Monday 1 September 2014

At some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.

The title comes from Water for Elephants, the book by Sara Gruen, the full quote being "With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not."

We were watching Homeland, and there are a few spoilers ahead so be warned if you haven't watched the second season (and we are waiting on the DVD of Season 3 so no spoilers for us please!!). We get to the bit where the wife discovers he's converted and is praying in the garage. She gets extremely angry and upset, and clearly feeling betrayed that the daughter knew and she didn't. At which point, my husband says 'She's more upset about this than the affair'. He was right, she was. It took me a few moments pondering but I could see why. She says something along the lines of 'You lied to me every time you came in here'.

His keeping this secret while he thought he wasn't lying to her, it meant that he was basically someone she didn't know at all. It meant everything in the relationship they had, that she thought she knew, evaporated because either it was false, or she felt doubt about whether it was true at all. Everything became tainted. Not to mention that the daughter was clearly more trusted and a more important person to him. He may not have intended that, but basically, his actions meant the wife, and her feelings, mattered the least to him in the equation. (Though I still would have been more angry about the affair - but that's another post).

I wanted to explore this further, so a bit of googling came up with plenty of articles. There were ones of the obvious lying about friendships with women (and affairs) but there were plenty about lying about how you spend money, how much money you have and where you spend your time (non-sexual). All these things, that seem small, were equally damaging to the relationship because they brought doubt into the mind of the other person.

This article by Sharon Queano, was particularly good and summed up the issue exactly "Did your little white lie do any damage to the integral structure of your marriage?...most definitely if she discovers the truth. Little white lies in a marriage can blur the lines between respect, honesty, and valuing each other’s opinion’s, thoughts, and feelings.... lying can easily destroy the fragile balance of trust the two of you have. Lying can cause doubt, serious doubt, which can erode the structure of the relationship. If it gets bad enough, in fact, your relationship becomes little more than a guessing game, even during those very special heart to heart talks" Taking out the religious aspect of the scenario in Homeland (though that is definitely part of it), I think this is exactly why their whole marriage crumbles shortly after that.

Homeland is an extreme case, as he's keeping many, many secrets, but it is a great case study for a couple not sharing their lives and growing further and further apart. If  someone in a couple is deliberately withholding information "an unhealthy distance occurs within the relationship" as pointed out by Shannon Philpott in her article on the subject. You feel shut out, and you can feel the distance, and ultimately, there is that feeling that you don't actually know this person at all. It doesn't have to be the big one, an affair, it can be the examples above or struggling with PND or depression or choosing to spend time with friends instead of being where you said you were or anything at all really.

If your need to do something that you think your spouse will disapprove of, don't keep it a secret. Discuss it. It is better to have the argument before hand than argue later and bring betrayal into the already difficult situation. I'm not saying you have to do everything to please your partner, and not do things they don't approve of. I'm saying you need to let them know you're doing it in advance, and why.

As we often tell the kids, if it needs to be kept secret, it's probably not good for you - think drugs, alcohol, abuse and so on. In this case, if it needs to be kept secret, it's probably not good for the relationship.

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. I am not an expert in anything. If I was on Dr Phil, I'd be a guest not an expert dishing out advice (like you needed me to tell you that! Ha!). So this is just my opinion and something I was interested in. I was taken with the point my husband made about a tv show, and I thought I could write an article and sell it to a weekend mag. I, of course, lost momentum and dumped the idea here instead. If you are having any troubles along these lines, see a counsellor or professional.


  1. Definite food for though- thank you! Must catch up on homeland too :)

  2. It's true, I remember someone saying once that if you are ever doing anything that you wouldn't do in front of your partner, then you need to really think about that. There's some obvious things and some less obvious things in that.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly on the point of discussing it before you do it! Once it's done, it's too late.
    We are huge homeland fans here Lydia, and I kind of had the same thought; he's been lying to her about his whole existence.
    Brilliant cast in this show too, so watchable.

  4. I agree. When we can't share it that is a red flag. Either to not do it or to discuss out in he open.

  5. I agree. Once that trust is broken, then you start to go around in circles wondering what else they lied about.

  6. I'm trying to remember back to how those events unfolded on Homeland. Was she more upset about the fact that he was praying because it was the straw that broke the camel's back. First he cheated and then this. Or was she not as upset about the cheating because she had an affair of her own when he was away? Anyway, I love that advice of yours. If you have to keep it secret, it's probably not good for you. I'm going to use that when my kids get older.

    1. My husband said she took the affair so casually because it was 'evening' it out, as she'd been with the other guy but I didn't really buy that - you'd still be hurt and angry. Unless of course, she was still in love with the other guy and didn't really care for her husband (which I can sort of see is probably more to the point, as she was only really trying to make it work out of guilt rather than love)...

  7. Yeap, I think it's the act of lying, more often than the act that is lied about, that causes more damage. Great post Lydia, it's definitely something that's important to discuss in a relationship.
    (Visting for #teamIBOT today)

  8. True words. Mum always says 'Liars need to have very good memories.' So true and it would be such hard work.

  9. Very interesting to read. Sometimes having secrets is no different to lying. We have a no secret rule in my house unless it comes to birthday or Christmas presents. x

  10. I've never watched Homeland but this is a very interesting article. I'm pretty sure my family have lots of secrets from me, but I've always been an open minded person who accepts everything, so it makes me sad that they won't open up.