A Definition of Secretive Relationships

In a “Secretive Relationship” type, one or both partners consistently withhold information, keep significant aspects of their lives hidden, or engage in covert behaviors. Such relationships are marked by a lack of transparency and openness, leading to an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty. The reasons for secrecy can vary — from past traumas, fear of judgment, or the desire to maintain control. There may also be more deceptive intentions like infidelity or financial indiscretions.

Over time, the barriers erected by secrecy can erode the foundational trust that healthy relationships thrive on. Partners may constantly feel they’re walking on a minefield, unsure of what they might inadvertently discover. This dynamic can result in anxiety, misunderstandings, and frequent conflicts, as the withheld information often becomes more significant than the truth itself.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

The Perspective of Partners

The Withholder:

  • Perception: The withholder may view their secretive behavior as a necessary means of self-protection. Or they may see it as a way to maintain control over certain aspects of their life. They might believe that by withholding information, they are preventing potential conflicts or protecting their partner from unpleasant truths.
  • Emotions: Feelings of guilt, anxiety, or defensiveness might frequently plague the withholder. They may also experience internal conflict, torn between the desire to be open and the perceived need to keep secrets.
  • Behaviors: The withholder often avoids certain topics, deflects questions, or provides vague answers. They might also engage in behaviors they know their partner would disapprove of, leading them to cover up or lie about their actions.
  • Rationalizations: They might justify their secrecy by thinking, “It’s for the best,” “They wouldn’t understand,” or “I’m protecting them from getting hurt.” In some cases, they might believe that what their partner doesn’t know won’t hurt them.

The Uninformed:

  • Perception: The uninformed partner often feels that they’re not getting the full picture or that they’re being kept in the dark. They might perceive the withholder’s behavior as a sign of mistrust or as evidence that there’s something fundamentally wrong in the relationship.
  • Emotions: Feelings of insecurity, frustration, and mistrust dominate their emotional landscape. They might also feel undervalued or disrespected, given that they’re not deemed worthy of the truth.
  • Behaviors: They might frequently seek reassurance, try to dig for information, or confront their partner about perceived inconsistencies. They might also become more observant, looking for signs or clues about what’s being hidden.
  • Rationalizations: They might think, “If they loved me, they’d tell me everything,”. Or “There must be something wrong with our relationship if they can’t be honest with me.” In some cases, they might blame themselves, wondering if they’ve done something to cause their partner’s secretive behavior.

Distinguishing Secretive Relationships from similar relationship types

The Secretive Relationship type shares commonalities with other relationships. Here’s an exploration of its similarities with other types and what distinguishes the secretive type:

  1. Chronic Infidelity: Both the secretive and chronic infidelity types involve breaches of trust, with secrets or lies often facilitating infidelity. However, while chronic infidelity is specifically centered on extra-relational affairs, the secretive relationship type can involve withholding or hiding various kinds of information, not just affairs.
  2. Coercive and Controlling Relationship: In a coercive relationship, one partner exerts excessive control, leading the other to potentially withhold information to maintain some personal space. This withholding can give an impression of secretiveness, but it’s largely a reaction to the controlling behavior. The core difference lies in the motivations: in coercive dynamics, alleged “secretiveness” arises from a need to resist control, and most likely isn’t actual secretive behavior. On the other hand, in secretive dynamics, the behavior originates from personal motives like protection or avoiding vulnerability.
  3. Unresolved Past Relationships: The unresolved past relationships type might involve clandestine communications with an ex. However, the core issue in the unresolved past type is the emotional baggage from a prior relationship. In contrast, the secretive type focuses on general secrecy in various aspects of the relationship.

Unique indicator for the Secretive Relationships type

The Secretive Relationship Type is characterized by a consistent pattern of withholding information and a distinct lack of transparency. Unlike other types, its secrecy pervades various aspects of the relationship, driven by diverse motives, from personal insecurities to maintaining an image. This varied underlying intent defines its uniqueness.