Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Is There Privacy Or Secrecy In Your Relationship?

secrtblogpictureIn a culture of cell phones, text messages, Facebook, tweets and instagrams, the definitions of privacy and secrecy are challenged and at times blurred.

You read my emails?

I can’t report every move I make in the course of a day.

Why can’t I check out my high school girlfriend on Facebook?

When it comes to relationships, partners often underestimate the importance of privacy and the danger of secrecy.

Privacy in relationships reflects trust and enhances intimacy. Secrecy in relationships impairs trust and impedes intimacy.

What is Privacy?

Privacy is defined as the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people. It is the state of being free from public exposure and attention.

Why We Need Privacy As Individuals

Psychologically, we understand that whereas secure attachment is key to early development, the growing capacity of the child to internalize this attachment and to separate–to have room to be, to play alone, to have private thoughts, to have space, to develop an authentic self–is crucial.

Why We Need Privacy In Relationships

As adults we continue to need different degrees of privacy to re-charge, regulate stress and nurture a sense of self–be it a solitary hobby or reading the paper alone.

We also need intimacy. We need to be and share with another, to be known by them in a way that no one else knows us.

Boundary Changes in Relationships

As such, in committed and intimate relationship, our individual boundaries of privacy change. In most cases, we choose to share bedrooms, sex, money, food, pets, chores, vacations, confidences, fears, and hardships– the best and worst of ourselves–with another. We also share a respect for each other’s privacy.

Disclosure Expectations in Relationships

While one partner may be more disclosing than the other, we can’t expect to hear or share every thought, action, urge or memory of our partner. In a trusting relationship, we have neither the need to check each other’s phone, emails, mail or daily moves, nor the obligation to disclose all. If we enjoy such sharing, it is mutual sharing that fuels our connection.

When thinking about privacy in a relationship it is worth considering:

  • A loving relationship has room for two independent people as well as their mutual dependency.
  • When there is no privacy, no separate space, romance wanes, as there is no room for imagination.

We rarely fantasize about someone standing next to us–at all times.

  • When there is no privacy “ to be oneself” in a relationship,partners conform to expectations. Authenticity and creativity become impossible.
  • When private dreams are allowed, they very often become shared possibilities.

When Does Privacy Become Secrecy?

Privacy becomes secrecy when there is conscious motivation to keep something unknown, hidden or unseen from one’s partner—something that directly impacts that person and the bond shared.

  • It is the choice to hide an online relationship with your high school sweetheart.
  • It is withholding the loss of family money due to gambling or a business investment.

Secrets can be motivated by betrayal, shame, fear, or anger. Secrets disqualify intimacy because they prevent authenticity. Psychologically when a partner is holding a secret, a part of them is not available for connection.

Secret Betrayal

  • A striking dynamic in the holding of secrets in relationships is the use of denial. Both men and women who betray their partner by having sex outside of their bonded relationship report the wish to keep the secret relationship apart from their home life. The illusion is that this will not break down their primary relationship.
  • The reality is that not only do most secret affairs become exposed–they rupture the trust and in many cases end the relationship. At the very least, they off-set the expected and predicted sense of trust. In many ways, it is a life crisis for both partners.
  • Charles Orlando, author of The Problem with Women…Is Men, tells us that many men report feeling guilt and self-loathing after affairs. Betrayal leaves everyone feeling like a failure.
  • Recovery is only possible if the denial of secrecy is replaced with the honesty of openness.

Secret Vigilance

  • Sadly, secrets often breed mistrust and secrecy on the part of the betrayed partner.
  • Faced with the reality of an affair and even after it has ended, many partners try to protect themselves with secret vigilance that involves checking emails, phone records, and Facebook accounts.
  • Now secrets are matched by secrets. There is no safety because the relationship is now driven by fear of “ not knowing” the partner and the anticipation of betrayal.
  • Staying in a real way means putting words to the fears–together or with the help of a professional.

Secret Anger

Sometimes there is no betrayal in the relationship, but a partner’s insistence to know all, see all, and hear all is so intrusive and unwarranted that it triggers angry withholding and secrecy in the other. It is an assault of privacy and an insult to fidelity. Driven by his/her history, self-esteem difficulties etc., the intrusive partner has created the very secrecy they fear.

As seen in the situations of secrecy above, acting out pain, reacting to pain, or trying to get needs met in the shadow of secrecy—never brings forth the bright light of true connection.

As frightening as it seems, it is the risk of verbalizing needs, of balancing privacy and attachment, of confronting the secrets, and of accepting human frailty that turns strangers back into partners.