“I don’t act the way I did so far back and the guy I’m dating would probably not knowing that part of me. If it does come out in any way, I’ve got a story that would hopefully minimize the impact.”
“My mom cheated a lot on my dad and my boyfriend’s last two girlfriends cheated on him. I’m afraid that he’ll lose trust in me if he knows the kind of mom who raised me.”
Many people have private thoughts that they don’t want to share, and shouldn’t need to if their presence is not a danger to the relationship. For instance, what if you occasionally fantasize about someone else while you’re having sex?
Or you may feel insecure about your partner’s previous relationships, but don’t want him or her to think that you are overly possessive or jealous. Maybe you occasionally secretly wish you could have a short affair with someone else but have no intention of acting on it.
Private thoughts are normal for everyone. But, they have the potential to become a danger to a relationship when their presence is negatively affecting the other or when you are in danger of acting on them without your partner’s knowing.
Privacy then becomes secrecy. Secret behavior is anything you hide from your partner that you are going to act on that could cause him or her distress. Any action that would threaten the relationship should be open to a vote from the other partner before it is taken.
Why Many People Withhold
When my patients have confessed to me the things they withhold from their intimate partners, they have shared multiple reasons as to why they make those decisions. Sometimes they just don’t want to worry that partner or unnecessarily threaten the relationship.
If you feel similarly, you will often feel that hard-to-resolve combination of self-serving and altruistic motivations when you withhold from your partner. The more self-serving your reasons are, the more you will be concerned about your own needs rather than your partners. Alternately, the more caring you feel for your partner over your own needs, the more your motivation is likely to be consideration for his or her experience.
Here are some examples my patients have shared that illustrate those confusing mixtures of altruism and self-serving reasons for withholding.
“If I’m really turned on by his best friend because he is sexier than my partner, why in earth would I tell him that? I’m never going to act on it.”
“She’s gained a few pounds and I know how sensitive she is about it. I’m worried she’ll get out of hand but she’ll only feel terrible if I say something. She always asks me if I still desire her, but I know she just needs reassurance. She knows how being fit is important to me, but, you know, I love her anyway and I just hope she gains control pretty soon.”
“He doesn’t know I got herpes fifteen years ago from a one-night stand. I’ve never given it to anyone because I’m really careful. We’ve been together three years now with unprotected sex and things are fine. I think it would be a disaster if I told him now.”
“My last EKG wasn’t normal but the doctor just said I need to reduce my stress and lose twenty pounds and everything would probably turn out okay. My partner’s dad died of a heart attack about my age. Why would I worry her when I can do something about it myself? When the tests are normal, I’ll tell her then.”
“My high school boyfriend has been contacting me on Facebook. He said he never got over me. When he left me, I couldn’t even function for a year. Something in me just wants to meet him once to show him how well my life has turned out and to put some closure on it for me. My boyfriend would freak out if I told him, but I know I’m not going to leave him for this guy who hurt me. Just one time. Is that the wrong thing to do?”