A patient was struggling with her marriage and asked, “I have a secret I have not told my husband. But if I tell him, it could end the marriage.”

When I probed further, I learned that keeping the secret was eating at her. Yet, her fear in telling preventing her from speaking the truth. She was torn. Do I continue to keep this information to myself and live with the gnawing guilt or do I confess and face the consequences?

When we keep a secret, fear and shame are usually involved. For example, when a secret involves infidelity, a teen pregnancy, an addiction or maybe a financial problem, we don’t want to admit to our problem. It’s too painful or hard to face. Or we may keep a secret thinking we are protecting someone. Other times, we fear the consequences of telling the truth.

The problem with keeping a secret is that the one who keeps it, is often stressed by it. And that stress does a number on the body. Secrets can lead to a boost in stress hormones often resulting in higher blood pressure, problems sleeping at night, and can even make pain worse.

Emotionally, secrets can make you more anxious and lead to depression. When you hold on to a secret, the emotional hiding may involve the use of substances as well. After all, the vigilance involved to keep a secret alive is hard work. Even thinking about your secret has been found to be harmful. This is why third-party confession feels cathartic.

Overall, secrets hurt your relationship. They are isolating and block your ability to build true intimacy. They clutter your psychological landscape and interfere with building trust and kill intimacy. And when discovered, secrets become intimate betrayals.

If you tell your secret, what is the best approach?

Even though it might be easier to hint at a problem or be indirect, don’t go the indirect route. Also, skip the hypothetical scenario as most people figure out that the story involves you.

Rather, choose a time to disclose. Make sure you are calm. Begin by telling the person why you need to talk about this. Explain your motivation. Hopefully, it is to build a relationship based on honesty. For example, “I don’t want you to find this out from someone else,” or “If I don’t tell you now, you might be more hurt later,” ”Our relationship needs to be based on honesty, so I need to tell you this.” Let the person know it may be hard to hear what you have to say but truth matters. You value the relationship and don’t want to hold on to secrets.

Then, be direct. If the secret involves sin, wrongdoing, or bad judgment, confess and ask for forgiveness. Certainly, ask for forgiveness if you have told a lie in keeping the secret. Some secrets when revealed may be very damaging to another person. Be ready for negative reactions or upset. The fall out could be significant and may require third party help if the person is willing.

Next, talk about your plan to repair the problem and offer solutions. If the secret is a difficult one and impacts your relationship in a significant way, see a therapist and work through the process of healing trust and rebuilding the relationship.

Finally, remember, secrets are often kept due to shame.  Even so, shame is not useful and keeps us stuck. God doesn’t shame you. He wants you to feel conviction for sin, but not live in shame. If confession and repentance are needed, do both, but remember, Christ died to take away your shame. Nothing you have done will cause God to reject or abandon you. He loves you unconditionally and removes your sin once confessed. Shame is not on you, so don’t buy the lie! Let it go! Then do everything you can to repair the damage to your relationship.

The problem of relationship secrets