Most of us still cherish a romantic ideal of marital togetherness in which we bare our souls and share every inner thought. Even psychologist Judith Sills, PhD, admits that it’s natural to long for “the dream of perfect intimacy.” However, real-world happiness is based on a subtler approach to love, and most happily married couples find that they pick and choose which things to reveal to their spouse. Here are a couple of questions to help you decide when it’s in the best interest of your marriage to bite your tongue:

  • Would it hurt your mate to find out this secret? If the answer is yes, then you should ask yourself the second question:
  • Can anything constructive result from revealing this secret?

Make sure you know who you’re protecting

The two questions above sound simple, but the answers to them can be complex; negative emotions aren’t always a signal to keep your lips buttoned. For example, if you’ve been sneaking money out of the joint account to buy designer purses, your husband may feel pain if he finds out. This type of behavior, however, needs to come to a stop, and your conscience probably tells you that your secret-keeping is more about protecting yourself than about protecting him.

On the other hand, if your mate goes fishing and brings home a pail of spiny little fish that he proudly cooks up into a strange, greyish entrée, it won’t serve any kindly purpose if you reveal that you secretly slipped your portion to the dog.

Know what you can fix

Hurtful things that happened in the past are unfixable, and for this reason, it’s often wisest to leave them safely buried. The classic example of this situation is if you had an affair. In general, if you can reasonably keep your husband from finding out about it, mum’s the word. Cut off the illicit relationship, vow never to do it again, do some private penance — but do not confess out of the blue to a blithely unsuspecting mate. If you’re seeking forgiveness, go to your priest, minister, rabbi, imam or best friend, but don’t ask the person whom you wronged to step up and help make you feel better.

Unfixable secrets occur along less catastrophic lines as well: You may secretly feel that the novel your husband has been writing for five years will never find a lot of readers — but what constructive purpose would be served by sharing your opinion? On the other hand, if you and everyone else agree he looks better without the scraggly mustache he insists on growing, it might not hurt to tactfully reveal the consensus — once.

While keeping secrets is sometimes the best way to take care of your marriage, it’s also true (in Sills’ words) that “every untold truth creates a small barrier between you.” For this reason, you have to always carefully weigh and judge your reasons for keeping secrets. Aim for a partnership in which your love can be nurtured with a minimum of necessary secrets.

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