Sometimes It’s Okay To Hide Things From Your Partner

By now you all must have heard the one about the writer to Slate’s agony aunt whose husband neglected to tell her he’d had a vasectomy – leading her to despair of her supposed infertility. If not, read it here in all its gory detail.

Within moments of the letter appearing online, the story went viral, provoking ire from mommy bloggers across the English-speaking world – not least because the “secret vasectomy” (which the husband sought before the marriage, incidentally) was something that affected both partners and would have constituted a marriage deal-breaker had the wife been aware of it.

What was less alarming, to me at least, was that the husband had kept the secret in the first place. Sure, I learned long ago that secrets do not belong in a marriage – likely from one of those poorly written soap operas, in which any mention of the rule was an ominous warning that Thorn or Tiffany had been keeping a doozy. And yet, in a real-world marriage it is often taken for granted that some secrets are best kept under lock and key.

I’ve already discussed the benefits of suppressing the tendency to burp and fart in mixed company – not because it embarrasses me but for the benefit of my easily grossed-out husband. There are others, though, and they may or may not be included in the following list of secrets kept by the women in my straw poll:

That time I was strip-searched at the border.

The too-long peck on the lips I shared with an old beau.

The fact I still keep in touch with another ex.

The irregular smear that was swiftly remedied with antibiotics.

The true number of sexual partners I’d had before our relationship.

The anti-depressants I continue to take even though I’m long since postpartum.

That pill I popped the other night.

The fact that my best friends know his secrets.

No clandestine tube-tying sessions here, but secrets nonetheless. Are they shocking, or merely awkward? Would they threaten the foundations of the relationship? Do they constitute deal-breakers? If not, why air them, I wonder.

And to those of you flexing your fingers en route to the comments section, ask yourselves: are you truly an open book? A new book by Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioural economics at Duke University, suggests the answer is no. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty reveals Ariely’s findings that only about 1 per cent of us are truly honest, and that we fudge, spin, adjust, whitewash the truth for a variety of reasons – not least to make others happy.

Just because it happens doesn’t mean it’s right. But in a recent article in The Times, the UK-based psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice says: “If it serves no purpose to tell the truth other than to assuage your guilt, offload your problems or hurt your partner, there may be times when an untruth will serve your relationship better.”

You may say: “Off with her head.” I say: “Someone buy her a drink.” For me, the obfuscations are few, as, clearly, they should be. But they may be the rose-colored filter that keeps needless stress out of our lives.

Why not let my husband be the judge of that, you say? Indeed. Why don’t I let it all out this weekend and tell you how that went.

(Photo: AntonioDiaz/Shutterstock)

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  • Eileen

    All of those sound perfectly reasonable – except the medication. That might be a line in the sand, but I think one’s partner should know what drugs one is on (and therefore might have around the house).

    • Maggie

      Agreed! I also don’t tell my fiance every time a man hits on me; if it’s especially funny, I’ll tell him, but I don’t think he needs to know every gory detail, particularly when it upsets him. I think there are lots of little things that don’t need to be aired in a relationship, just as long as the big things are being talked about.

  • Michelle

    I try to judge what I do or don’t tell my husband by asking myself: Would this hurt him more if I told him now or if he found out later?
    If I go over my shopping budget by like $30, no it won’t hurt him now or later.
    If I was caught talking to my ex and he found out I have been doing so behind his back for a long time, that would really hurt him and would hurt the trust he has in me.

  • Natasha

    Yeah….’pill popping’ should not be a secret. If you feel you have to take pills on the DL, that’s a much, much bigger issue. Also keeping in touch with your ex secretly. Big no no. Why are you keeping in touch?

  • Jess

    Other than keeping in touch with an ex, I agree with these. I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the pill popping line. It seems to me more of a spontaneous thing done at a party, or possibly just a strong pain killer/muscle relaxer to relax/fall asleep after an especially hard day, than something done on a regular basis. Consider the wording “That pill I popped the other night.” not “Those pills I pop every day” or “every hour” or whatever. Yes, your partner has a right to know what medication you’re on, but they don’t need to know that you took a drug at a party and that it all turned out fine and nothing much happened, or that you took a vicodin from that batch leftover after your root canal with a little wine and had a nice bubble bath and then went to sleep. Nobody wants to hear those stories because they’re boring. If drugs are being abused, that’s a different story, and your partner will find you out eventually anyway. And back to the keeping in touch thing, why NOT tell them that you are talking to your ex as friends? If you have done nothing wrong, then there is nothing to hide, so there should be no hurt feelings if you’re honest with them.

    • Eileen

      I was more referring to the antidepressants, actually. Antidepressants can not only have serious side effects, they don’t always play well with other medicines – so in an emergency situation, your medical contact should know that you’re taking them.

  • Kate

    A man keeping his vasectomy a secret is still not as bad as women who lie about being on the pill. I have several male friends this has happened to, and only one has stayed in the relationship after the birth of a child they did not choose to have. For the others, the trust was broken and the relationship ended; some before the birth, some after.

    I’m sure the women will tell those children that “daddy left because he didn’t want you”, but the truth is mummy schemed and lied and daddy couldn’t forgive her. My friends love their children and still see them, but chose not to remain in a loveless relationship. I support them utterly.

    The funny thing is that all these women have come clean about their lies, thinking their partners would understand and be happy about it once the child arrived. If they had maintained that it was a birth control failure, the relationships probably would have stayed intact.

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