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Secrecy in Relationships

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:51am

I hadn’t heard of the National Clandestine Service, a branch of the CIA, until a few days ago when the debate kicked up again as to whether the  CIA has misled Congress. One commentator I was listening to indicated that, in general, at Congressional committee sessions, the CIA is less than forthcoming and is very protective of its secrets.

The problem with keeping secrets is that they have the potential to generate a tremendous amount of fear, misinterpretation of facts and motives, and impulsive actions and errors.

This line of thought led me to ponder the nature of secrecy in personal relationships and to conclude that it generates similar outcomes.

Just like on the national level, people in relationships believe that keeping secrets protects them in some way or enables a challenged situation to operate somewhat effectively.

Neither scenario proves to be true. When relationships are deteriorating, it is not wise to keep secret our feelings. When we do so, we are perpetuating the status quo, contributing to the ongoing decay of the relationship, and avoiding doing the one thing that might salvage the relationship, which is to not withhold our feelings, our needs, and our ambivalences, but rather to communicate them clearly to our partner.

If we do not make attempts, early on, to address the ways in which feelings are changing and the relationship is devolving, thinking that to do so would cause hurt and/or rageful feelings, we are resolving nothing, contributing to the relationship being abusive and co-depdendent, and guaranteeing that one of two things happens: the relationship dynamics get worse and we stay in a chronically unsatisfying relationship or the relationship dynamics get worse and the relationship eventually destroys itself.

If we do make attempts to communicate, in a loving way, our deepest feelings about those aspects of our partner that generate resentments, harsh judgments, and other conflicted and ambivalent emotions, we provide the opportunity to heal ourselves and the relationship in the process.

If, through the course of honest, heartfelt dialogue, it becomes apparent that the relationship simply isn’t salvageable, we have still made the right choice by deciding to not withhold our secret feelings because, in the process, we respected our partner and ourselves, we likely learned a lot about ourselves, and we likely increased the probability of our succeeding in the next relationship.

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