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The Secrets Couples Keep

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Secrets to Consider Spilling

If you're honest with yourself, then it's not too hard to figure out which secrets fall into the "Red Light! Stop and Spill Everything" category. But what about the ones — especially those transgressions from your distant past — that belong in the murkier "Slow Down and Think Before You Spill" zone? On the one hand, if some embarrassing episode from your history is long past and has no impact on your life today, you can consider keeping your lips sealed. "My husband works in law enforcement, and he's totally on the straight and narrow, which is something I love about him," says Kimberly, 38. "I've never told him that I smoked pot a few times in college because it's something I would never do again, I didn't even enjoy the drug, and he's never asked me about it. Plus, the people who I partied with are so far removed from my life now that they probably don't even remember me. So why open a potential can of worms?"

And that brings up another important factor when weighing whether or not to tell. Murphy's Law of love says that the less you want a secret to be revealed, the more likely it is to suddenly spring up in your relationship like a jack-in-the-box, shouting, "Gotcha!" So consider this: Are there any pictures floating around on the Internet that might give you away? Any friends who have a habit of telling your somewhat sordid old stories after a couple of mojitos? How about an ex-lover who could potentially reappear? If there's any way your partner might accidentally learn your secret, it's better that you do the telling first. "Before we got married, my fiancé and I decided to tell each other about all our past lovers," says Allison, 29. "To my surprise, he admitted that he'd had sex a few times with a man before he realized that he was definitely not into guys. I thought, Wow, he's willing to be totally honest with me about everything, even on a topic most guys would completely deny."

Coming clean about your sexual past is a worthy goal — but Kirshenbaum warns that you must tread carefully. "You don't need to give the exact number of previous lovers or endless details about what you did with them," she says. "There's absolutely no point in filling your partner's head with mental images that can't be deleted." Allison admits that on "insecure days," the thought of her husband with another man sneaks its way back into her mind: "We've been married for three years now, but there have been days when I've asked him, ‘Have you ever thought of being with a guy again?' I once even asked if he would consider hooking up with his boring, unattractive, totally straight best friend! He gets upset that I would ever think he would cheat on me with anyone." As Allison learned, even secrets that bring you closer — and have nothing to do with the life that you're building together today — can cause uncomfortable aftershocks.

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