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.