Confess or Suppress: Is it ever okay to keep secrets from your partner?

"Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."

― Oscar Wilde

Just as the age old adage goes 'some things are better left unsaid'. This holds enormous truth to relationships. In a perfect relationship, you'd never have to worry if he were keeping anything from you, because his life, too, would be an open book. But we live in the real world, where even the healthiest couples sometimes hide things from each other. To most of us, the secret to end all secrets (and many marriages) is an affair--and no one will quibble with the devastating consequences of infidelity. Yet even "small" deceptions can rock a relationship, and it can be hard to draw the line between what's harmless and what's not.

Having said that, revealing every single thing about your history, romantic or otherwise, doesn't automatically make you two a better couple. Healthy, intimate relationships involve a lot of honesty and disclosure, but you can't just honestly disclose everything you've got, and expect a good relationship to follow. Intimacy and complete openness are not one and the same. A successful long-term relationship means being willing to share your vulnerabilities and strengths, but requires sensitivity to the consequences that sharing brings.

In truth, most successful long-term relationships are based on strong emotional and physical connections. But intimacy isn't necessarily equated with complete honesty. There are many couples that don't "tell all," yet maintain a trusting, fulfilling relationship. Likewise, there are some couples that suffer a great deal when well-kept secrets (or ultimately revealed ones) lead to mistrust and hurt.

As a matter of fact, although it is necessary to be open, hiding a few things actually helps. Protecting your spouse from the truth, allowing your spouse to have their illusions, is often the more loving choice. This is precisely the reason why certain mature people choose not to reveal everything to their partners. If you are not sure whether to tell or not to tell ask yourself the following questions:

• What is the purpose of telling him/her?\
• How does it affect the relationship?
• How does it hinder the relationship?
• If it does not help the relationship, why would he/she want to know?

If you want a relationship grounded in mutual trust (and who doesn't?), certain issues require full disclosure. "If something has a chance of impacting your partner's future or his life with you, then he has a right to know about it," says Mira Kirshenbaum, a relationship expert and author of Is He Mr. Right? This includes anything from the past that has reverberations in the present (lingering debts, a chronic medical condition, past sexual or emotional abuse), and anything in the present that could affect the future (a health scare, a potential downsizing at work).

I personally believe that things that took place before the relationship sometimes lay unnecessary groundwork for mistrust and jealousy, and those are two things that can surreptitiously sink a relationship over time. The truth is, some things are frankly not any of your partner's business and once he/she has knowledge of certain aspects of your past, they may subconsciously be distracted from who you truly are in the present.

If you still are struggling with whether to reveal a secret or not, here is my rule of thumb:

• Money

Even if the money you are spending is money you earned through the work you do, there is a serious problem if you feel the need to keep your expenses a secret.

• Unprocessed childhood pain

I know that sharing every detail of your childhood may be difficult and unnecessary, however, if something happened to you years ago and the pain from it is still impacting your life in a meaningful way, your spouse needs to know that.

• Friendships

If you have a friendship, whether it's with the same sex or the opposite sex, there is something strange going on if that friendship needs to be a secret. Examine why you are truly keeping it a secret and you are sure to reveal something with your marriage that needs to be addressed.

• Your vision for your life

If you dream of a life that is different than the one you are living, but you find yourself trying to be content with what you have because having more seems unreasonable, you have to talk to your spouse today. Nothing hurts a marriage more than dying dreams and feelings of resentment. Keeping your personal vision a secret will hurt in the long run.

• What you do with your spare time

If your husband thinks you are out shopping with your girls, you shouldn't really be at a bar drinking by yourself. Or if your wife thinks you went to a football game with your boys, you shouldn't really be at the casino gambling away your check. When you keep secrets about your whereabouts, there are deeper personal and marital issues you need to work though.