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The Secrets Couples Keep


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Marisa Cohen

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Have you ever hidden something from him about your past (or present)? Or has he ever stunned you with a secret of his own? Here, couples reveal their biggest bombshells. Plus, learn which secrets you must spill — and which ones to keep to yourself.

In a perfect relationship, you wouldn't keep any secrets from your sweetie. And you'd never have to worry if he were keeping anything from you, because his life, too, would be an open book.

But we live in the real world, where even the healthiest couples sometimes hide things from each other. To most of us, the secret to end all secrets (and many marriages) is an affair — and no one will quibble with the devastating consequences of infidelity. Yet even "small" deceptions can rock a relationship, and it can be hard to draw the line between what's harmless and what's not.

After all, secret keeping is often about protection: A secret can be an attempt to shield yourself, by hiding something you don't want your partner to see (like old pictures of you before you had your deviated septum fixed), or it can be about shielding him from an unnecessary worry or fear (like how much you really dig your vibrator). And that's not all bad: A little mystery can be sexy. But how to tell what can stay safely tucked away and what calls for a confession? We asked experts to outline the rules for secret keeping (and sharing).

Secrets You Must Spill

If you want a relationship grounded in mutual trust (and who doesn't?), certain issues require full disclosure. "If something has a chance of impacting your partner's future or his life with you, then he has a right to know about it," says Mira Kirshenbaum, a relationship expert and author of Is He Mr. Right? This includes anything from the past that has reverberations in the present (lingering debts, a chronic medical condition, past sexual or emotional abuse), and anything in the present that could affect the future (a health scare, a potential downsizing at work).

As many couples find out too late, when you keep a secret that profoundly affects your family, you face a double whammy when the secret eventually — or inevitably — implodes: After the first shock wave from the hidden truth rips through the family, you're hit with the secondary tremors that come from the resulting feelings of betrayal and distrust. "My husband was running a retail Website, and he assured me it was doing well," recalls Karen,* a 39-year-old mom of two. "I thought I could stay home with my children and not have to worry about making money myself." A year ago, however, Karen discovered that her husband's business was in the hole for more than $1 million, and he had taken out a line of credit against their house. The truth came out only when he announced that he would have to take an additional job. "I was furious!" Karen says. A year later, her family has begun recovering from the financial blow — they've settled in a new town, and her husband found a good job — but Karen is still dealing with her sense of hurt, anger, and betrayal. "He says he didn't tell me about it because he thought he could turn his business around, and he was just so embarrassed that he couldn't support our family. But I couldn't believe he left me in the dark for all those years," she says now.

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