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After the story broke that New York governor Eliot Spitzer was having sex with prostitutes, relationship experts popped up on every news channel, dispensing theories about Mr. Spitzer's behavior. Opinions about why a married man (and one with a great deal to lose) would behave this way ranged from him having unmet needs to sociopathic tendencies. One expert even suggested that "men are ruled by their genitals." In all the analyses of this scandal, though, what no one brought up was the role of secrets.

The truth is we're never going to know why the ex-governor did what he did. But the reality is that Mr. and Mrs. Spitzer are not alone in having to deal with the devastating effects of an extra-marital affair. It is estimated that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will be unfaithful at some point in their marriage.

In my therapy practice I've worked with both men and women who were unfaithful, and many who were on the verge of starting an affair. There are many reasons why someone makes the decision to cheat on their spouse or partner--one often overlooked dynamic has to do with the power and lure of living in a secretive world.

The Power of Secrets


Some people are drawn to the idea of keeping secrets. Whether the secret involves an extra-marital affair, gambling, shopping, or alcohol/drugs, keeping a secret seems to hold a special meaning for the secret-holder, beyond the content of what is kept hidden. For obvious reasons, secrets spell big trouble for your marriage or relationship.

True intimacy cannot exist when you build walls of secrecy around each other.

Let's look at five reasons you might keep secrets from your partner (or vice versa):

1. The Secret as an escape

Here the secret acts as an escape hatch from a mundane or distressing reality that you feel little control over. People who feel trapped in painful marriages are vulnerable to creating a secret life that promises relief from the heartache of a deteriorating relationship. For some, the secret might involve emotional infidelity; others might have a physical affair. The secretive relationship can exist for many years alongside one's marriage or the affair can act as catalyst to leaving an unwanted relationship.

2. The Secret as a source of energy

The function of this type of secret is similar to escapism but the emphasis is on the charged energy you feel when you enter into the secretive world. The secret is seen as offering a much-needed adrenaline boost to a lackluster life. One client who had a gambling addiction (that was kept hidden from his family) described how his secretive life made him feel "alive" in ways that eluded him in his day-to- day life. People who remain overly repressed and constrained in their relationships (and in general) are prone to this type of secret.

3. The Secret as affirmation of your disowned self

Typically, people behave differently in their secretive world: The individual who feels stepped-on in his life seeks omnipotence; the high powered executive who bullied his/her way to the top becomes helplessly submissive; the dutiful, and highly ethical husband is transformed into the bad, punishable child. When deep- seated fears of rejection and shame block you from bringing all of yourself into your marriage or relationship, secrets become a powerful way to express these disowned (polar-opposite) parts of yourself.

4. The Secret as an avoidance of intimacy

For many, emotional intimacy is the life energy that makes them feel alive and whole; but for others, a deep connection to another becomes a strait jacket to be avoided--fear of intimacy is a reality for many couples. When you struggle with fears of intimacy, you struggle to maintain your autonomy, while also attempting to give of yourself emotionally. This is a balancing act that does not come easy. When intimacy is being avoided, the creation of a secretive life acts as a possession, a line drawn in the sand that delineates you from your partner or spouse.

5. The Secret as a means of control/power

In a sense, all secrets give you a greater sense of control. At lease initially. This usually changes at some point, as your secretive life spirals out of control--which is often the case when you try to hold onto secrets while being in an intimate relationship. But for some, their secrets are designed to act as a means of power over their spouse--a way of controlling something, anything, that their partner cannot have access to. The importance of this secret is that you gain a sense of control over your partner by maintaining a secretive existence.


The need to keep secrets originates out of an early need to protect yourself. When a relationship (or some aspect of a relationship) becomes intolerable to a child, s/he begins to retreat, hiding within the protective world of secrets. A child who has been emotionally injured learns to count on the reliability and safety of secrets.

The challenge for all of us is to create a relationship that feels safe, a union that allows a deep and rich sharing of ourselves. When our hard work and commitment pays off in the form of a mutual haven of intimacy and respect, the heavy curtain of secrecy will lift, allowing a true connection to flourish.

To receive tips on building deeper intimacy and a stronger relationship, visit www.StrengthenYourRelationship.com and sign up for Dr. Nicastro's FREE Relationship Toolbox Newsletter.

As a bonus, you will receive the popular free reports: "The four mindsets that can topple your relationship" and "Relationship self-defense: Control the way you argue before your arguments control you."

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship.
 

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I carry too many secrets. I share too much information online, but find it a great escape, a great way to sort my thoughts. I wish I could share everything with my husband, but he is not interested.
 

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I agree with Sensitive and the article. My secrets are based on lack of emotion. My husband could give two craps what I feel or rather how I am feeling about anything. He doesn't listen and shows no emotion. My secrets I let out here. My secret...I get the emotional part of my relationship from others who will listen.
 

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There are definately some things you should never tell your spouse, especially in anger. People often say things they do not mean in anger only to be hurtful,manipulative. Honesty is a different matter entirely.
 

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I feel this is an excellent article, a subject that is not talked about enough. I have a very very very hard time keeping ANYTHING from my husband, I am a complete & utter open book before him. He would be the 1st to tell anyone it is one of the things he loves about me the most.

If I do something wrong/naughty/stupid in a weak moment, which I have on occasion, crossing lines I should not be crossing, I seriously CAN NOT live with myself until I have told him & bared my heart -to why. It eats at me, like something I swallowed that my stomach can not except, it has to come back up. My record is 3 days. Nothing I have done he felt was all that earth shattering in the scheme of life & marriage. He has even chuckled about it after the fact. We both laugh. He has always been very understanding & immediately forgiving. If you have a spouse like THIS, it makes it MUCH easier to bare you soul.

I DO feel that keeping secrets from your spouse is a very powerful thing- often leading to a Place of no return, depending on the severity of the "secret".

Just coming clean itself often times KEEPS people on the straight & narrow before their partner, keeps them accountable & allows their partner the choice to work things out, forgive, or leave the relationship. Being vulnerable emotionally with them when you have done something wrong, or feel you are about to do something wrong is what REAL communication is all about- when you truly love someone & want to do what is in thier best interest.

To become desensitized in this area is a place none of us should be in marraige. It simply won't work, serious secrets have a way of finding you out or killing the goodness inside of you, making you numb to the one you are holding them from, pushing you further towards your secret life.

Even though I feel this strongly about honesty in all things, I can still sympathize with many who go down this road, or are tempted too - if they have an uncaring uninterested uncooperative unloving Un-understanding & generally Unforgiving spouse. :( That is no walk in the park, but a freaking war zone.

It takes 2 genuinely caring spouses to avoid these slipperly slopes -in my opionon.
 

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I agree with you SA. I don't think keeping secrets is a good thing at all.

It can be very hurtful if you find the person you love has either lied or not told you something they should have revealed to you. It's very deceptive and erodes trust. It is also never forgotten.

If however people come clean relatively soon or as soon as possible it is much easier to forgive and move forward.
 

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I'm with a few other posters.

I have secrets, only because my husband won't listen to me.

I'd be happy to "unload" my secrets on him - if he would only listen.

He has secrets (he thinks they are secrets, but I know them - so they are only secrets to him), as a means of control I believe so he can maintain control over parts of his life as he feels so out of control since the TBI.

I don't have an issue with secrets - unless they are secrets that tear at the core of our relationship or put it in a position to be damaged - then it's a problem for me - his porn use would be an example.
 

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I'm with a few other posters.

I have secrets, only because my husband won't listen to me.

I'd be happy to "unload" my secrets on him - if he would only listen.

He has secrets (he thinks they are secrets, but I know them - so they are only secrets to him), as a means of control I believe so he can maintain control over parts of his life as he feels so out of control since the TBI.

I don't have an issue with secrets - unless they are secrets that tear at the core of our relationship or put it in a position to be damaged - then it's a problem for me - his porn use would be an example.
Same here, but both of us have secrets and both of us kinda show to each other that we don't really notice that. Anyway we both understand that's just acting toward each other.


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I agree with you SA. I don't think keeping secrets is a good thing at all.

It can be very hurtful if you find the person you love has either lied or not told you something they should have revealed to you. It's very deceptive and erodes trust. It is also never forgotten.

If however people come clean relatively soon or as soon as possible it is much easier to forgive and move forward.
:iagree:

I can remember one of my first relationships when I was like in 5th grade or something: my girlfriend at the time told me flat out "we don't have secrets."

That's stuck with me from that first relationship and I've tried to be really open with all of my SO, but I agree with whoever else said that it's hard to be open when your partner doesn't listen.:scratchhead:
 

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We used to have BIG decrets. Now we have little secrets. But the main secret that took all the air out of my balloon was her affair. Now she knows I know, but although she doesn't deny she was horrible, she still can't bring herself to actually say "I screwed around on you." So it's a 'known' secret.

Bet you didn't see that one coming for your article! Thanks for it btw.
 
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