Secrets and Privacy

Secrets and Privacy

One of biggest issues in relationships involves one particular division in boundaries. This is the difference between secrecy and privacy. This can be an issue in relationships that have a lot of jealousy, but it’s also common in relationships that have a history of betrayal.

When someone has experienced a betrayal, they’re likely to engage in safety seeking behaviors. These can include looking through internet histories, looking at text messages, and searching through personal items. In the relationship, we need to have trust for it to work. However, when you’re in this way, settling into trust can feel too vulnerable.

There can often be a contention in the relationship about what are secrets and what is private. Sometimes, one person is confronted about a concern, and they accuse the other person of violating a boundary. Other times, the other person accuses their partner of keeping secrets. So, which is true?

Secrets and privacy aren’t opposites.

Although we tend to think of these things as opposites, they actually aren’t. There is a lot of overlap. Sometimes we keep things private, which technically may be a secret. But we keep it to ourselves because we’re trying to protect ourselves. Then there are times where we’re protecting ourselves from the consequences of our behaviors. Thus, we have our internal dialogue. We have our beliefs and values. And then we have how much responsibility we take when we make mistakes and cross lines.

If you’re going out of your way to keep something from your partner, you’re keeping a secret.

If you’re putting effort in covering your tracks in some way, it means one of 2 things. One is that you’re keeping a secret.

The other is that you’re overestimating what your partner is concerned about. This is why communication is so critical. It’s best to ask whether or not something matters to your partner, which means that you need to trust that you can ask.

If you have questions that aren’t safe to ask about in your relationship, then your relationship has much deeper problems. If you’re triggered by the question, it’s your responsibility to work on what is triggering you so that you can show up for open discussions with your partner.

Things that are held inside are often private.

Thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives are pieces of information that you possess. You get to decide whether or not you’re going to share this information. This can include pieces of your story and history. Identifying who you trust enough to open up to is something that you get to decide. These pieces of information can be private.

Private information often emerges over time, which can help draw you to your partner as you learn new things.

But what about behaviors?

In relationships, behaviors are often what really confuse people. People in relationships can really struggle with identifying whether or not a behavior should be kept private. One of the most common behaviors that can cause a controversy in relationships is masturbation. Is this a private behavior?

Here is what I would generally say about masturbation in relationships. This is a private behavior because it involves people expressing sexuality in their own bodies.

After a betrayal, this behavior often needs to be discussed as it can feel threatening. Opening up with each other about fears, insecurities, and tension points can help you connect, understand each other, discuss boundaries, and build a new foundation.

To break this particular controversy down. One person can have their insecurities and fears. The other person gets to decide their boundaries around their own sexual behavior with themselves. This is a discussion that needs to be ongoing in the relationship.

Obviously, sexual behavior with others always needs to involve consent. Therefore, having sex and romantically connecting with others isn’t a private behavior because it involves agreements with your current relationship.

No longer taking things for granted after betrayal.

After a betrayal such as cheating or an affair, relationships will struggle to exist on assumptions. For example, the old idea that it’s safe to ignore conversations about sexuality and boundaries. For examples, before a betrayal happens, individuals come into relationships with an understanding about what is inappropriate. This may or may not be in true alignment. However, because there is no conflict, it’ll seem like it aligns perfectly well.

It’s impossible to identify every point of contention before it happens. Therefore, a regular open dialogue about what is working and isn’t working in the relationship needs to take place. Sometimes, these conversations will involve sex. Sometimes, it will involve other issues around connection. Either way, this dialogue is one that needs to happen so that you can work together to learn about each other’s needs, wants and boundaries.

Everyone gets to have boundaries. But they’re open to discussion.

You can always ask and inquire about boundaries, thoughts, beliefs, etc. Your partner can tell you they don’t want to share it at the same time. Negotiations on boundaries can always be discussed. However, discussion doesn’t mean harass or antagonize your partner until they give in.

Instead, it means having open discussions, and tolerating disagreements. Some boundaries require a lot of discussion to figure out what actions need to be taken. For example, if you are in a disagreement, you really don’t want to move to negotiating until both people feel respected and heard.

You also have to remember that boundary discussions should be ongoing. It would be great if discussions could be had only one time and the vulnerability of having them again would just go away. That’s just not how it works out. Our attitudes and opinions change over time. Our perspectives about what we want and need also change. Therefore, it’s critical to keep having conversations so you know when those changes happen.

Work on trust

All relationships are built on trust. When safety keeping behaviors happen like looking through your partners’ things, this means that there is a lack of trust. This is true if information is being withheld. It can feel as though it’s unsafe to share.

That can be a tough balance. Because you want to be able to have your authentic emotions about what you’re hearing, but you also want your partner to be open. The best advice I can give is share feelings openly and honestly, but also take your time. What is important to be shared and how do you want to share it? What is it that you want your partner to understand? Also, you want to be sure that you’re leaving room for understanding your partner’s perspective as well.


Letting things happen without trying to control the outcome is the name of the game. And it’s a very hard game to succeed at. On one end, you have to be willing to be open to sharing and on the other hand you have to be open to listening. Listening is typically the much more difficult of the 2.

These things can make us feel vulnerable because we have to let our partners be themselves. This can come with risks of rejection. At the same time, if you offer gifts of empathy and you feel understood, you’re likely going to enhance your sense of connection.


Contact us today if you need help with reconnecting, dealing with betrayal, or communication.


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