Private Vs. Secret Behaviors: The Real Difference Between The Relationship Habits

In this day and age, social media and public perception are a big part of dating — and while an inflated value should not be placed on the opinions of others, publicly declaring someone as your partner and making things "Facebook official" is one of the biggest signs of a committed relationship when it comes to modern-day romance. As a result, you might find it to be a point of contention and insecurity within your relationship if your partner is not as ready to make your relationship known to the public as you are.

In addition to keeping quiet about your relationship when presenting it to the public, your partner might also be quiet when it comes to sharing certain details of their life with you, which can create an entirely new set of issues when it comes to trust and intimacy between you and your partner.

While having a private partner is not inherently a red flag, how do you know if your partner just prefers to take it slow when going public about your relationship or if they're intentionally hiding the fact that you exist from the rest of the world? And when does a healthy sense of privacy between partners in a relationship cross over into secrecy? Understanding the difference between private and secret behaviors is key in maintaining a healthy relationship and knowing whether your partner is simply respecting their personal boundaries of privacy or if they're intentionally keeping secrets from you.

The difference between privacy and secrecy

The first step in recognizing secretive behaviors in your partner is being able to discern the difference between secrecy and privacy. "Privacy arises out of a desire to maintain personal boundaries, which enhances our sense of autonomy and self-respect," says relationship expert and two-time New York Times bestselling author Christy Whitman (via Healthyway). Secrecy, on the other hand, involves deliberately concealing something out of fear of the consequences that come with others finding something out.

According to relationship therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW, maintaining a sense of privacy and keeping certain aspects of the relationship just between you and your partner is actually a good thing and can allow you to set healthy boundaries and strengthen your relationship while fostering intimacy (via Well+Good). But Ross also notes that crossing the thin line into secrecy when it comes to public acknowledgment of your relationship can be damaging — and is often less prompted by the desire to strengthen and protect a relationship and more about avoiding an undesirable response from the public when they find out about your relationship. 

Similarly, while it's healthy to maintain a sense of defined boundaries and privacy within your own relationship, if you find your partner being notably more tight-lipped than usual when it comes to sharing certain details of their life with you, they may simply be afraid of the consequences should you uncover something about them that they have been trying to keep a secret.

When maintaining relationship privacy becomes a red flag

If you are all-in when it comes to the relationship and your partner simply can't commit to the idea of changing their relationship status on Facebook or posting that photo with you from your weekend getaway, it might be time to have an open and honest conversation about where you see the relationship going –– and while there's no "right" time to take your relationship public or make it social media official, it's important for you and your partner to be on the same page. 

If you are ready for your relationship to be public and your partner is not, it's important to ask them why. Tracy Ross, LCSW, noted that it's a red flag if you bring it up and they "won't discuss it with you, if they gaslight you and pretend it's not the case, or if it goes on for too long and gets in the way of progressing your relationship. If it's openly discussed and you decide together, or if you at least feel you have a voice in when things become more public, you should not be worried."

While your partner taking their time to update their relationship status isn't always a bad sign, if you are ready to take things to the next level of Facebook officiality and they are not, it's a good idea to ask them about it so you can get a better understanding about where they see the relationship heading.

Why your partner might be keeping your relationship under wraps

While keeping your relationship hush-hush doesn't always mean that your partner is hiding you or that they are being unfaithful, it's important to have a conversation with them in order to get a better understanding of their reasoning for doing so. "Some people feel it's better to keep things private for a while in case they break up and things don't work out," says Tracy Ross, LCSW, noting that oftentimes, people prefer to keep things private in their relationships, at least initially, to avoid having to explain a breakup to friends and family. 

Your partner could simply be acting out of caution until they're sure you're the real deal, and if that's the case, try to clearly define your expectations for going public. When it comes to announcing your relationship, it can help to work together to develop a tailored and agreed-upon timeline for when you can expect to meet their friends or appear on their feed.

If you can't get on the same page about them publicly acknowledging you as their partner and it's preventing you from feeling secure or hindering progress in the relationship, it may be time to acknowledge that they might be intentionally keeping you a secret. Your partner doesn't need to spill their innermost feelings about you on Facebook for the world to read (remember, keeping some things private can actually boost intimacy), but it would be nice if they publicly acknowledged you.

Privacy versus secrecy between partners

In addition to keeping your relationship from the world, you might also find your partner being hush-hush with you when it comes to certain details about their personal life. While secret behaviors in a relationship can be damaging and are often an indication of a deeper issue within the relationship, maintaining a sense of privacy between partners when it comes to certain aspects of each's personal life can actually be beneficial to the relationship — just as maintaining a sense of privacy between your relationship and the rest of the world can be. 

"People often believe that you need to share everything in order to experience intimacy or closeness, but I tell my clients to listen to their bodies and consider whether you feel safe or comfortable revealing whatever it is you're about to reveal," says therapist Hatty J. Lee, LMFT (via Well+Good).

Defining clear boundaries between you and your partner regarding privacy in certain areas of your relationship, such as knocking on closed doors before entering, can help foster a healthy sense of independence and personal identity within a relationship. It can also alleviate any points of contention or arguments in your relationship that might stem from them maintaining a high level of privacy with you about certain aspects of their life, suggests Amy Morin, LCSW (via Well+Good).

Privacy and trust

If your partner values their privacy, or if your relationship is still relatively new and your partner is taking time to fully open up to you, it's important not to violate that boundary and automatically assume that they're intentionally keeping secrets from you. They may simply just not be ready.

Invading someone's privacy by snooping through text messages, private journals, mail, personal belongings, and more is a great way to break your partner's trust and prevent them from wanting to open up to you altogether. With that being said, just as it's important for you to not infringe on your partner's right to personal privacy, it's also important for your partner to not take advantage of that trust and use that maintained boundary as a way to keep secrets from you.

"Often, when we keep something from a partner, we believe we're doing so for the good of the relationship — to avoid conflict or to spare the other person's feelings," says researcher and author of "The Secret Life of Secrets," Michael Slepian (via Greater Good Magazine). "But while keeping a secret from your partner may prevent whatever imagined reaction you expect from them, it has the potential to do more harm than good." He recommends those in relationships reveal any secrets that will likely eventually come to light anyways to avoid unnecessarily hurting their partner and to maintain a sense of trust in the relationship.