Honesty – Difference between Privacy and Secrecy

In my last blog I spoke about trust being a natural outcome if other qualities of a relationship are met. Today I want to focus on probably the most important element of a trusting relationship: Honesty

First, it is important to note that most people lie. Researchers found that most people lie one or two times a day. However, while most people lie, they lie only a little. Most people limit how much they are willing to lie because they want to see themselves as honest people. So, it makes sense to have realistic expectations and recognize that your partner may sometimes lie, after all, so do you. Most of the time the lies are harmless and have no effect on your relationship and have little, or nothing to do with how your partner feels about you. Most people lie because of how they feel about themselves, they are looking to protect or promote themselves. They are not out to hurt other people. (Source: National Geographic June 2017 Edition: Why We Lie)

Second, we need to look at what constitutes a lie. A lie is defined as an untrue statement with intent to deceive or to create a false or misleading impression. While most people can easily identify a blatant lie, for example the cheating spouse who denies having an affair, there are some gray areas. One of those is where does privacy end and secrecy begin?

All people want and deserve some privacy, even in a relationship. What can be deemed as “private” by one partner may feel like “secrecy” or dishonesty to the other partner. Ultimately, the difference is the intent behind it.

Privacy is setting personal boundaries and staying within them. Privacy is a choice not to reveal intimate details and can be an agreement among partners what will not be revealed.

Secrecy has an element of shame attached and is something we keep purposefully hidden because we fear a negative outcome. Secrecy is information that could be harmful to another. It is helpful to have a discussion with your partner to determine what you deem private versus what you see as a secret. This could avoid hurt and betrayal and have long-term beneficial effects for both of you.

In determining whether what you are keeping from your partner you are exercising your right to privacy or being secretive, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
1. How troubled would I be if it were the other way around?
2. What am I afraid of?
3. What’s keeping me from sharing?
4. What do I think I will lose by being honest?
5. What are ways I can retain my privacy without hurting feelings?
6. How will I feel about myself if I do not share this?
7. What are the reasons I need to keep this secret?

Third, we need to address what do you do to rebuild trust after you or your partner lied or kept secrets.

If you are the one that was dishonest, the first step is to come clean and the sooner the better. Take full responsibility for your actions. Make sure that during the process of healing your relationship you are dependable and comforting. This means keep your promises and allow your partner time to vent their feelings. Of course, most important, commit to being honest in the future. Depending on the severity of the offense, you may need to be extra transparent.

If you were the one deceived or lied to, you need to actively work on letting go and forgiving. This is not an easy process. Start by assessing the situation. Is this a one-time behavior or a pattern? Is the relationship important enough to save? Another thing you can do is to put yourself in the others’ shoes. Think back to times you may have told a lie. Doing this helps build compassion which makes it easier to forgive. Most important share your feelings with your partner. Explain what specifically hurt you and what actions would make you feel better.

It will take time and patience to get through this, but trust can be regained. If you find that you consistently have trouble being honest, or you are struggling to trust, coaching may help you uncover patterns in your belief system that are getting in the way. For more help on this or other relationship difficulties book a free discovery session now.
Questions? Call 800.408.1834 or email me at info@coachmona.org


Any successful relationship needs trust. You simply cannot function as a couple if you do not trust each other. Without trust your relationship does not feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we tend to go into survival mode. We are not our best selves in survival mode. We feel stressed, we are reactive, and we become self- involved since we are in a state of protecting ourselves rather than giving to our partner. This is a downward spiral and can lead to a complete breakdown of the relationship.

Whereas honesty is a quality in a person that is essential to a relationship, trust is not a quality of a person, but an outcome of individual qualities.

Trust is not a quality, but an outcome

I often see trust listed as one of the required qualities of a successful relationship. It’s generally listed along with support, respect, honesty, open communication, loyalty, etc.

It is important to make a distinction between trust, and other attributes of a successful relationship though. While I wholeheartedly agree that mutual trust is essential for a successful relationship, it really isn’t so much a quality as it is a natural outcome of having the other qualities. If you are honest with one another, treat each other with respect, are loyal, communicate well and support each other, you are building trust.

If your relationship was graded, trust is essentially having earned an “A” for your relationship. Thinking back of grading systems in school, I remember two types of teachers. One teacher would proclaim at the beginning of a semester “I don’t give A’s. I don’t believe anyone deserves an A.” In this teacher’s class, you could do all the work, show up to all the classes, participate do extra credit and if you were lucky, maybe you would get a “B”.

The other kind of teacher would tell you, “I assume you are all “A” students.” With this type of teacher, you had to prove you were not worthy of an “A”. In this case, if you chose not to come to class, didn’t study or turn in your work, that’s when your grade was lowered. So, you were basically asked to maintain your grade. It still required work, but you were given the benefit of the doubt that you were fully capable of doing it.

I will tell you, I was way more excited to do my work with the second type of teacher. I found the first teacher’s style to be demotivating. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth. My thought was “Why should I bother if no matter how hard I work I can never ace this class?”
The same is true on a relationship level. If you find yourself in a relationship where you are not trusted though you’ve never given a reason to distrust, it’s an awful feeling. It is not a healthy place to be. These relationships can potentially escalate, become controlling, even abusive, or otherwise emotionally draining. If you have been honest, kind, respectful, faithful, and the other person still cannot trust you, it’s devastating.
Ideally, we would enter a relationship in a state of trust. Start out by giving your partner an “A”.
We would give the other person the benefit of the doubt that they are trustworthy. Given that the relationship doesn’t unveil any reasons not to trust your relationship would remain in a state of trust. However, trust does require ongoing participation. If you are not being honest and open or are disrespectful to your partner, you are destroying trust. You are bringing down your grade, so to speak. To get back to a place of trust, you may need to work a little harder, do some extra credit so to speak. You cannot expect your partner to just trust you as if nothing ever happened. Just like in school, if you didn’t study, you didn’t get to keep your “A”. Hopefully, you took responsibility and worked harder the second time around. Re-building trust is harder than it would have been to maintain trust, but it can be done.

On the flipside, if you are in a relationship, where your partner has not been honest, or has treated you with disrespect, it is natural to feel distrust. There is reason to be more cautious. However, if your partner is trying and willing to work through this, (depending on the severity of the offense and if you are willing to work on your relationship) you will need to eventually forgive and move towards trust for your relationship to succeed. If you imagined yourself a teacher for a moment, you would hopefully give a student another chance at an “A” if they were trying. After all, none of us are perfect and all of us make mistakes.

Application to Blended Families

When you are on your second or third marriage, trust is even harder to come by. One, because you have had some past experiences that may make it harder to trust. Perhaps you were betrayed, lied to, cheated on, etc. Or maybe you thought the relationship was going great when your partner announced they want out and just lost your trust in relationships altogether. Whatever the circumstances, chances are you may still be carrying some of feelings from your previous relationship and trust may be harder for you to bring into a new relationship.

Additionally, whenever children are involved, there is generally still interactions with ex-spouses. So, not only is it harder to trust because of your own past experiences, but now you need to extend additional trust for your partner interacting with someone that they were once emotionally involved with.

Trust is hard in any relationship. Blended families though have additional challenges. It will take some extra work. But it will be worth it when you receive your “A”.
Now what?

Now, whether you are in the first type of relationship, where there is no trust no matter what you do, or the second type, where trust was lost, it does not have to be the end. If both partners are willing, it can be worked on. Depending on the severity, you may need to seek out counseling, you may choose to hire a coach, or you may just be able to work through it on your own. There are many online resources and self-help books available on this topic as well.