Lately, I’ve been reading all over the d*mn place the idea that, ‘secrets, any kind of secrets, destroy a marriage.’ I’ve read it in articles about marital finances (we should disclose everything we spend on everything to our partners), I’ve read it on articles about emotional infidelity (we should tell our partners our every thought we have, and not tell other people those thoughts), I’ve read it in woman’s magazines and major papers. Hell, I read it in the APW book club pick.
And I call bullshit.
I think that secrets (small, appropriate secrets) are the secret sauce of what makes my marriage work. I am, in fact, pro-marital secrets, if kept in mutually acceptable ways. (Side note: I just asked David about this, and he said, “Loyalty is way more important to a marriage than total honesty.”)
Let me lay out a small list of secrets I keep from my husband (who knows full well I keep these things to myself):
- My Journals. I’ve been an avid journal keeper since I was 12 (which makes it increasingly heavy difficult to move). And for as long as I’ve dated people, I’ve had a stated policy, “If you read my journals, I will gouge out your eyeballs, and then we will break up.” That still holds true in marriage, though we can replace “break up” with “screaming fight followed by therapy.” I need my personal space to work through my thoughts and vent and figure things out. My journals are an extension of my brain, which my husband ALSO does not have unlimited access too.
- My spending money. Though I’ve talked at length about how David and I totally merged our finances when we got hitched, let’s be clear: I like having control of my money. Maybe it was the fact that I’d been an independent adult for a decade when we got married, maybe it’s the fact that I run my own business and that makes me extra attached to the money I bring in, or maybe it’s just my personality. But the bottom line is: I like spending my money without asking anyone’s d*mn permission. So when I read about how I should never have financial secrets, of any size, from my partner, I laugh. Sometimes I splurge on expensive(ish) dresses or jewelry with my pocket money and don’t tell my husband. Sometimes I even splurge with non-pocket money (and don’t tell him till later). And you know what? It works out just fine.
- Who I think is hot. Not his business, most of the time. (And yes, I obviously think people are hot other than my partner.)
- What I talk about with my friends. Not his business. Emotional infidelity, I might have you, if talking sh*t to my friends now and then is a symptom.
- Stuff I’m thinking about. Sometimes I’ll be worrying over a problem, and I really don’t want to talk to David about it. He is my number one cheerleader when it comes to me keeping personal stuff to myself, when I feel like it.
And he keeps his own secrets too, and I’m fine with that.
There was a time, back in college, where I believed in the No Secrets model of relationships. Or, more to the point, I had a boyfriend who, at least ostensibly, believed in No Secrets. I remember sitting next to him one day, thinking about something worrying that I didn’t feel like discussing, when he turned to me and said, “Oh no, what’s wrong?” And when I looked at him like he’d lost his mind, he said, “Your breathing changed. I could tell you were worried about something.” And that my friends? Is a partner who’s inappropriately up in my business.
So these days, I’m more than a little dubious of the claims that our marriages will be destroyed by any secrets. Our marriages can of course be destroyed by huge, inappropriate secrets. They can be destroyed by cheating, or by gambling our life savings away, or serious emotional infidelity.
But my marriage is actually supported by small secrets. It’s supported by the sense of self I maintain buying myself some d*mn earrings, or not feeling guilty about checking out hot people, or guilt free gossip with my girlfriends, or long winded venting in my journals. It’s supported by the fact that I feel like a whole, independent person: one who doesn’t have to tell her partner every penny that she’s spent, or every emotional intimacy shared, or every person fantasized about, or every creative project worked on. Small secrets are key to making my marriage work.
So the next time you read about how secrets destroy a marriage, have a ponder. Perhaps lack of individuation will destroy us faster. So go on, keep a secret. Maybe even tell your partner you’re keeping one. Chances are they’ll say, “What? Good. Because I have lots.” And you’ll nod with delight, because the inability to ever fully know your partner is what keeps things ticking… there is always more to explore.
Picture: us, from back when I was keeping my face secret from the internet (ah, corporate life)