Why do relationships deteriorate over time? What causes people to disconnect and drift apart? I’m not just talking about intimate relationships between married couples and partners; I’m talking about all relationships. What is causing this epidemic of disconnection? Why can’t we maintain a deep connection with the people in our lives? I’ll tell you why. It’s because we are all lying, hiding and keeping secrets from everyone in our lives, thinking it’s what we’re meant to do. We use the excuse that if we tell people what we really think, we may hurt their feelings or get into trouble. So instead, we don’t express ourselves, we keep our real thoughts secret and ultimately hide our true selves from the people we care about most. In other words, no one is being authentic in relationships.
Now, don’t be offended that I just called you a liar and a secret keeper. The good news is you’re not alone. Look at the people around you. They have just as many secrets as you do. Maybe even more. Yes, everyone has secrets and many people don’t think keeping a secret is a big deal, but it is a big deal. Here’s why.
1) Secrets create reality.
Most people believe that if you hide something, then it doesn’t really exist. It’s just a hidden secret or thought in your mind. It’s not real, it has no impact, and it means nothing. That’s a lie. The act of making a secret and hiding it is what makes it real. If you have to hide information, it gives it a level of importance and property. It actually does the opposite of what you want it to do. Instead of the secret disappearing because you’re not telling, it becomes very real, affecting your relationships, happiness and keeping you stuck in a “purgatory” that you don’t even know you’re in.
2) Secrets hide the real you.
What makes up a secret? It’s something you can’t tell. It’s something you aren’t allowed to talk about. It’s something that will get you in trouble. It’s something that you are ashamed or embarrassed about. There are big secrets and little secrets. Many people can grasp how keeping a big secret, like cheating on a spouse, is significant and would impact a person. What about the little secrets? Are they significant? Every secret is significant.
For example, I had a client, we’ll call him Peter, who was seriously dating a woman. During their first year together, she put on about 20 pounds. She would ask him all the time how she looked and said she wanted him to tell the truth. He didn’t want to tell her how he really felt which was that she had gotten heavy. Instead, he lied and told her she looked great. The more she would ask, the more he would lie and not tell her what he really thought. Slowly, he started to become less attracted to her. Then he felt guilty for being “so shallow” about her weight. And then he became aware of how much he picked on her in his head about her weight and started obsessing about it. His secret started to really take shape and become real. It even got to a point where he was no longer physically aroused by her. Peter thought he was having erectile issues, but they were really secret issues.
3) Secrets manifest problems elsewhere.
Somewhere along the way it became okay for people to be secret keepers. The problem is, we don’t realize the big impact secrets have on our relationships or ourselves. You cannot be deeply connected with someone if you’re withholding your true thoughts and feelings. In the example above, Peter’s relationship deteriorated because he was afraid to tell the truth to his girlfriend. Plus his secret impacted him emotionally and physically. It wasn’t until he looked at what he was hiding from his girlfriend that he was able to connect his secret to his erectile dysfunction.
4) Secrets wreck relationships.
People don’t realize that their secrets are why their marriage ended or the reason they don’t get along with their boss. Often, when a relationship falls apart, a person will just explain what happens, saying they’ve “fallen out of love” with the other person or “it just didn’t work out.” They almost never ask the question: what was I hiding? What secrets was I keeping? People rarely own up that they were the source of the disconnection. Instead they hunt for their own innocence and play the victim, pointing the finger at what the other person did wrong.
5) Secrets isolate you from the most important people in your life.
I have never met a person who feels totally free to tell anyone anything or express what they really think. Most people live in their own little private, secret world where they spend most of their time managing what they are saying. It’s pretty lonely in there. When I coach a person, one of the first things I do is have them get all their secrets out of their head and onto paper. Why? Because their secrets are what keeps them separate from the people in their lives and they don’t even know it. Keeping secrets makes you think you know how things are, and if you already know, you don’t investigate with the other living, breathing humans around you. This robs you of real communication and intimacy.
When you don’t say what you really think, people can’t know who you really are. Therefore, you’ll never feel loved for who you really are. So, how do you stop the secret keeping that is killing your relationships and covering up the real you? Very carefully. Don’t just go blurting your nasty thoughts to people. Seek help in how to begin communicating honestly. There is a formula to having this go well and you’re going to require practice. If you want your relationships to survive, even thrive, this is one of the most important skills to develop. Let us know if we can help.