Is It Ever Okay to Keep Secrets From Your Spouse?

Category: Weekly Columns

Is it ever okay to keep a secret from your spouse?  If so, what secrets are okay and which are not?  I would suggest there are times where a so-called “white lie” is a good thing while most of the time honesty is truly the best policy.

An example of a good “white lie” is the ubiquitous situation in which a wife asks her husband, “Am I looking fat?” or “How do I look in this dress?”  We men know there’s only one answer, really: “You look great, Honey,” or some version of that.

Yes, that is funny, but many life situations are not.  Blended families pose their own unique challenges, especially when both partners bring children to that blend.  Children naturally feel closer to their biological parent. Sometimes a biological child in a blended family will want to tell his or her mother or father something without it being revealed to their stepparent. I think this is an example of when keeping a secret may be okay.

I posed this general question about keeping secrets on my Facebook page and here are samples of the considerable number of responses:

— It depends on the secret, but in general I believe that spouses should not keep secrets; this is your soul mate and best friend…
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” Proverbs 11:13
— Before analyzing the secrets we keep from others, it all begins with the secrets we keep from ourselves.
— Lies are usually born of pride and/or fear and there should be no pride or fear in love…
— As far as blended families…biology has the first allegiance I feel, unless the kids were raised as infants or toddlers. Not many steps agree with this, but blood carries weight.
— Spouses shouldn’t keep secrets, however, we are all “flawed” humans, and that is where the shades of gray come in.
— As women, we just need to vent sometimes and I have realized that occasionally–just depends on what it is–that it actually frustrates him because men are “fixers” and we don’t always want to fix the problem, we just need to share it–get it off our chest.
–I divide lies into white lies and black lies. White lies are for the protection of others (like focusing on positive aspects, praise, reassurance) while black lies protect me from all the awful things I’ve done (like I was unfaithful) and I should just fess up and take the punishment.

It’s clear that this issue is incendiary and provokes strong feelings and reactions from both men and women.  I expect to get blasted for this next generality, but I believe women want “no secrets” withheld, more than men do.  My unscientific “A Dad’s Point-of-View” gender-poll at the gym got instant responses from the women that no secrets should be withheld, while the men were more reflective or replied, “it depends.”

When I delved into it further with the women, they too would say that they needed to think about it some more.  The example of blended families and children feeling more comfortable opening up to their biological parent and asking that it be kept from their step-parent, usually got an “I’ll have to think about that” from these moms.

When secrets are mentioned, the first thing most people think of is infidelity, which I will also assert may not always be a black and white issue.  Again, most women said they wanted to know, while most men were less sure and thought it may depend on circumstances.  Rather than delve into what might be an acceptable circumstance to keep an indiscretion a secret, I will leave that for you to ponder. Just by using the word “indiscretion,” I know I’m implying there may be situations where it may be better to keep it a secret.

Okay, I can’t fully resist so I’ll share a hypothetical example.  Which would you prefer?  For your spouse to have a weekly, intimate, lunch with a co-worker and share their deepest feelings and thoughts (that him or here was not sharing with you) or for your spouse to have a one-night sexual liaison while away on business?

What if the spouse now reveals this secret?  And, what if the partner just wouldn’t or couldn’t forgive the cheating incident?  A divorce may follow.  Untold pain and financial burdens accompany that process.  And the children are now split from a whole family.  Was it worth the truth in that case?

Finally, what about things that happened before we were married?  Are we obligated to reveal any and every shameful incident from our past?  What good would it do?  Is it relevant?  For instance, any health-related past that might affect our partner or our children I believe should and must be disclosed.  But, does everything we may have done and possibly regretted really have to be told?

By now, it’s clear that my position is a nuanced one. I also skirted any and all religious values and approached these situations in a truly secular manner.  In no way do I want to imply that such religious values are invalid and, frankly, I believe a religious foundation more often serves all of us best. Honesty is usually the best policy, but life is complicated and sometimes, maybe it’s best to keep some things secret.