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The Secrets Couples Keep

Shhh! Secrets That Won't Kill Him

Sure, as a rule, honesty is the best policy — we've been hearing it since grade school and it's still true. But anyone who's been in a long-term relationship knows that there is definitely some wiggle room when it comes to keeping a few personal tidbits to yourself, provided they are harmless and don't involve any outright lies. Maybe you earned a bonus or a little extra cash on eBay and spent it all on a new leather jacket without telling him; or he listens to Howard Stern on the radio on his way to work and doesn't tell you. "Even when we're married, we still have private selves," says Kirshenbaum. "It's healthy to have a sense that this is my personal business and no one else's." In fact, keeping an innocent little part of yourself off-limits can add some spark to your relationship — if he knew every last detail about your life, then what fun revelations could there possibly be in the future?

Some couples find that hanging a veil of secrecy over certain aspects of their lives helps make their marriages run much more smoothly. "For the first decade of our marriage, my husband and I fought over every purchase I made, from a bag of cleaning supplies to a new coat," says Laurel, 36. "Finally, I had this breakthrough — if he doesn't see a bill, he won't think about it! So now I use cash when I shop. If I want to buy a pair of shoes, and I can afford them, he doesn't have to know how much they cost. Believe me, everyone in the house is a lot happier now."

This kind of "don't ask, don't tell" domestic policy can help stabilize a relationship, says Hendrix, but consider this: "Some couples have these types of collusions, where they don't check with each other on their spending, and their marriage lasts 50 years," he observes. "But you're keeping that stability at the cost of a completely open relationship." So make sure you and your guy are on the same page — if you're both willing to trade complete candor for a bit of ignorance-is-bliss harmony, then there's no harm, and plenty of potential gain. But, Haltzman points out, this deal only works when it goes both ways — don't harass him about the cost of his new camera lens if you don't want him to ask you the price of that new handbag — and when it doesn't involve an area you are working on together, like a budget. "If your partner has expressed a desire to work cooperatively on something and you're still keeping information from him, then you've crossed that line," Haltzman says.

One clue that your secret is a healthy one: The evidence is usually hidden in plain sight. If your partner really wanted to know how much those shoes cost, he could notice the fancy label on the insole; if you really wanted to know what offensive radio show he was listening to, you could click on his preprogrammed radio stations next time you're in the car. Veronica, 38, has a secret that's literally written all over her face: "My husband has no idea I get Botox a couple of times a year," she says. "He's against anything cosmetic — in fact, he says I'm most beautiful right after a sweaty tennis match. But it's my body and my money." The irony? "He's never noticed the Botox, which saves us from fighting about it, but it also makes me question how effective this expensive treatment really is!"

Veronica sees her secret as liberating — it gives her a feeling of independence and mastery over her own body and life — but some deceptions are just plain burdensome, often creating more anxiety and distress than coming clean ever would. "I agonized about my secret for the first several months I was dating my now husband," says Cathy, 41. "I'm 10 years older than he is, and I was sure he would dump me if he found out." Her day of reckoning came when they joined Paul's mother for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. "She looked on the place mat and said, 'I was born in the year of the monkey. Which year are you?'" Cathy steeled herself and told the truth, revealing her age. "I was sure my boyfriend would break up with me, but he just laughed and said he didn't think I was too old for him. He was worried that I would think he was too young for me!" Proof that the truth has a way of coming out — and when you've got a partner you trust, it doesn't have to be so awful after all.

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