1. As someone who also works with couples, how common is this practice of keeping secrets in a relationship?
There is no such thing as the perfect person; we all have made mistakes in the past, or done something that we’re not really proud of. In my opinion, therefore everyone is keeping some sort of secret from a partner.
2. When is the “right” time to start opening up to your partner – how do I know if I can trust him/her?
This depends wholeheartedly on the nature of the secret you are keeping and your intention for wanting to share it. If it is a secret that has a direct impact on your partner, I feel it is your responsibility to come clean; regardless of what you fear your partner’s reaction might be.
If it is something that happened somewhere long ago in your past and has absolutely no influence on your current relationship, make sure of your motivations and the outcome that you hope to achieve by sharing your secret. Will the reveal of this secret make you as a couple stronger, or help your partner to understand you better, or is it something that might do more harm than good.
As you can clearly see, there is a very grey area here, so it is really important that you ask yourself whether or not this impacts your partner in any way. And if it does; you have to share it.
When it doesn’t impact your partner at all, but you would like to confide in him or her, trust your gut feeling. When the person has shown or proven to you that he or she can be trusted in small things as well as big things, when you know that this is a committed relationship based on trust, respect, friendship and love, then you know that it should be safe to share. Nothing in life is a given, especially when dealing with people though, so be sure that you have been with this person long enough before you reveal intimate things about yourself.
3. What impact can keeping secrets have on the growth of the relationship?
Again, if it’s something that you are keeping from your partner because it is too painful to share or too embarrassing to share, but has absolutely no relevance in your current relationship and no influence on your partner, there shouldn’t be any negative impact on growth in your relationship. Sharing personal secrets in a safe and loving relationship might have a very positive effect though – it might bring you closer together, it might help you reach a new level of connectedness, openness and intimacy.
If however the secret is one that would influence your relationship negatively and you keep quiet about it, keep on doing what you’re doing perhaps, behind your partners back, when this comes out, it could have quite a detrimental impact on the two of you. And I would generally advice someone in such a situation to let the partner know personally. If he/she hears it from you personally, rather from someone else or rather than stumbling upon the truth him/herself, you might have a better chance at sorting things out between the two of you.
4. Are there “things” that are ok to keep from our partners though?
I believe we don’t have to share every little detail about ourselves with someone else. Let’s say you had an abortion when you were very young still, regardless of the reasons for doing it, or how you feel about it now, this is not something you have to share with your partner if you don’t feel it will benefit your relationship. But if you have had multiple sexual partners, and there is a chance that you could have an STD regardless of its severity, you absolutely have to tell your partner as this has a direct influence on him/her.
In closing; realize that what you are telling your partner might have a severe impact on his/her comfort zone and might very well change the picture they had in their mind of you, themselves or the relationship. Therefore make sure you offer them enough space and time to process this new information and to deal with it in their own way.