Privacy in a Relationship - Should You Tell Your Partner Everything or Keep Some Secrets? Privacy vs Secrecy Overview Table of Contents Privacy vs Secrecy in a Relationship - What Is the Difference? Keeping Secrets in a Relationship - Is It Always Bad? What Is Invasion of Privacy in a Relationship How to Deal with a Secretive Partner Conclusion: The Right to Privacy Somewhere down the relationship road, every couple bumps into that one big question: should you tell your partner absolutely everything or are you allowed to keep some things to yourself? You know, apart from mundane things like the fact you brushed your teeth for exactly five minutes this morning or ordered a large hot-cross bun latte with caramel sauce and extra sprinkles on top during your lunch break? Privacy in a relationship is something that everyone might see differently – while some prefer to keep a fraction of their lives separate from their partners, others excitedly rush into describing every single aspect of their day and expect the same in return. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of things, here’s one essential point to consider when thinking about the whole privacy vs secrecy issue: balance is everything. It’s not okay to intentionally keep important secrets from your partner as it can damage the trust in a relationship: however – and this isn’t talked about as much – you can also easily lose yourself in the relationship if you share way too much. Couples claustrophobia is a real thing, after all. If you and your partner blend into one inseparable being by limiting the time you spend apart, the relationship can easily get overwhelming and cause one of you to withdraw, which often triggers an avalanche of many more issues. It’s important to keep your identity intact in a relationship – for yourself and your partner, as well as the relationship itself. And privacy is a part of that. Privacy vs Secrecy in a Relationship - What Is the Difference? The line between privacy and secrecy can get blurry in relationships because of how close you are to one another. The need for space is sometimes interpreted as secrecy; secrecy is sometimes excused as the need for space; and privacy is a term that loses all meaning the moment you secretly scroll through each other’s phones. In every healthy relationship, it’s important to distinguish between secrecy and privacy because both can contribute to a damaging dynamic in their own right. If you’re secretive, you’re undermining your partner’s trust in you. If your privacy is being regularly invaded, on the other hand, respecting boundaries becomes a meaningless concept. Privacy: You’re Free To Be Your Own Person Outside of Your Relationship While honesty and transparency in a relationship are important, so is the ability to create your own world that belongs to you only. Robert Weiss, PhD., a clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, claims privacy is “the state or condition of being free from observation and disturbance by other people.” When you come home from a party, kick off your shoes and start walking around in your pajamas, you’re in the private bubble of your own space. And it feels amazing! The same applies to life in general. Maybe you like to enjoy an undisturbed hour to read a book every morning, perhaps you love to hang out with your friends every Thursday night, or maybe you turn your phone off on Sundays to detox. Whatever the case, the things you enjoy separately from your partner give you the freedom to be a whole person no matter how close you are with your other half. Similarly, the time you spend with your friends and the conversations that bond you are yours and yours only – it’s up to you to share them if you choose to. Privacy is a wonderful thing because it lets you reestablish your sense of self, which then ultimately helps your relationship flourish. In Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Domestic and the Erotic, the psychotherapist Esther Perel says: “Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.” When the needs for togetherness and separateness are both met, love and desire are more likely to continue to grow. While hiding things from your partner should never be the case, having your own world free of disturbance definitely should. Secrecy: You’re Intentionally Hiding Things in a Relationship The main difference between privacy and secrecy is intention. When you enjoy some degree of privacy, you’re not really hiding anything – you’re just living your life, going about your day. Intentionally having secrets in relationships—well, that’s a different matter entirely. An addiction to a substance, video games, porn? Lots of debt? Still talking to an ex or that classmate you liked in high school? These are things you definitely shouldn’t keep a secret. If you’re not sure whether you’re being secretive or just private, ask yourself these three questions: Am I ashamed of the information I don’t want to disclose? Am I scared of my partner’s reaction? Do I think my partner would be mad if they found out without me telling them first? If your answer to any of these is yes, chances are you’re being secretive. Note: This advice does not apply to abusive relationships. Sharing vulnerable information could make things worse in such cases. If you are in an abusive relationship, a resource available is the domestic violence hotline. Privacy in a relationship is something that should always be present – secrecy isn’t. While privacy creates necessary separateness, secrecy is the root of trust issues, insecurities, and disconnection. If there’s no transparency in a relationship, the stable foundation upon which love rests has already crumbled. Keeping Secrets in a Relationship - Is It Always Bad? Is it okay to keep secrets from your partner sometimes? The short answer is “Yes!” The long answer is much more complicated. Complete transparency in a relationship is something worth aiming for; however, it’s vital to note that it’s simply not possible at times. Life is never black-and-white, and it always depends on your specific circumstances. What Can You Keep to Yourself? Here’s a general cheat sheet of when keeping secrets in a relationship isn’t so bad (or not bad at all): You’re planning a surprise for your other half and you’re lying to achieve the best ultimate result – their happiness. The relationship you’re in has only lasted a short amount of time, and you’re still in the process of establishing trust. You’re keeping other people’s secrets that don’t have any impact on your partner whatsoever. The last point especially is something people might have different opinions on. “If you trust your partner entirely, why wouldn’t you tell them your friends’ secrets?” they might ask. The answer is simple: It’s not your secret to tell. Respecting boundaries in a relationship is a rule that applies to friendships too – if you’ve been asked not to share, there’s no reason why you should. If your partner decides not to elaborate on a secret their friend has told them, do not push them. Instead, rather than be upset about it, respect their decision to keep the secret to themselves and know that their sense of integrity is something to cherish. If they’re respectful to the secrets of their friends, they’re much more likely to keep your secrets private, too. What Is Important to Share? Anything that has an impact on your partner or their perception of you is essential to share somewhere down the road. We don’t recommend spilling your innermost secrets on the very first date, of course – that might be a bit too much. Once a sense of trust has been established, though, go ahead and let your partner see you for who you truly are, imperfections included. Vulnerability is a key aspect of any intimate relationship. It can get scary, messy, uncomfortable – but the process of opening yourself up to someone is just as difficult as it is beautiful. Intimacy is about letting someone see you in your entirety, about trusting them to accept you fully and without judgment. Being transparent in a relationship is the ultimate step toward that goal. Here are some examples of things you should likely share with your partner: The state of your finances and your view on financial matters Your family dynamics, your relationship with your parents, family history Any addictions you may have, as well as your mental health struggles and how your partner may be able to support you Any serious physical illness in the family Worldviews that are integral to who you are as a person Your view on children and parenting Your approach to romantic relationships What Is Invasion of Privacy in a Relationship? “Hey, babe, I scrolled through your phone and saw you’re meeting with your friends at 9 PM tomorrow night. I’ll be there! Xx” See the message above? It contains not one, but two instances of invading privacy that should be avoided in every healthy relationship. Going through their phone and reading their private DMs on social media? A big red flag (read more about our take on social media red flags in relationships here). Self-inviting to events that don’t concern them without asking you first? The flag’s basically imprinted on their forehead now. Invasion of privacy happens when your partner doesn’t respect your need to keep some aspects of your life only to yourself. Examples of privacy invasion include: Reading your partner’s journal behind their back Using your partner’s fingerprint to unlock their phone when they’re sleeping Scrolling through their phone while they’re having a shower Trying to share every single hobby with them with disregard for their feelings about it Recording them without permission Following them to every social outing despite their desire to go alone If you’re planning to marry your partner one day, the question of privacy in a marriage is important to discuss – if you’re seeing your partner commit some of the examples mentioned above, make sure to bring up the topic of invasion of privacy between husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife and establish healthy boundaries. If your boundaries are being infringed upon, be careful about taking the next step toward marriage. Marriage tends to bring you even closer than before, which can in turn propel one of you to stop respecting boundaries completely. To set things straight: Is there privacy in a relationship? Yes, there should absolutely be privacy in every relationship. Once you’ve taken the next step, should you have privacy in a marriage? The answer hasn’t changed! Privacy should be respected no matter if you’re married or not. The Role of Technology in Invading Privacy The line between privacy and sharing has blurred even further with the invention of smartphones, which is why discussing this topic is more important than ever nowadays. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2019 actually revealed that 34 percent of partnered adults have admitted to looking through their partner’s phone without their knowledge, while another survey from 2018 found that half of people in a relationship give their partner the passwords to their devices, stating that “the boundaries of digital privacy are blurring.” Trying to have excessive control over your partner is never a good idea simply because it almost never works and only makes the relationship unstable. The more you try to control them, the more they pull away. While checking on them using technology may be tempting, always ask yourself first: “Is this going to help establish trust in my relationship, or is this going to undermine it?” Your partner’s phone should belong to them only. No matter if you know the password, no matter if their fingertip is right there, no matter if you’d like to find out what they did at that party last night … it’s always better to communicate honestly and effectively rather than go behind their back. Invasion of privacy equals lack of respect. How to Deal with a Secretive Partner The other side of the coin is a partner who is truly secretive – they deflect questions, refuse to be vulnerable, don’t tell you their whereabouts when you ask, and completely misunderstand how vital transparency in a relationship is. Dealing with a secretive partner isn’t easy. Plus, it’s much more tempting to invade someone’s privacy when they give you reasons for doubt. While your initial reaction may be anger, asking question after question, going through their phone, and clinging to them more than before, understand that the more you push, the more they’ll likely withdraw. Force isn’t what’s needed. Gentle understanding is. Some secretive partners do turn out to have affairs or keep essential secrets from you. If that’s the case, consider walking away if your partner refuses to work on themselves. Secrecy sometimes stems from traumatizing past experiences – this doesn’t, however, excuse lack of progress. Both parties need to try their best to make a relationship work. If your partner is willing to work on becoming less secretive and sharing themselves with you, here’s some advice on how to help them be vulnerable with you: Establish a Safe Space Make sure your partner knows that you’re ready to listen to them patiently, with acceptance and without judgment. They can tell you anything under the sun and you won’t flip out. You won’t turn things into arguments when they don’t need to be; you won’t blame them unnecessarily; your feelings toward them won’t change. Make your relationship a safe space. Show your other half you’re there to support them and hold them, to be a stable and secure foundation in their life. Be Patient If the relationship is still quite fresh, give it some time. Your partner may still be testing the waters to see if you’re someone they trust enough to confide in. If you’ve just started dating, defining the relationship might help them feel more secure in the connection and open up. Never force them into sharing something they’re uncomfortable with if it’s still too soon. There does, of course, come a point when honesty in a relationship is a given and when you should devote yourself to trusting and knowing each other completely. This is usually before you fully commit. Remember: Respect is everything when someone’s deciding whether to trust you or not. Your partner needs to know you respect their boundaries and aren’t going to try to force their personal secrets out of them. Conclusion: The Right to Privacy The right to privacy means that you have the right to not disclose every single thing to anyone, not even to your partner. Simply put, it’s your right to be left alone. The question of privacy vs transparency in relationships is a contradiction. This is because there is actually no clash between transparency and privacy – both are extremely important aspects of building a secure and healthy relationship. Our rule of thumb goes as follows: Always aim for transparency and trust. At the same time, don’t sacrifice your privacy for the relationship itself. Respect each other’s boundaries and balance vulnerability with some healthy time apart. Each and every one of us has the right to privacy. Building a world with your partner while keeping a smaller world just for yourself alongside it doesn’t clash. On the contrary, the two worlds overlap and support each other. Love shouldn’t consume you. It should make space for who you already are.