When I was a child, there was a TV show called “I’ve Got a Secret.” Each show would feature a panel of TV celebrities. The show host had a secret and the panel had to guess what it was. The one episode whose secret I remember had a second panel of guests who were not celebrities—they were unknown to us in the viewing audience. There were six of them. It turned out that their secret was their last names. They were in a row, and in sequence, they were supposed to spell out the slogan of the show’s sponsor for the week: Winston cigarettes. (Yes, they had TV ads for cigarettes in those days.) The slogan was “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Not all the words quite worked out. The first one did: It was Mrs. Winston. The last guy, though, was “Schultz” because they could not find a Mr. or Ms. Should! And Mr. “C. Garrett” had to substitute for the non-existent Mr. or Ms. Cigarette.
Well, we now know that cigarettes are not good for your health. But we also know that secrets are not so good for the health of your relationship. In fact, secrets are almost to relationships what cigarettes are to your health. They’re killers! And they kill relationships in the same way cigarettes kill people. They are cancerous.
When you have a secret from your partner, it usually starts out as a small secret. You figure something like, “No harm in having a little secret” or “My partner would be happier not knowing” or maybe “It’s not even worth discussing with my partner.” But little secrets have a tendency, like cancer, to become bigger and to spread. What starts as a little secret becomes a bigger and bigger one. Or one secret becomes many secrets. Eventually, we may find ourselves in a position of thinking that “My partner would kill me if they ever found out!” The destruction of so many relationships start with just the one little secret, and things go downhill from there.
What kinds of secrets do people feel they need to keep? It may be a secret about the past. But secrets about the past have a way of becoming un-secret at the most inconvenient times. They come back to haunt us. It may be a secret about one’s health. But how long can a secret about health be kept before it becomes obvious or, worse, spreads to your partner if it’s a contagious disease? Or maybe the secret is of one’s having a relationship with someone else, maybe an affair. How long can an affair go on before you slip up, or before the anonymous phone call, letter, or email spilling the beans?
Sometimes, the hiding of the information proves, in the long run, to be worse than the original information. It’s like I was once told by a lawyer who specialized in white-collar crime. He told me that not even one of his clients had ever gone to jail for the original offense: If they went to jail, it was always because of the cover-up!
The lesson is simple. If you have a secret, can you possibly find a way to share it? Can you find the right time, the right place, to spill the beans, explain yourself, and hope for the best? Chances are it will take away some of your anxiety and maybe your partner even can help you get over whatever it is. We all know that spilling the beans in this way can be risky. There is even a chance you will lose your partner. But it won’t go better if, instead of your telling your partner, they find out some other way. Secrets are relationship-killers. Don’t start with them, but if you already have, ask yourself whether you can find it in yourself to share it with your partner. And if you feel you can’t, at least ask yourself what you can do to prepare for the time if or when your partner finds out.
Note: This post is part of series of posts on relationship killers. Find the first blog post on the importance on respecting each other's differences here.