The Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy and How Each Can Impact Your Relationships

The Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy and How Each Can Impact Your Relationships
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When it comes to romantic relationships, there are certain unwritten rules that often go undiscussed until one person thinks another has broken one. We’re getting better at being open about things like monogamy, but what about disclosure of personal information?

If you’re romantically involved with someone, how much are you expected to tell this person about your life? Is the expectation that you (eventually) fill them in on all the details of your life, both past and present? Or is it OK to keep some information to yourself? Essentially, this comes down to the difference between secrecy and privacy, and how they apply to romantic relationships.

Recently, Erica Sloan addressed these questions in an article for Well+Good. Here’s what to know.

The difference between secrecy and privacy

So what, exactly is the difference between secrecy and privacy? “If you aren’t revealing something because you don’t want to, it’s likely an example of maintaining privacy,” Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind tells Well+Good. “And if you’re not revealing something because you are afraid of the consequences, it’s likely secrecy.”

Namely, keeping secrets under wraps takes work. “Secrets tend to rule our lives,” Morin explains. “You’re likely to invest a lot of energy covering them up or hiding them.” This could include everything from roping other people into helping you cover your tracks, and going to extremes to hide information from your partner. For instance, someone having an affair is a pretty clear example of a secret.

How to identify secrecy and privacy in a relationship, and why it matters

If you’re unsure of whether something is more of a secret, or simply maintaining your own privacy, Hatty J. Lee, LMFT, a therapist and the author of The Indwell Guide has some tips.

First of all, you have to identify the underlying emotions driving your behaviour, she says. “Is it anxiety and fear? Is your behaviour potentially harmful to your partner? Has it created distance or disconnection in your relationship? Then I might be inclined to believe you’re keeping a secret,” she tells Well+Good.

But on the other hand, if withholding something from a partner doesn’t prompt negative feelings, there’s a good chance it’s a case of you exercising your right to privacy. “Do you feel a sense of peace or of acknowledging your needs and wants? Is your behaviour focused on honouring your boundaries? Then I’d be inclined to believe that you’re upholding your own privacy,” Lee explains.

So how much are romantic partners expected to tell each other? According to Lee, privacy isn’t only useful, but has an important function in a relationship. “People often believe that you need to share everything in order to experience intimacy or closeness, but I tell my clients to listen to their bodies and consider whether you feel safe or comfortable revealing whatever it is you’re about to reveal,” she tells Well+Good.

But because everyone has their own concepts and definitions of secrets and privacy, that’s a conversation you’ll need to have with your partner — along with talking about other essential boundaries in your relationship.

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