Secrets Not Worth Keeping

The reports of a study on keeping secrets presented in 2001 (by Catrin Finkenauer et al) indicate that among adults, secrecy is often considered dysfunctional and problematic for the secret-keeper.

For adolescents, keeping secrets from parents is associated with physical and psychological disadvantages.

There are also sociological disadvantages leading to loneliness.


An Illustration

Jack had been tossing and turning in bed all night. Jill, his wife kept asking him to talk about whatever was keeping him awake.

“It’s nothing,” Jack said for the umpteenth time.

“Okay, Jack. I refuse to share a bed with a man who cannot share his thoughts with me. Do I leave, or do you?”

“All right,” Jack whined. “Little Miss Muffet has a problem. She asked my advice, but she swore me to secrecy. It’s huge, and I can’t get it out of my mind.”

“So, you and I will stay awake all night because of a secret you share with Little Miss Muffet, which you cannot share with your wife,” summarized Jill. “Does that make sense to you?”

Jack was not even a counselor, only a family friend to Little Miss Muffet and her parents. This scenario brings various questions to mind:

  • Does anyone have the right to confide in a married person with the stipulation that he or she not share the secret with the spouse?
  • Should the confidant have the right to decide whether or not to share with the spouse?
  • What are the options when the secret threatens the harmony between husband and wife?

It may be less trouble to share some secrets

than to keep them.

Types of Secrets

John Bradshaw, counselor and author of Family Secrets: The Path to Self-Acceptance and Reunion describes four types of secrets. We will discover which category Jack’s secret falls into, and judge whether he should share it with Jill. We will also learn to differentiate between secrets which are and are not worth sharing.

First Degree Secrets

These secrets violate “life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.” They include secrets about emotional and spiritual abuse and criminal actions—theft, arson, sexual crimes and so on. We know the advantage of sharing these secrets with the appropriate authorities. Exposing them is one way to prevent the offenders from harming other people.

Second Degree Secrets

These have to do with addictions which may not be illegal, but destructive to the person who has them. They also affect the people close to the addict. Secret addictions to bad habits like overeating, gambling and abuse of prescription drugs should be confessed in an effort to get help and avoid serious consequences.

Time to Share
Time to Share | Source

Third Degree Secrets

These secrets warrant a look at the circumstances. What are the facts surrounding the secret? Are they worth the explanations? Do they matter to the other person? These include secrets about family issues, political opinions, views on social issues like abortion.

They also include marital secrets about past misconduct and infidelity. Are they better left unsaid? Jack’s secret with Little Miss Muffet fits into this category. If Jack were able to sleep and Jill did not have a clue, there would be no need to tell. However, the circumstances are that the secret is disturbing their physical and emotional health. In the future, Jack may learn to investigate the type of secret before committing to silence.

Fourth Degree Secrets

These are personal secrets which, unlike second degree secrets do not affect anyone else, but may burden the individuals. For example, disguising one’s identity with a phony accent, or similar types of deception can create fear of discovery; it can also breed other negative emotions like guilt and anxiety. Personal secrets can cause very public embarrassment when exposed; so it may be better to abandon the act.

The Irony of Secrets

Some secrets are not really secrets. How many people do you know who think they have personal secrets, while you and others in your circle let the delusion run? You have shared their stories several times, each time soliciting an oath to secrecy. Beware that you also think you have secrets which other people know and share.

Family secrets are notorious for the hypocrisy they create. Nobody asks about the absent family members at the reunion, so that nobody gets to mention the uncle in the mental institution. They pretend not to know about the uncle and his wife who are “secretly” living apart. They just suppress facts and hide the truth.

“The dark secrets that are so carefully guarded get revealed and uncovered” writes John Bradshaw, “because the children act them out—if not in this generation then in the next, or the next.” For the most part, secrets will eventually be shared. How and when are important issues.

Short Polls on Secrets

Are you presently keeping a secret which you wish you did not know?

See results without voting

Are you presently keeping a secret which you are pretending not to know?

See results without voting

General Guidelines for Sharing Secrets

If a secret disturbs your thoughts on a daily basis, you may want to share it. Fourth degree secrets may be shared in a journal or with a pet. For others which are necessary to share with someone, consider the following general guidelines.

Every tip is not applicable to every secret, so think through your situation, before you attempt to share.

  • Be purposeful. Have in mind the outcome you expect and state it. For example, “I want to share something that will explain, or help, or redirect a focus.”
  • Be discreet. Use your best judgment concerning when and where to share the secret. One woman chose her office at work as the best place to confess her infidelity. Her husband broke a chair and a window. (However, they stayed together.)
  • Be gentle. Lead up (but not too slowly) to the actual secret. For example, “It’s not about this . . . or that . . . or that. It’s about the big purchase on the credit card which I cannot hide any longer.”
  • Take responsibility. “I should have disclosed this long ago." "I think this is the best time." " I take responsibility for . . .” the confusion, the tension, etc.
  • Be repentant. Repentance may not be necessary, but if it is, humility will be in your favor. “I’ll understand if you’re angry” or whatever negative emotion is likely.
  • Be hopeful. “If it is alright with you, here’s what I will like to happen.” State your plan for moving forward. If there is no future in the relationship, you would have freed yourself, anyway.

Generally speaking, people know when to share their secrets. The challenge is to really keep the secret until the time is right. When it's time, listen to your heart and share honestly.

© 2013 Dora Isaac Weithers

More by this Author


zanaworld profile image

zanaworld 3 years ago from Bangalore

there is so much to secrets! I didn't know all about this. Well reached and well written hub MSDORA. Kudos!

voted up, and marking it as useful.

torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

@MsDora thanks for the article. Ive always thought to keep someones secret no matter what. Thanks for the insight of the advantages and disadvantages of sharing a secret. Definitely sharing !

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Interesting thoughts. For us alcoholics, we are told that we are only as sick as the number of secrets that we have. I try to be an open book now. What you see is what you get with me; no hidden agendas or deep dark secrets.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

This is a great hub. People just think they know how to handle these issues. And they should but do not. I wonder how many parents sit down and talk with their children about this -- and then -- knock that number down because they are hypocritical.

I keep secrets for a living. In over ten years my wife only has asked me once about them. She could not sleep for 3 nights. So that was that.

Family secrets are the worst in my mind because they so negatively effect the children.

manatita44 profile image

manatita44 3 years ago from london

What can I say? Loving morals and well put together

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

MsDora where do you get these hub Ideas? Or is that a secret? LOL I can't keep a secret to save my life.. degrees in secrecy.. hmm I really enjoyed this refreshing new type of hub Bless you :)

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Zanaworld, glad you like the article and apparently learned something. Thanks for the comment and the vote.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Torrilynn, I also learned some facts while preparing this article. There's always more to learn. Thanks for reading and commenting.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Billybuc, given the facts, that's a good adage for all of us, not just alcoholics. Thanks for sharing.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Eric, you have some classic experiences. Thanks for sharing. I always appreciate your input.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Manatita, here's what I can say. You've been very supportive and I appreciate you.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, it's a secret, but I won't tell you since you can't keep it. Ha, ha. So glad you enjoyed the article, and thanks for letting me know.

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lovedoctor926 3 years ago

Excellent hub. You raise very good points. Fortunately, I don't have any dark secrets or hidden agenda, but if I did, then I would be very careful with whom I would trust with my secret. If someone tells you something juicy and swears you to secrecy, there's always that temptation to tell your secret to another person which in turn will share your secret with other persons and before you know it, the story has been changed around. On the other hand, I agree with your views on first degree, second degree and third degree secrets. Had Jack not tossed and turned and been able to sleep, then no reason for that secret to be revealed. I don't think his wife should have coerced him into confessing it, he would probably have shared his secret of Lil Muffet with her but at its appropriate time. Only when a secret threatens the emotional well -being b/w husband and wife is it okay not to reveal it. People sometimes hold secrets to protect others. In this case, I suspect Lil Miss Muffet and Jack were having an emotional affair. I wouldn't be surprised if the big secret is that she is pregnant with his baby. Now, that's a shocker and a good enough reason to toss and turn, can't sleep at night. thanks for sharing, I enjoyed this hub.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Doc, glad you enjoyed the article. That story was told to me by the husband who vowed that never again will a secret cause any disturbance between him and his wife. Secrets can do surprising things to a marriage. Thanks for your input.

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lovedoctor926 3 years ago

MsDora, Interesting story, I agree. Your welcomed:)

Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


This is a great hub well-worth reading. Everyone has secrets and I really like how you classify them into four types. The way I look at it is that if the secret is not going to hurt innocent people, it need not be revealed. If the secret, however, is going to cause a lot of harm, it should be revealed for the best of everyone. To be a successful business person, you can't be completely honest to the point of naivety and reveal all the cards in your hand to other people. For this reason, there are some secrets that are worth keeping. Voted up and sharing. Also Pinning and Tweeting.

Kathryn Stratford profile image

Kathryn Stratford 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

This is a very interesting topic, and I think you covered it quite well. I have had secrets in the past, but I have come to the point where I feel it is easier to tell who I think needs to know, so I don't have to struggle with it. It's sometimes hard to tell a secret, but in some cases it is better than keeping it locked up inside. I like that you dealt with the different types.

Thanks for such a thought-provoking read, and have a wonderful weekend!

~ Kathryn

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Wow, MsDora, this is very insightful and useful information here as to the different degrees of secrets. Really very interesting and thought-provoking.

Personally, I believe there should never be any secrets in a marriage. I know that is easier said than done, but if the secret ever does surface, as you state it will eventually, then there will be distrust between the spouses.

I am reminded of the scripture that tells us that, "Whatever has been done under the cover of darkness, He will bring into the light."

Excellent subject for a hub!

Voted up +++ and sharing

God bless, Faith Reaper

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Hi MsDora,

Well, I had left a comment and then is disappeared, so here it goes again.

This is a very useful and insightful hub here as to the varying degrees of keeping secrets. What an interesting topic for a hub.

Personally, I do not believe there should be any secrets kept between a married couple, as the secret will eventually come out, as you state here, and then there is distrust between the spouses.

I am reminded of the scripture, "Whatever is done under the cover of darkness, He will bring it into the light."

Very helpful hub.

Voted up +++ and sharing

God bless, Faith Reaper

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Paul, I agree with you. We have to consider the effects of sharing the secret. The secret should not be an emotional burden to you; and if revealed, we should try for the least disadvantage to the other person.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Kathryn, "who needs to know" is the key to revealing the secret. Thanks for your valuable input.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Faith Reaper, the verse you quoted is very relevant and was also quoted by John Bradshaw in his book. I agree with your opinion on secrets in the marriage, except if it would cause more harm than good (for example, in third degree secrets). Thanks for your contribution.

Gypsy48 profile image

Gypsy48 3 years ago

Very interesting hub. Keeping or telling a secret may be a difficult choice. Sometimes telling a secret can change a persons life forever. Voted up.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Well said, Gypsy. Thanks for your observation and for the vote.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

I didn't think there was so much to secrets. Interesting and informative.

I would personally not keep a secret if it affected my family life and would not swear to secrecy in the first place.

Voted up, interesting and shared.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rajan, I think you have the right idea. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing.

alocsin profile image

alocsin 3 years ago from Orange County, CA

To quote an old saying about secrets "Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead." ;) I think people in committed relationships should reveal as many secrets to each other, instead of being surprised by them. But I like the idea of being gentle when revealing them. Voting this Up and Interesting.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, alsocsin. That quote is worth remembering for those who think that their secrets are really secrets.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

My mum, the good old wise woman that she was, lol! always said, whenever anybody told you a secret, or more importantly asks if you know a secret, just put on an innocent face and say nothing!! lol! fascinating read MsDora, nell

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Nell, thank God for the wisdom of mothers. Reminds me of the three monkeys: see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. Thanks for your input.

stricktlydating profile image

stricktlydating 3 years ago from Australia

Great advice MsDora, as always a great read :)

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, Stricktlydating, for your kind comment. Glad you stopped by.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Types of Secrets Worth Sharing, sound advice here and very well explained and secrets can be such a problem if let out or found out.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean Author

DDE, thank you for your comment. As bad as letting out secrets which be kept is keeping secrets which should be let out. Wisdom, wisdom!

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