A patient told me, “I have kept a secret from my husband. But if I tell him, it could end our marriage.”

When I probed further, I learned that keeping the secret was eating at her. 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?

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

What is the best approach to tell a secret?

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,” or “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 lied in keeping the secret.

When revealed, some secrets may be 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 to work on the relationship.

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.