Whether it is dealing with infidelity, shameful sexual desires, or a host of other reasons, I often see couples struggling with ways to bring up and discuss uncomfortable issues. Often these struggles center around confusion over the difference between privacy and secrecy, an issue that is often discussed in my office, and one that I think requires further examination. Partners may feel unnecessary overwhelming guilt over not divulging private things, while others may think that matters of secrecy don’t require any transparency. Both are mistakes with predictably negative outcomes. So let’s get into it by first defining both terms.

Privacy refers to matters that are not meant to be shared. These are issues that do not affect the relationship and may even be considered oversharing, as there is nothing positive, and perhaps even negative outcomes that can occur by bringing them up. A good example of this would be an erotic dream that an individual may have about an ex-lover. That dream may have strong emotional content and may certainly be worth examining further, but if the individual has no interest in seeing the ex again, then it really has no effect on the relationship. While discussing the dream with one’s partner may lead to an interesting conversation, it is not vital to the relationship, and may even backfire, as the partner may start feeling insecure or jealous about the nature of the dream. In other words, this is often a case of let sleeping dogs lie.

I have seen numerous situations where individuals get bogged down in guilt and self-flagellation over the things they have […]