The Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy

While some people can easily recognise as open books, others must be pryed open to go past chapter one. In a romantic relationship, where you draw that line is a personal choice, but ask yourself: Why do you keep some information close to your chest? Because the boundary between privacy and secrecy is so thin, drawing a clear border between the two can assist you and your spouse avoid crossing it.

“It’s likely an example of keeping privacy if you’re not exposing anything because you don’t want to,” says psychologist Amy Morin, LCSW, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. “It’s probably secrecy if you’re not exposing something because you’re afraid of the consequences.”

While infidelity (or anything that comes close) is perhaps the most obvious example of a damaging piece of information to withhold from a partner, a variety of other situations could qualify as damaging pieces of information to withhold from a partner—like workplace mishaps that could jeopardise your job, negative encounters with their friends, or any failure to uphold your end of the bargain. According to therapist Hatty J. Lee, LMFT, author of The Indwell Guide, if you’re not disclosing one of these things because you’re afraid of the harm it can cause if it’s revealed, you’re most likely concealing a secret rather than simply maintaining a sense of solitude.

How to tell if you’re concealing a secret or protecting your privacy:

To begin, examine how much effort you’re putting in to hide whatever it is you’re hiding from your partner. “Secrets have a tendency to govern our lives,” Morin explains. “You’re probably going to spend a lot of time trying to cover them up or hide them.” Changing your regular routine, hiding evidence, or enlisting the help of friends or family members to keep your partner in the dark are all red flags of secret-keeping.

“Our lives are ruled by secrets. You’re probably going to spend a lot of time trying to cover them up or hide them.” —LCSW Amy Morin

According to Lee, you should also do some introspection to uncover any underlying emotions that are motivating your conduct. “Do you think it’s worry and fear?” Is your behaviour endangering your relationship? Has it caused you and your partner to grow apart or become estranged? Then I’m inclined to suspect you’re concealing something,” she replies.

On the other hand, if your sentiments about your concealment don’t have a negative connotation, you might be in the privacy zone. “Do you have a sense of calm or acceptance of your needs and desires? Is your behaviour centred on respecting your own boundaries? Then I’m inclined to believe you’re respecting your own privacy,” Lee says.

Why it’s important to know the difference between secrecy and privacy in a relationship:

While concealment can be detrimental to a relationship, privacy is not only beneficial but essential. “People frequently believe that in order to have intimacy or closeness, you must share everything,” Lee says. “However, I advise my clients to listen to their bodies and assess whether they feel secure or comfortable exposing whatever it is they’re about to reveal,” Lee says.

Creating and clarifying boundaries around what you want to communicate might also help you predict tense situations. Consider whether you’d like your phone to be off-limits to your spouse; if you’d like to keep chats with your pals private; and whether you anticipate them to knock on a closed door.

Having these kinds of boundary discussions up front can help prevent one spouse from feeling boxed in or jumping to conclusions when the other partner is concerned about their privacy. “In that situation, make it obvious that you’re only protecting your privacy by stating something like, ‘I’m just a private person, so I hope you don’t take it personally that I’m not sharing this with you right now.’ Alternatively, ‘I will reveal more when I am ready.’”

Once that foundation has been set, it’s critical not to misuse it in order to keep a secret, which is defined as anything that could harm your partner if revealed now or in the future. Although the extent of the secret will be proportional to the potential for harm, any level of concealment can erode the trust you’ve developed, leading to disconnection and distance, according to Lee.

Because trust is what allows for vulnerability, as it erodes, you and your partner may be less willing to confide in each other, leading to a snowball effect of increased secrecy and decreased intimacy. That is why it is critical to avoid misrepresenting privacy as secrecy and to avoid the latter entirely. Not only may secrets injure a spouse, but the time and energy it takes to keep them hidden is time lost, according to Morin. And it’s time you could be better spending on strengthening or building your relationship’s foundations.

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