Does My Spouse Need to Know?
- Joe Beam Family Dynamics Institute, President
- 2008 3 Jul
I receive questions like this one all the time: Should I reveal to my spouse events from my past even though I believe he could never find out about them?
There is a threefold test I share with people who ask if they should tell their spouses either about their distant past or about things that they’ve done since their marriages began. Most often the question comes from people who’ve had an affair but the same test works well for deciding whether you should share any information you’re keeping from your mate.
1. Are you sure he could never find out? If there's any chance your spouse could come across painful information about you on his own, he needs to hear it from you first. If you think your mate is going to react badly upon learning your secret, be assured that the reaction will be much worse if he finds out from anyone other than you. You’re better off to tell him rather than to wait in miserable anticipation that the revelation may come from someone else.
2. Has he ever asked you a question related to the information you haven't shared and you responded with a lie? If so, you need to get that lie off the table and tell the truth. As long as you know you’ve deceived him, you’ll never reach the level of trust that makes a great marriage. You’ll always know that a part of your relationship is based on fabrication rather than reality. Because of that, you will never feel genuine closeness as long as that lie lives.
3. Is your secret causing you to hold back any part of yourself from the relationship because of fear, worry, guilt, or shame? If so, then revealing your secret to him can do away with those barriers to intimacy. You see, intimacy is a lot more than sex. Real intimacy includes things like openness, honesty, closeness, warmth, trust, and vulnerability. We all crave a relationship that has those characteristics, and only experience true love when that type of intimate relationship exists. Let me say it stronger: You cannot have true love if you have a secret that causes you to hold yourself back from being honest, open, and vulnerable. So if your secret keeps you from making yourself transparent to him, you should tell him about your past.
These are the main three but there are, of course, other things to consider: Could your spouse's lack of knowledge cause harm to him? (risk of STD, financial loss, etc). What are your motives for withholding the information or telling him? Set aside your hopes and fears and ask yourself what course of action is the most loving and honoring to your spouse.
Will you lose your marriage if you share information about your past? That’s always possible and you need to consider that before you open up. However, from my work with thousands of marriages I can assure you that there is help for the troubled times and that your coming clean may be the very thing that makes it possible for you to have a wonderful marriage. Telling may cause an immediate downturn in your marriage. He may even leave for a couple of days. But that doesn’t mean it’s over. Most of the time the spouse comes back and then searches for ways to heal the hurt. There are many people who are there to guide you through that healing process.
Sharing a secret can be painful, but it usually is the best thing you ever do for your marriage. Look at it this way: How many more years of marriage might be ahead of you? If you’re 35, you could be married another 40 years or longer. Do you want to live for the next 40 years with the same level of intimacy, and in the same type of relationship, with the same kind of fear or worry that you have now? If not, then it’s worth the risk to get the secret out of the way and start developing the kind of relationship that marriage is meant to be.
It’s your decision and no one has the right to compel you either to share or to hide your past. However, I know hundreds of couples where a spouse finally found the courage to self-reveal and now their marriages are loving and strong. It was a tough road for a while, and sometimes the revealing spouse was in turn shocked to hear the revelations that came in response, but with a little help and direction they overcame their pasts, no matter how bad, and forged a marriage based on true love.
Do you want true love? Then act with courage and purpose rather than living with secrets and fear.