Honesty is vital for a successful relationship but is there nothing completely private in a relationship?
Most people would agree that being authentic and transparent interactions with one’s intimate partner is essential to a successful long-term relationship. Many of my own patients have expressed how much they value honesty and authenticity in their partnerships.
Their comments consistently support those beliefs:
“If you love and respect the person you love the most in the world, shouldn’t you automatically want to know what makes each of you think and behave the way you do?”
“You can’t really expect to have a truly intimate relationship if you withhold your true feelings or needs from the person you care most about.”
“If you hide stuff from each other, how can you know what is going on, or resolve problems? It’s so much better not to find out later what you might have been able to fix if you knew about it earlier.”
“Isn’t it always better to try to work out things between you and your partner rather than trying to figure them out by yourself?”
As a relationship therapist and communication specialist for over four decades, I have helped many couples learn how to openly express their inner thoughts and feelings to each other. I’ve also written multiple articles touting the importance of being honest and open and how the sharing of those behaviors often defines the core quality of a love relationship.
But many of my patients in apparently successful relationships have challenged me as to the absoluteness of those teachings. They have asked me if totally honest and unfiltered responses in all situations are always the best reactions.
After many years of self-examination, I must respond that the answer is a carefully qualified, “not always.” Exempting ever using intentional dishonesty to intentionally cheat or betray the other, there is a grey area in every intimate relationship where total honesty and diplomacy conflict or overlap.
All intimate partners have their own unique reasons why, when, and how much they choose to share with one another or what to withhold. They may worry that the price of sharing certain thoughts and feelings would be too high to pay as a self-protective and self-serving reason. Or, feeling compassion for their partners, they may hold withhold them to express something that would only hurt or anger, feeling that non-disclosure is a kinder action.
Here are some of the more common reasons how and why people make those decisions at the time they do. Please explore them with your partner. If you can listen to what drives your partner to be transparent or to withhold his or her experiences from you, you might be able to help one another feel more secure in changing some of those patterns in the future.
When you are processing this together, do not ask what thoughts or feelings have been withheld, or why. You must first understand what there is about the other that drives each of you to withhold what you do.
Secret Versus Private Thoughts
All people have internal feelings and thoughts that they keep to themselves. Whether they had been suppressed by early caretakers, experienced rejections, or otherwise lost potential opportunities by sharing too much, they have not had good experiences when they’ve been totally honest.
When you enter any intimate relationship, it is natural that you will automatically hold back some things about yourself that you yet don’t trust to share. It is up to every individual what he or she feels they can say about themselves at any stage of an intimate relationship.
Problems do arise if those experiences, for whatever reason, become exposed later on in the relationship. If your partner continued the relationship under false pretenses, he or she may wonder whatever else you are still hiding.
My patients have shared many of those feelings with me over the years:
“I just thought it best to leave it buried. There’s no chance it will come up, so why take a risk?”