Trust is a fragile state. It takes time to get, but it fades quickly. Lies and secrets in the couple jeopardize that trust, often irreparably. When you discover that your partner is hiding things from you, it is common to feel betrayed and it hurts even more because it comes from a person we have trusted.
Telling fewer lies has been linked to better health and a stronger relationship, according to a study conducted at the University of Notre Dame. Despite this, 90% of people admit that they often lie to their partners about their consumption habits, the most common reason for cheating in the United States, according to research carried out at the University of Connecticut. But what happens when your partner hides more relevant things from you?
What happens when your partner hides things from you? The cost of secrets and lies
When people lie, they are often motivated by the risks of being honest. They are concerned about the consequences of the other knowing the truth, which is why they end up hiding things. However, they often pay little attention to the risks of dishonesty, especially in a relationship:
1. Lies create a parallel universe
Often, one lie leads to another, so it is not difficult for them to end up piling up, practically generating a parallel universe built on a house of cards. However, “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid”, as Valery Legasov said.
Therefore, the longer the truth is hidden, the more the lie will grow, the more difficult it will be to be honest and the more damage it will cause. When the other person discovers the truth, it will be much more painful because the treachery of time will add to the damage of the lie, so it is more likely that the relationship will be mortally wounded.
2. It generates guilt
Keeping secrets is bad, both physically and emotionally. Research has found that not only is it like carrying a heavy load, but it also exhausts us physically, compounded by the cognitive dissonance that often generates because, deep down, we know they are a violation of a moral norm.
It is possible that discomfort, anxiety and a feeling of guilt cause the person who has lied to unconsciously withdraw from their partner, avoid intimacy and certain topics so that the truth does not come to light. In the long run, it is even possible that this guilt and the psychological distance it causes cause even more damage than the very truth that it tries to hide.
3. It blocks intimacy
Intimacy is based on trust and authenticity, it implies being willing to strip ourselves emotionally and show ourselves vulnerable to the other. Secrets and lies raise a barrier that prevents that deep emotional and spiritual connection that should exist in a couple.
In the long run, when your partner systematically hides things from you, you are likely to become suspicious. You may feel anxious and confused or experience a feeling of having been betrayed or abandoned. You could also feel frustrated, angry, and disappointed. This emotional cocktail does not exactly contribute to the flourishing of the relationship, but rather fuels discussions and reproaches that can end up deeply damaging intimacy.
Do couples have to tell each other everything?
Is it possible to keep secrets in a couple without damaging the relationship?
Each couple is different and must find a balance point with which they feel comfortable. Some people may prefer not to talk about certain things with their partner, such as their past relationships. It is a personal decision and a way to preserve their privacy, so it must be respected. In the end, demanding that the other person tell absolutely everything that happens to them or goes through their minds is not realistic, and it probably won’t help the relationship flourish either.
Trust also implies trusting that the other person is mature and sensible enough to tell us what needs to be told. At this point, it is important to make a distinction because honesty is much more than not lying. We also deceive when we make ambiguous or vague statements, tell half-truths, manipulate facts to emphasize some details and ignore others, exaggerate or minimize what happened, or hide certain feelings.
Lying and deceit is anything that deprives the other person of their right to know the necessary data to make an informed decision. Lying and deception occur when information that can directly affect a person is hidden. For example, if you are insecure because your previous partner cheated on you, it would be important to tell your current partner so they can better understand you, but there may be many other things that you don’t need to tell. And that is not cheating but maintaining a space of intimacy.
How to act when your partner hides important things from you?
When the truth does come out, it is often illuminating. It can help you make sense of behaviors that previously seemed confusing or inexplicable. However, finding out that the person you love and trust has betrayed you can also be devastating and traumatic.
• Avoid the blame game
Lying and deceit can shatter the image you have of your partner, as well as trust in that person and even in your ability to perceive reality, making you doubt yourself. For that reason, it is not unusual for those who have been deceived to blame themselves for what happened.
However, if a relationship isn’t working out, it’s both of you both who have a responsibility to talk and address the issues. Although it is convenient to examine your behavior to learn from the mistakes made, you are not responsible for the actions, decisions or omissions of your partner. Therefore, avoid blaming yourself.
• Do not get involved looking for explanations
When you discover that your partner is hiding things from you, you may feel a natural desire to seek explanations and learn more details. If you feel deceived, you may experience a need to review past events and conversations for possible clues you may have missed and evidence of lies.
However, this exercise does more harm than good, plunging you into a loop of musings and hypothetical scenarios in which you blame yourself or the other interchangeably. For that reason, you should avoid getting into that web. In the long run, you will be able to figure out very little and you will most likely do yourself more damage.
• Pay attention to the motivation of the deception
A lie is a lie. On that we all agree. But it is also important to assess the reason for the deception, without implying that it is justified. It is not the same for your partner to have told you a white lie to protect you and prevent you from feeling bad, than for them to have deceived you to protect themselves, even knowing that what they did was wrong.
The selfish intentions behind lies are often harder to forgive because they not only break trust, but also break an implicit promise to care for and protect each other.
• Listen calmly
Acting cool when your partner is hiding things from you seems like an impossible mission. It is normal to feel angry, disappointed or sad. But if you can’t listen to him calmly at that moment, postpone the conversation for another time when you feel calmer.
Giving him the opportunity to explain himself is important, especially if you want to continue betting on the relationship. If you do not foster a climate of understanding that favors expression and transparency, your partner may not be encouraged to tell the truth and later lie to you again or hide things from you. It is essential that they do not fear your reaction and feel that they can talk to you without you taking it too seriously.
Of course, it is also important to communicate how you feel, but without reproaches that create a crossfire of recriminations and cause wounds that are difficult to heal. And, above all, do not resort to revenge because that will only lead you to a spiral of conflicts and discomfort from which it will be even more difficult to get out.
• Be consistent with your decision
Finally, it is time to make the decision to forgive or end the relationship if you think that you will not be able to trust that person again. A study conducted at the University of Buffalo revealed that people who have good self-esteem and a high opinion of their partner are more likely to forgive them.
However, it is a personal decision that depends not only on the seriousness of the lie or the things that have been hidden from you, but also on your ability to recover without rancor and trust that person again. If you believe that the relationship can be repaired and will return to satisfying both of you, then go ahead! If not, it is probably better to put an end to it.
Brick, D. J. et. Al. (2023) Secret consumer behaviors in close relationships. JCP; 33(2): 403-411.
Kelly, A. et. Al. (2012) Lying Less Linked to Better Health, New Research Finds. In: APA.