Keeping a secret is never easy, but hiding something from your partner can be even trickier, especially since solid relationships are built on trust and openness. Avoiding the topic can betray that trust and be stressful as a result, sometimes to the point it takes a toll on your overall well-being. But before we get into potential side effects, keep in mind that it's OK to keep certain things to yourself.
"There is a difference between privacy and secrets," Caroline Madden, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and author, tells Bustle. "We are allowed as adults to have private thoughts and behaviors that we do not disclose to our partner." You don't, for example, have to give them a play-by-play of your past if you don't want to. And if the timing doesn't feel right to share a story, it's fine to wait.
This is more so about topics that could impact your relationship, or things your partner needs to know, but you're afraid to say out loud. "To the extent that you see the information as potentially damaging your relationship, as calling into question your integrity, trust or fidelity, or information that could harm your partner, then the process can be extremely stressful," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle.
As you go about holding it in, you might notice a cascade of stress symptoms rippling through your body. "You may find yourself feeling nervous and anxious when you partner brings up topics related to the information you are keeping from them," Klapow says. "You may over time develop headaches, stomachaches, and muscle tension from the prolonged stress of keeping the information in."
It can also impact your daily routine, which only adds to the physical symptoms you might experience. "Often the main symptom is not being able to sleep through the night," Madden says. "Initially going to sleep is easy, but you wake up at 2:30 in the morning for no reason… and you are restless."
Over time, hiding something important can even affect how you feel emotionally. "You may find your patience is shorter and you may become more defensive," Klapow says. "Keeping information from your partner that is potentially damaging to you or them puts your body in a perpetual stress response. ... Holding the information takes you from a state of regulation to stress-related deregulation." So if any of this is happening, take it as a sign it may be healthier to reveal the secret, for the sake of your health.
Of course, you may decide against sharing the info with your partner and instead take the issue to a friend or therapist, and let it out that way. And sometimes that really is the best choice. "We often share information because we want to get it off our chest," Klapow says. "It makes us feel better to 'come clean' and we think we are doing a good thing, when the reality is that sharing information with our partner so that we can feel better about not keeping the information is not reason enough to share the information." You'll want to weigh the pros and cons, and decide which route is best.
If you need to tell them, find a time to chat with with your partner in a place that's comfortable for both of you, so you can have a genuine heart-to-heart. You've likely been keeping this info to yourself because you're worried about your partner feeling upset or betrayed, so make room for that reaction, too. "They may have an initial negative reflexive action that is protective and defensive," Klapow says. "They may need time to process what you tell them." And that's OK. Be prepared to talk about it again at a later date, he says, if necessary.
Since hiding something from your partner can take a toll on your relationship — and ultimately on your own health — it is worth it, many times, to let it out. Once it's out in the open, you'll likely feel a lot better, and can begin repairing your relationship, if need be. But remember, it's ultimately up to you decide between what's private and what needs to be said. Listen to your body, and go with the choice that feels right for you.
Caroline Madden, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist and author