No matter how much you try prevent it, a clandestine relationship will have a negative effect on your marriage because it undermines trust and honesty. It’s normal to not reveal everything in a marriage such as having a drink alone when your spouse would not approve or spending money on a facial. But secret relationships are different. More often than not, they will cause relationship damage when revealed. Also, do not be mistaken, there are secret relationships other than affairs and those relationships can be just as damaging. It is risky, but opening up to your partner can help you deal with any consequences these relationships may have on your marriage.
Most marriages are built on trust, communication and the bond that comes from sharing each other’s lives. Keeping a secret relationship from your partner causes a breakdown in communication and trust, which can result in feelings of suspicion and resentment. A secret affair, for example, betrays trust in a marriage, among many other things, says Israel Charny and Shan Parnass in a 1995 study in the “Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.”
Lies Upon Lies
When you contemplate revealing the truth about a secret relationship, the fear of hurting yourself or others may promote the concealment of further secrets. Thoughts of how this secret relationship could cause your spouse to alienate or reject you may cause changes in your behavior. For example, you could find yourself experiencing difficulties connecting emotionally with your partner. Sneaking around with the person you have this relationship with may arouse feelings of suspicion, leading to the very alienation you feared.
There can be health consequences for the partner keeping the secret. The person keeping the secret can experience excessive stress that results in poorer health, says Suzanne Handler in “Five Reasons Why Keeping Family Secrets Could Be Harmful” on Psych Central. When you’ve kept a secret for a long time, the burden and guilt can manifest as anxiety, depression or physical pain on your body. Instead of confiding in your partner, you may decide to lean on drugs and alcohol as a means of coping.
Clandestine relationships within a marriage can affect children who then can have a powerful impact on your marriage. Children get their ability to form intimate relationships from the support system that they experience at home, says Evan Imber-Black points in “The Power of Secrets” on Psychology Today. If, for example, you keep a secret from your spouse, your children may imitate your behavior, forming triangles of trust within the family, he says. Your marriage can be further weakened as either you or your spouse experience a deteriorating relationship with your children, as one of you develops a stronger relationship based on the secret.
Nina Edwards holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been writing about families and relationships since 2000. She has numerous publications in scholarly journals and often writes for relationship websites as well. Edwards is a university lecturer and practicing psychologist in New York City.
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