So now you know what toxic and healthy secrets look like and how they impact your relationships... How do you know the difference between the two? Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help you determine the difference:
1. What is the intention? If the intention is to restore or promote passion and intimacy (e.g., not telling a spouse about a surprise date or party on their behalf), chances are that it's a healthy secret. If the intention is to try and keep someone from feeling "hurt" (e.g., keeping someone from feeling angry that you have done something hurtful), the chances are that it's toxic.
2. Is the secret effecting the relationship? For example, if you feel that your partners behavior or appearance (e.g., their physical appearance or weight, their emotional outbursts) are causing you difficulty with intimacy, sharing your feelings about this "secret" can have a positive impact on the relationship (even though it might be painful for your partner to hear this). If certain issues aren't impacting intimacy or other aspects of the relationship, but you are sharing a lot of critical and judgemental things with your partner, it may not be necessary and only push them further away and cause them to feel inadequate.
3. Does someone get hurt as a result of keeping the secret? Secrets like physical, emotional, and sexual abuse can cause someone t0 get hurt as a result of keeping the secret, and are therefore toxic. Even if it's someone you don't know, having the knowledge that someone is (0r has been) abusive and keeping it a secret can keep the abusive person protected, which allows the abuse to continue with others. If you are keeping a secret about an addiction or an affair, it can cause feelings of betrayal in the relationship when the truth finally comes out (which it will!). If no one will get hurt as a result of the secret, it most likely is a healthy secret.
4. Do YOU get hurt as a result of keeping the secret? Secrets such as spending money and acquiring debt, having an affair, withholding information about previous abuse or neglect, can cause so much shame over not allowing your partner to know who you really are and what you struggle with in your internal world. This not only hurts the relationship, but hurts YOU. It doesn't allow others to know who you really are. If a secret is hurting you, it is most likely toxic.
These are just a few of the questions to ask when trying to determine whether a secret is toxic or healthy. Thank you for reading!
Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.