Privacy vs. Secrecy – Where Is the Line?

Privacy vs. SecrecyLet’s start off with a quick mental exercise.

Think of three things your man doesn’t know about you. Even if you’ve been together for years, that should be easy.

Now for the hard part.

Ask yourself WHY he doesn’t know these three things. Is it because this stuff has just never come up? Or is it because you’re keeping details about your life from him?

The answer matters. Let me explain.

The issue of privacy comes up a lot in the modern world. You hear about it all the time as it relates to things like Facebook and internet use. Privacy has its place online… and in dating relationships.

Privacy is about those moments when no one is observing you. When something is private, it just means it happened where others couldn’t see. Privacy isn’t bad.

However, if there are things you’re keeping from him because you fear he will be upset, angry, or hurt, that’s not privacy. That’s keeping a secret.[i]

And here’s the problem with secrets in dating relationships. They destroy trust.

So, there’s this tension in every romance between privacy and secrecy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just come home from your first date or you’ve been together for 20 years. The tension is real.

When is it better to just leave a skeleton in the closet?  When is privacy a good thing?

The following tips will help you decide.

  1. Ask yourself about motive.

Like I mentioned above, the real difference between privacy and secrecy is the motive.

If your guy doesn’t know you used to date a co-worker because you didn’t know your partner then and it’s just never come up, that’s no big deal. But if you’ve made a conscious decision not to tell him because you’re concerned he would be upset, you’re keeping a secret.

Maintaining some measure of privacy is good for you as an individual, and as a couple. But few things dissolve trust as fast as secrets that seem to have a potential hidden motive.

  1. Talk about what you will and won’t share.

If there are areas in your life where you want to maintain privacy, don’t be afraid to let him know.

Here’s a very practical example. When I am dating someone, I’ll friend them or allow them to follow me on any social app. But I will NOT share my passwords with them. Ever. My passwords are private.

Healthy boundaries are an important part of any relationship. Just make sure you talk about what your boundaries will be.

  1. Respect his privacy every bit as much as you want him to respect yours.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb. Don’t violate his privacy in a way that would make you feel ashamed if he caught you in the act.

In practical terms, that means don’t go snooping on his cell phone, digging through his browser history, or even shuffling through his mail (unless you asked first). If you have questions, ASK HIM. Don’t violate his privacy by sneaking into areas of his life without his knowledge or permission.

Privacy vs. Secrecy

Privacy is one of those really critical, but really tricky relationship things. It’s neither realistic nor ideal to ditch it completely. You should have parts of your life that are just for you.

At the same time, secrecy isn’t helpful in building intimacy and trust.

The important thing is balance. Know the difference between the two, and guard healthy privacy. That benefits you, him, and the relationship.

[i] Weiss, Robert, LCSW, CSAT-S. “Intimate Relationships: Privacy vs. Secrecy.” Psychology Today. HealthProfs.com, 8 Sept. 2016. Web. 09 Sept. 2016.


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7 thoughts on “Privacy vs. Secrecy – Where Is the Line?

  1. Alma said:

    I’m 29 yrs older than my husband and we have been married for almost 25 yrs. it’s possible that the relationship will work with love and understanding .

    • MJ said:

      James, while I highly value your advice and body of work, this is the first time I disagree with you (i.e. your statement about needing to be open with your spouse about everything in your past.) My spouse does not need to know, nor does he want to know, for instance, about previous boyfriends/relationships I’ve had – and what good would that do anyway? It was a different time in both our lives, before we met one another – and our actions/attitudes decisions at that time had nothing to do with one another! Not that it’s a secret, but isn’t it true that there are some things you just aren’t expected to share? Because they have no place, no relevance in your current life/ your current relationship? I’m reminded of the line in the movie Jerry MacGuire: “Let’s not share our sad stories.” You don’t want to bring pain from past relationships into your current one. Nor stories of love and passion. Am I wrong?

      • James Bauer said:

        You’re absolutely right, Alma. It all comes down to what’s healthy for the relationship. Which often relates to your motive for keeping something to yourself. In the situation you’re asking about, your motive is pure. So it’s best to leave those skeletons in the closet.

  2. Margaret said:

    Thank you for this distinction between privacy and secrecy. It’s very helpful

  3. Cathy Mccorm said:

    Good to have informatn on intimate relationship.

  4. Irine said:

    Is it hard to be in a relationship, where the woman is so much older.?

    • Lisa Duke said:

      Hi Irine
      No not necessarily. If the man and woman are in tune with each other and truly love eachother then why would it cease?

      It’s important to be at the same stage in life so that your goals are aligned. If he wants a child and she doesn’t or can’t, then the relationship will break. If he wants to live in the country and she loves the city then this will cause tension.
      Religion is another big one ie if two people have different values then it can be difficult for them to accept the opposing views.

      Couples from different walks of life or with different personalities eg an introvert who loves books versus an extrovert who loves his friends can be incredibly happy together so why does age matter?

      Men have been with much younger women for centuries and they can be very compatible. Some young guys are mature and love that an older woman is more settled and sensual, happy in her own skin, confident about who she is. These attributes are a huge attraction for younger men.
      My ex was 10 years younger than me and we got along famously, always laughing and loving eachother. We did not break up because of the age difference. It was for other reasons.

      Give it a go if you love eachother. It can be very uplifting to be with a funloving youthful man rather than an old boring fart with a fat belly. Lol. 🤣 Much more exciting, passionate and fulfilling .
      Love conquers all!!

      Warmest regards
      Lisa from Australia

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