If we’re honest, we all hide things from our partners. Not all of these are sinister, though many suggest we should address something in the relationship. Over my years as a marriage and family therapist, I’ve come across a wide range of things men hide from their wives. These were as innocuous as his opinion of his wife’s dress or the secret purchase of a video-game console. They also included more significant things, such as thousands of dollars of debt from before they met, upset at how his wife spoke with him the day before, having online conversations with other women, or his favorite sexual fantasy. The important issue is rarely the content of what he’s hiding. Rather it’s the reason behind the secrecy that may be of concern.
He may keep to himself what he thinks of your dress out of consideration for your self-esteem, or it might be for fear of your upset reaction if he tells you he doesn’t like it. The golden path lies in not blurting out every thought that comes to mind, regardless of the likely impact, but answering direct questions in an honest, gentle, and thoughtful way.
Perhaps he’s hiding the purchase of a game console because when you discussed the idea you dismissed it as childish, leaving him feeling unheard and having no say in his life and choices, so he rebelled by doing it in secret.
He may fear that if he tells you about an old debt, you won’t respect him as a provider. He could rationalize it by thinking he’ll pay it off anyway, so he doesn’t have to disclose it. This speaks more to his sense of self and the role he took on as a provider than it does to your relationship. Still, it may indicate he doesn’t feel secure in the relationship.
If he’s upset with how you spoke to him, it’s important your relationship be such that he feels he can express his hurt, expecting validation rather than further upset. Successful relationships are those where each partner feels safe to talk about difficult issues, knowing the other will collaborate to resolve the issue, rather than fight to prove he or she is in the right.
Secret online conversations with other women can be a hot-button issue, and a seeming betrayal. However, while this may signal he’s no longer committed to the relationship and is, consciously or not, seeking a way out; it may also be because he’s seeking to feel something about himself that he isn’t feeling from the relationship. In such a case, it’s important to seek counseling to identify the issues and address them.
It’s important to distinguish between secrecy and privacy. He may keep his favorite sexual fantasy private because sharing it would make him too vulnerable emotionally and may destroy the power of the fantasy for him. We all deserve a degree of privacy, which should not be lumped in with secrecy. In fact, it’s the emotional and physical space between us that helps keep a relationship alive and vibrant.
The best way to maintain an open, communicative relationship is to listen in order to hear, not in order to come up with a winning reply. To show genuine understanding of what he’s expressing, even when you don’t necessarily agree. If you then say you can see how you might feel the same way if you were in his shoes, that’s likely to encourage him to share more with you in the future.