Honesty is everything in a relationship, but is it always the best policy?
Relationships have gone awry just by a partner revealing 'too much information', and that is why many women - and men prefer to keep some information to themselves.
“What is a secret in a relationship? Does it mean if I do not tell my partner that I am having a meet-up with my girls over the weekend to gossip about men by just telling him I am having a salon day, that I am hiding something from him? Does it mean that if I can’t cook his favourite meal or put up with his idea about an adventure outing weekend and haven’t said all this to him am keeping a secret,” poses Naomi Kamore, a 27-year-old beautician who recently got engaged.
It could be a one person not disclosing to their partner how many people they have dated, or a woman not telling her new lover that she once aborted or even that she has another man’s child.
It could also be a wife having a private bank account beside from the one she runs with the husband. One she uses to fund her private needs or even a will written by a husband that excludes her wife from inheriting his estate.
University of Tennessee psychologist Beth Easterling teamed up with colleagues from East Carolina University (2012) to find out whether sexual orientation might influence the level of disclosure in close relationships.
It emerged that people in same-sex relationships, who may have spent more of their lives keeping their sexual orientations a secret, may carry this tendency to hide things even into relationships in which they felt comfortable with their partners.
Three-quarters were female, about the same percentage was heterosexual, and two-thirds were married or in a serious relationship.
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At least 60 per cent of the participants admitted to keeping at least one secret from their partners at some point, with 25 per cent admitting they were currently keeping such a secret at the time.
According to the study, women mostly keep secrets for fear of hurting their partners or damaging their relationships. They would rather keep issues for themselves to avoid disapproval or get to a point of suffering judgement or disloyalty.
Maria Waweru, author of Marriage is a Scam says that it is not wrong for women to keep secrets from their partners. She says revealing some issues about someone or around their past would subject them to be judged as ‘disloyal’ in the future would the tables turn.
“Most of the time women keep secrets to protect the man and the entire relationship altogether. Besides, if it is about my past life, leave that in that past and accept the person you met and fell in love with. I feel that would be safe for both parties,” Maria says.
“When it comes to hiding secrets about my finances, that one I openly live with if you cannot handle finances. This too, I would do to protect our family’s future. If you are a spendthrift for example, and with every money you get, you spend and cannot invest, you provide for people now and cannot protect our future, why should I tell you about all the money I am saving for the family for our future?” she poses.
Maria says she would rather tell her husband she is broke rather than exhaust her finances on her husband’s needs that can wait. This, she says, women often do so that men do not assume their spouses have money on the side to spare.
“For example, I am the kind of person who does not believe in paying for my salon, unless I am single. If you can surprise me with a car, how come you cannot get money for my salon needs? I do not believe in spouses having a joint account. I do not approve of my man knowing how much I have. I always tell him am broke so he needs to spend. My man for example, and he knows, is a spendthrift and so I would rather milk him to the best of my ability for the sake of saving for our future,” Maria says.
Maria says she would never let her spouse hire the family a residential house he won’t be able to pay because she would not help him do so. And why? Because she would rather save money for the family to benefit in the future or when the spouse cannot afford to pay at all.
“I tell women, if your man wants to keep things for himself, let him keep things for himself. If he wants to have his emotional privacy and freedom, let him have the space. If you do, they will choose to tell you what they want, rather than you digging what you want to find out and end up being hurt by it. Respect your space,” the author says
“Men naturally lie to us to make us up so imagine what happens if you push them to the wall. They lie to make you happy because you have asked for that. It is the nature of a man to tell a lie when it works for them. Now this is a lie you are looking for, one you are digging. So he will lie. Why not have him keep his secrets.”
Different people have different reasons why they keep certain information to themselves. While most of these reasons are universal, there are some however that are more specific to women, especially those that are either in a relationship (marriage or any type of union) or those that are seeking one.
No woman ever tells their current sexual partners the true number of sexual partners they have had. While couples are often encouraged to be open and honest with each other, the topic of previous intimacies remains fragile and a lot of women would rather not talk about it to the people they are dating.
Other than being embarrassing for some, society is often quick to label women who are more sexually liberal as prostitutes and filthy. In an interesting contrast, men are more likely to brag about their true number of past escapades because it boosts their masculinity.
“Everybody knows that the numbers you (women) give us are divided by at least three,” says Freddy, 28. “Whatever number you give, we multiply them by three. If she says four - and women like the number four- multiply it by three.”
For Sue Mwende, 28, telling her boyfriend about her previous relationships “is unnecessary and would only make him jealous. It does not matter even if it was five or even 10 years ago.
"Some of them will be all over you until they learn about your past, and then suddenly they are not interested anymore. I would rather not tell them, even though I have not had that many,” she adds, laughing.
LIES ALL OVER
“It is a wonder that couples are ever honest! Because our lives are dominated by lies. Think about politicians’ promises, and how seducers will say almost anything to get their next target between the sheets,” says Chris Hart, a psychologist.
“It is only the best couples who are completely open and honest with one another. And even they are not, to begin with. Like you probably would not tell a new date everything before you are sure they won’t noise it all over town, would you? But do not tell any actual lies.
And straightway start gradually slipping all your background information into the conversation. Because there is no point concealing something that might kill the relationship months later. If you are a single mum, for example. That will be fine with some men and not others,” says the Eve magazine relationships columnist.
But what if you still feel you cannot tell everything? Or you start detecting lies? Or there are things your date just never seems to tell you. Or they are forever texting people you do not know, leaving the room when their phone rings, not picking up your calls or replying to your messages?
“That is bad news. Because openness and honesty are essential if you are to be happy together. If being honest sounds awful, then you are simply not ready for a committed relationship.
"This is why most couples keep secrets: one or both of them just does not understand how liberating an honest relationship can be, and instead they choose to keep a part of their lives to themselves. Usually because, at least subconsciously, they fear that if their partner knew them they would leave. Or are hoping that someday someone better might come along,” says Hart.
He says that even when a couple starts well, their initial honesty often gradually tails off. In this, he notes that in relationships, everyone lies if pushed.
He says that even though you know there is something you should tell your partner, maybe that just feels too difficult and so you keep quiet.
“Avoid that by never giving each other a hard time. Getting angry or judgmental over every little thing, attacking opinions, interrupting to get the ‘facts’ straight, or bringing up mistakes from the past.
"Instead, learn to be good and sympathetic listeners, over worries great and small. Seeking to understand each other, rather than always being right. Do that and you will always be able to talk about anything. You will have achieved a warmth and intimacy and commitment that is impossible any other way,” he says.
According to a survey by Aspiration, a California-based financial services firm, about one in every five Americans do not tell anyone (including their spouses) how much their salary is. The study found that only about 60 per cent of women share their salaries with their significant others.
“My money is my money,” says Jane Mwihaki.
“Not that I will refuse to help settle some bills. I do not have a problem with that. But some men will take advantage when they know how much you earn to always make you pay for everything.”
For Margretta, it is a red flag when someone insists on knowing their income in the first few dates.
“I do not mind splitting responsibilities,” says the 29-year-old practising advocate, “but if someone I started recently seeing kept on asking how much I earn, I would wonder what the motive is.”
Asked if she would want her partner to disclose their income to her, Margretta says that “for a long-term relationship, both of us would have to lay it all on the table for the sake of investments and children if there are any.”
Sometimes though, women may keep their real incomes a secret because of their sources, especially if they are earning from a job or a place that their partners might object to or are uncomfortable with.
Just like women sometimes fail to disclose previous relationships, they may also intentionally keep the presence of children from their potential partners.
While times are changing and women are becoming more empowered to take up spaces including being comfortable with their sexual orientation, it is no longer embarrassing to have children out of wedlock.
Flo Kenya, 30 and a mother of one cannot comprehend how anyone would be ashamed of having a child.
“It is the first thing I tell my dates when they ask to know me. If a man wants me, he has to take me with my son,” she says. "We come as a package. He is my son, he goes wherever I go. If it is a problem (to someone) then there’s no point of going further (with the relationship).”
While a generation like Flo’s can be unforgiving about keeping the presence of children a secret, it is understandable that there are women out there (some much older) who still find it hard to be as straightforward.
While this can sometimes be out of selfishness and dishonesty, it can also be a result of fear of instant rejection by their partners. Sons, particularly in the African context are considered hard to integrate into new families, especially when they come from the mother’s side.
In the same breath, a lot of women would never talk about procedures such as abortions or in some societies, about miscarriages.
“Secrets are important in that they protect you from stigmatisation on stereotypes that a partner and the society might get you into, especially where sexuality is concerned. Imagine if an average partner or husband found out that you once had an unwanted pregnancy, carried an abortion or even had an STD.
"Imagine if he found out you had a drug issue while still in high school or dated 10 men while on campus. Who does this kind of disclosure help?” poses Monica Kagure, a psychologist.
“Why would I? That one (abortions) even my mother would never know. I would never even tell my sisters, and yet we are close. Some things are between you and God,” says Sue Mwende.
Paps Wanyugi, a confidence coach, psychologist, author and CEO of ReConfidence Coaching Solutions says that people who are married often keep secrets around three main topics that touch on: finances, infidelity and addictions.
According to Paps, the reasons that those who are married keep secrets are varied.
“Those who are married will keep secrets from each other for many reasons. To start with, one’s attachment style plays a big role in whether they are open in relationships or not. For example, if your attachment style is anxious then you will probably spill and not be able to keep a secret.
"However, if your attachment style is avoidant then you are more likely to keep secrets. Notably, both anxious and avoidant attachment styles are insecure attachments," she says.
“A person with an avoidant attachment style evades oversharing. They share very little information about themselves, and so they keep a lot of secrets. Their behaviour is often influenced by their childhood.”
Paps says that keeping secrets in marriage can be influenced by culture and socialisation.
“Sometimes it is a cultural thing, maybe your mother told you to keep certain secrets. They told you not to tell your husband everything, so you normalise keeping secrets. You will hear this type of advice in bridal showers. It is part of socialisation.”
Paps says that trauma from the past can also lead one to be secretive even with their spouse.
“You keep secrets because you keep building upon or laying onto your trauma. Maybe something happened to you in your past, but it was normalised,” she says.
According to Paps, another reason people who are married keep secrets from each other is if there is already mistrust in the relationship or if they are engaging in something illegal.