If there’s something in your past you haven’t revealed to your partner, it may seem like it’s not that important. Especially if you’ve made it from dating to engagement or even marriage without telling them. However, keeping secrets, even little ones, can erode the foundation of an otherwise strong relationship.
Why Does It Matter?
Healthy relationships are built on mutual trust. That means that each partner has committed themselves to honesty because you cannot build trust without it.
When people get into relationships, they typically begin building trust by being honest in their present dealings with their new partners. As time goes on, they begin sharing past details of their lives, increasing the amount of things they share as trust in the relationship builds.
Being honest about your past and present behavior, thoughts, and experiences is an opportunity for your partner to know you intimately. It gives them a context for knowing who you really are and all the complexities that make up your personality. This intimate knowledge of each other provides the basis for a fun-loving friendship and deeply satisfying physical intimacy.
Where Do You Start?
After trust has been established, sharing your most personal thoughts and experiences should come over time. As your relationship develops, there will be many opportunities to let your partner know more about you. Taking advantage of these opportunities, either in the moment or soon after, will establish a pattern of openness that will benefit your relationship in the future.
If you haven’t grown up in a family that had good communication skills, this may be challenging for you. You may feel that your past is irrelevant to your present relationship or that your thoughts and feelings are better kept to yourself. If that’s the case, consider the quality of the relationships you’ve seen that were devoid of openness and honesty. Are you comfortable repeating those patterns and experiencing similar consequences?
Many people can point to a couple who’ve been together for years, but they don’t have a relationship marked by joy and camaraderie. The couple stays together, but they don’t seem to enjoy each other or derive a lot of pleasure out of their marriage. Deciding not to divorce or living separate lives may keep you celebrating wedding anniversaries, but if you want something more than that in your relationship, growing in openness and honesty will be essential.
If you’d like to pursue a relationship with your partner that has a deeper level of sharing, it’s not impossible to expand the way you were taught to communicate. It will take effort on your part, but you can grow in this area if you’re willing to try.
What About the Bad Stuff?
It’s always easier to share your successes and the fun parts of your history than it is to talk about your losses, grief, and failures. Part of the reason we choose our partners is because they see us as special and amazing, and they chose us out of a sea of potential mates.
It’s scary to think of tarnishing their view of us by letting them know the less-than-wonderful things we’ve thought or done. That’s why secrecy is so appealing; the risk of losing our partner’s favor is more threatening than the perceived value of being open and honest.
However, the problem with secrecy is that it doesn’t stay in one area of our lives. As multi-dimensional and complex beings, small habits in one area of our life tend to flow over into other parts of our lives. Tightly-guarded secrets create a defensive layer in our personality. To protect them, we must keep our partner away from that part of ourselves.
What About the Really Bad Stuff?
When we allow ourselves to keep secrets from our partners, we’re essentially saying that they don’t have access to our whole selves. They can only know, love, and commit to part of us. Even if we consider the secret “small” in relation to our whole selves, we are still holding something back.
One of the problems with this is that secrets usually resurface multiple times in our lives. We can’t forget because they are a part of us, a part of our story. When we’re confronted by them through a memory or a trigger, we react in a multitude of ways that affect our emotions and behaviors which in turn affects our partners.
Who you are affects your partner, and if you are committed to them and the health of your relationship, they deserve to know the truth.
The reality is that all people have thoughts, behaviors, and experiences that they regret or feel ashamed of. Some of us have been victims, and some of us have been perpetrators. Some have been both. We’ve all been mean, selfish, hateful, and immoral. Coming to terms with those parts of ourselves individually is difficult; confessing them to the people we love makes us feel incredibly vulnerable. If this feels like more than you can handle on your own, seek out a trusted counselor, mentor, or minister.
The Amazing Thing About Grace
If you’re willing to be honest and open, you will have to confront your own vulnerability. When you share your secrets with your partner, there will be a period of time when you can’t control their reaction. To move forward, you’ll have to accept their feelings and allow them space to process. Surrendering to this instead of trying to manage it will also build trust. Additionally, it sets a precedent for them to come to you with their own secrets, understanding that this is part of a healthy relationship.
A loving partner will listen while you share. They may ask questions as they process, and they may get emotional for a variety of reasons. These are all normal responses. Depending on how long they have known you, it may take time for them to synthesize this new information about you into their frame of reference.
This can be uncomfortable, but experiencing deeper levels of connection with your partner is worth it. If you’re sharing something that you regret or feel ashamed of, especially something from your past that no longer represents who you are presently, being honest about it may help you move on. When people love one another, they are able to accept and forgive imperfections, failures, and bad behaviors. Receiving forgiveness helps us forgive ourselves.
What to Hold Back
Having an open and honest relationship doesn’t mean having to tell your partner every single thing you think and feel. As complex creatures, there is a place for private thoughts and feelings. We all have places where we are processing the world, our faith, and our mortality in solitude, and that’s okay.
You’ll know a secret is worth sharing if something about keeping it creates a wall between you and your partner. Deciding what to share isn’t as important as making sure there isn’t anything you’re intentionally hiding. Your partner should be privy to important facts about your life, thoughts, and feelings, and the freedom you’ll experience from being honest is worth the effort it takes to openly communicate.