Have you ever lied to your spouse about your weight? Of course you have. Most women I know, including myself, keep that information securely filed away deep inside their minds where no-one, and I mean no-one, can ever pry it loose.
Indeed, it’s very common for people to lie about their weight, and for the most part, such behavior has become widely acceptable. However, I’ve learned that body weight isn’t the only health secret some people choose to keep from their significant others.
In sickness and in Health
When we say our wedding vows, we promise to stand by each other no matter what life throws our way, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” But what if that sickness is so serious or so embarrassing, that you can’t even bring yourself to tell your spouse about it? It happens more than you might think.
A Healthy Dose of Honesty
I asked several people—friends and strangers, men and women—if they’ve ever kept any deep, dark health secrets from a past or present significant other. Right off the bat, about half of all married respondents declared, “no way!” Mom and legal administrator, Maria*, says, “I have a two major health issues and shared them with my husband at an early stage of dating. What’s the point of hiding it? If it’s a deal breaker, better to know early and part ways than to proceed with dishonesty.”
Nearly all of those with children said that being dishonest about one’s health is just not worth the risk. James from Los Angeles sums it up well, “[My wife and I] have two young kids, and it is not worth whatever perceived value of secrecy to leave the other parent unprepared.” On the other hand, maybe it just boils down to whatever’s easiest. He adds, “I think keeping secrets is hard work, very hard. What with work and parenthood and all these other things in life, why would I want to make my life any harder?”
What are You Hiding?
So, what types of health issues do people tend to hide? Carolyn’s husband hid his unhealthy eating habits from her for years. It eventually led to gall bladder disease and the eventual demise of their relationship. She explains, “[If I knew sooner,] I could possibly have helped him with his issues. If I tried to help him in any way regarding health, he took it as criticism. I had to walk on eggshells.”
Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of peoples’ health secrets have to do with mental illness and behavioral health: depression, personality disorders, addiction, anorexia and bulimia. Anna had been battling anorexia and bulimia since she was seven years old. She was painfully ashamed and afraid to tell anyone, including her husband. Eventually, she found the courage to share what she had been hiding for so long. “He was the first person I told,” she says. “I felt as if he had a right to know what my secrets are, especially as they affect my overall health and longevity, having children, [and] my [intimacy] issues. Once you are married, they affect us, not me.”
Mother of two, Laura, was afraid to tell her husband that she was seeing a therapist to address her drinking habits. She explains, “I didn’t want to tell him because I felt I needed to understand it more before dragging him into it.” When she eventually confessed, she says, “He was upset that I didn’t feel I could be straight forward with him, but he reassured me that there’s nothing wrong with seeing a professional. It was a huge weight lifted for me.”
Facing the Fear
After hearing everyone’s story, a pattern was starting to emerge. In almost every single case, fear was the main driving force behind the secrecy. Fear of judgement. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule. Sadly for some, those fears do come true. That’s why it’s imperative to know who you’re dealing with before you fess up. According to Lexi Welanetz, a licensed clinical psychologist and Director of the Family Resource Counseling Center in Los Angeles, CA, it may be necessary to exercise caution before disclosing a diagnosis with a spouse. She says, “It is important for [individuals] to assess the safety and trust in the relationship, because it would be detrimental to have it thrown back in their face as an attack. Sometimes, a spouse might be inclined to blame a partner unfairly and scapegoat them as causing a conflict or problem because of their diagnosis.” She adds, “If you’re afraid to broach the subject, try first to understand what the concern is about. You may have good reason to withhold the information and spending time writing down your concerns can be helpful.”
In the majority of cases, though, honesty is simply the best policy. As Welanetz puts it, “withholding information from a spouse may make it more difficult for [individuals] to understand their partner’s dysfunctional or odd behavior. As a result they may be less understanding or compassionate to their struggles.”
For those who have decided that it’s finally time to come clean to their spouse or partner but feel crippled by anxiety, Welanetz suggests talking to a therapist or psychiatrist first, if possible. She explains, “This can give individuals an opportunity to rehearse a role-play and be prepared to answer questions that may be difficult…and assert how they don’t want the information to be used against them during a conflict.”
*All names have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.
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