal with.
Expecting the innocent person to churn, swallow and choke over water, which has passed under the other person’s bridge does not promote a simple, congenial, harmonious relationship.
We agree that for some spouses, it is important to dig into past events that are effecting their present situation. It is like digging infection out of a wound before it can truly heal. But other times, and actually more other times than not, it can be better to work with the current situation and apply the “what can we do from this day forward” approach. You have to prayerfully access the situation you have before you as to how to proceed when you are battling deeper issues. So actually, we agree with what you are saying here more than you realize.
But when it comes to privacy versus secrecy–those are two different situations. We’re not saying that you have to dig up past hurts to reveal every tiny thing… unless it is seeping into, and is hurting your marriage relationship because it was not properly dealt with in the first place. But if it isn’t, then this is something that you access with the Lord’s leading and decide from there.
But keeping secrets like texting, writing to, meeting with, or phoning people you shouldn’t, has nothing to do with privacy. Leading a double life when you are married, is not a privacy issue… it is a secrecy one. When you are married… those are secrets that you are keeping that is in conflict with your marriage vows. Some spouses claim that they have a “right” to privacy sometimes. And we agree. But when you are knit together by your marriage vows, the types of situations I describe above are secretive issues–not privacy issues.
I want to say though, that we really do appreciate that you took the time and effort to comment here. We agree on not digging up EVERYTHING about your past–unless it is hurting or could hurt your marriage relationship. That’s a whole different matter. Thank you for pointing this out. We are in agreement on that one. May God bless you and yours!
Depends on the subject:
1. Current or recent past: affairs, close “friends of opposite sex”, (which is bad for a marriage), big purchases without talking to spouse, late nights out drinking, bar, or ‘with friends’ (both husbands & wives, which is bad also), pornography, etc., yes, that needs to be discussed. We all fight issues, you are one step away from the same issue. That is why the Bible says to “Guard your heart with all diligence.” Do I? Not like I should, me & my wife confessed to each other something we were both guilty of.
2. Past things before you met, needs to stay buried.
I agree with Bob to leave behind what happened before meeting a marriage partner. If we were all mature saints then revealing all our past traumatic history and faults would be great. Our Heavenly Father forgives and forgets but most Christians and most other people are not capable of that. Unfortunately the past does not leave us behind and causes complications in later stages of our lives.
Therefore, as a psychologist, I repeat that someone who has had a long, complicated and traumatic personal history will require a process of private counselling by an experienced psychologist to support him or her for personal growth and development in marriage to someone with a conservative, sheltered and uncomplicated upbringing.
Yes, like we say in the south, ‘sometimes you need to keep your mouth shut’ about things before you met your spouse.
That might be true in some situations, but if it presently affects your spouse, it could be best to find a way to say it. We’ve seen repeatedly that many spouses who were abused earlier in life hurt their spouse later in life–not always, but most often. If they haven’t dealt with it fully, that is the tendency. It’s the principle of “hurt people hurt people.” They project upon their spouse certain behaviors that this spouse never deserved. Plus, past actions can haunt present ones.
I did this to my husband for a number of years. I was hurt by two different male family members earlier in life. Those memories eventually effected the way I treated my husband and also judged his (innocent) motives. It was so unfair to him. But I didn’t know how to handle things any other way. I justified my actions and thoughts. However, being open and honest, and then getting help for these earlier hurts, helped us both get past my past. We are now closer than ever. And the freedom we both are experiencing is priceless. But I/we needed to work through those past hurts to get to that place.
And I know of many, many other spouses where this has been true. Yes, some things don’t have to be divulged. But others are important to bring out into the light because they get worse as long as it is kept in the darkness. The victimized spouse needs to ask God for wisdom on what applies to their situation. … Just sharing what we’ve observed.
Good point Cindy, People who were hurt in the past are over-sensitive and unfairly blame their new spouse. However, some secrets bring unnecessary stress into relationships when these are revealed. Take an ex-prostitute and drug addict who has left her past life as example. She will not easily find love and acceptance from a naïve, Christian potential husband if she is honest and transparent up front. He might feel distraught and seriously abused by her if she reveals her past life later in married life. She might find an ex-gangster and drug addict to marry but that is very rare in Christian circles and then sharing secrets is no problem.
You guys are correct, Tired, you said: “However, some secrets bring unnecessary stress into relationships when these are revealed.” Yes, these may need to be discussed before relationship progresses. I personally asked my wife a few questions when we were dating that I wished I had not. Cindy you said: “spouses who were abused earlier in life” yes. My wife was previously married to a guy who regularly beat her. Bruises, concussion, etc. Really sad. She occasionally has flashbacks, I am always careful with words, what we watch on TV. We have been married 38 years next month, it still bothers me. She is a beautiful woman and did not deserve it. But I needed to know it.
Some husbands who bully their wives are emotionally insecure, have low self-esteem and are provoked by women who criticize, blame and taunt them. These men abuse the women who verbally and emotionally abuse them. Many abused women are also emotionally insecure with low self-esteem and feel they deserve to be punished by their male partners. Verbal abuse which provokes physical abuse in such reciprocated interaction gives these couples a strange sense of bonding because they have an unconscious fear of rejection and loneliness.
This is not always helpful: “Strive to be as open and upfront with your spouse as it is possible. There should be no room made for secrecy and hiding.”
MY COMMENT: Relationships often become strained when individual personal needs, priorities and expectations are in conflict. Then marriage counselors usually advise better communication and transparency to facilitate resolution of conflicts. However, in practice, better communication and transparency merely clarifies conflicting needs, priorities and expectations.
Communication can be pursued to expose hidden feelings and motives involved in the conflict but that does not eliminate the problem. Instead marriage counselors should listen and recognize hidden feelings and motives and then help couples in conflict to focus on long term consequences, priorities and benefits of their marriage. They should help couples to think ahead realistically, take stock of costs and benefits, to appreciate that the grass is not greener on the other side and that divorce and marriage to another partner will usually inevitably repeat the same problems of the current relationship.
Counselors should lead couples in conflict to new insights. They should lead couples to realize that divorce and remarriage is not really the solution. Indeed, another marriage will bring another set of challenges and problems and usually leave emotionally immature adults still emotionally immature. They should encourage couples to start practicing critical, self-examination, empathy, give-and-take, compromise, patience and self-sacrifice as central features of marriage and essential for preserving harmony and goodwill.
You said: “Strive to be as open and upfront with your spouse as it is possible.” Yes, you are correct. But we as married couples have to be able to overlook things and not nit-pick our spouses to death with menial issues, like where they squeeze the toothpaste or that they put coffee cups on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher. Marriages fail because they picked out every little thing that the spouse did that they did not like.
Nit-picking and petty fault finding is a symptom of marriage in the early stage of conflict. When someone feels the other person no longer gives as much as they take from the relationship, they feel deprived of rewards they expect for being in the marriage. As compensation they feel justified in picking out small acts they disliked but previously over-looked and then adjusting their reaction in a manner which suits them and irritates their spouse.
It is a subtle, unconscious attempt to get even. The unconscious mind says: “He no longer shows all the love, appreciation, care, and empathy I feel I deserve. I am disappointed and feel deprived, therefore I want him to do things my way to suit me and make me feel good again.”
We do not consciously say things like that to ourselves, but in fact that is the unconscious reasoning which motivates nit-picking and petty fault finding. It provides a sense of self-affirmation to someone who feels less respected than previously assumed.