Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi Carolyn! What are your thoughts on keeping from your spouse something told to you in confidence? This is an ongoing debate that my wife and I have had over the two years we have been married. My wife feels that if something is told to her in confidence, the duty to keep that confidence trumps everything else. I am of the opinion that spouses should not have secrets from each other and that nothing should be off-limits.
I don’t mean to imply that immediately upon hearing something juicy, she should run home and blab it to me. Just that if asked a direct question, the answer should never be, “I can’t tell you because X asked me not to.”
While this tends to be more of a hypothetical/intellectual debate, there have been a few times where it has crossed over into reality and caused a lot of tension.
Never miss a local story.
I don’t think spouses should keep secrets of consequence from each other, but marriage doesn’t erase people’s ability to be a vault for their friends’ intimate truths.
Pretty basic, so I’m wondering, why is this such an issue for you? Why is it so darn important to know what your wife heard about Helen’s argument with her husband?
Maybe your wife is actually keeping things from you that I would advise her not to, but there’s also a controlly undertone to your insistence on knowing everything your wife is told.
Re: Disclosure: I’m curious how you define secrets of consequence — something that would affect your marriage? Something weighing on you personally? The latter is my standard. For example, I tell my husband about my friends’ early pregnancies because I’ve had significant troubles conceiving, and I need a safe space to discuss how bittersweet it is. I’m interested to know where the line is.
The latter, yes, and also the former, which could include a secret so heavy that it affected the mood at home.
It’s also consequential when not knowing the secret puts your spouse in a position to say something hurtful or foolish. You mention your difficulty conceiving (terrible, I’m sorry) — that might be useful for your friends’ spouses to know so they don’t ask you about having kids. They shouldn’t ask anyway, but well-meaning people do step in it sometimes, and so guardrails around sore subjects can help.
Sometimes, it’s best just to ask: “I’d like to tell Adrian what you told me. Is that OK?”
• I stopped being friends with one of my closest friends because it got to the point where everything I told her, she repeated to her husband. He’s a good guy but he’s not my best friend, and I don’t want him in all of my personal business.
• As a general rule, I assume my friends share everything with their spouses. On rare occasions, I ask for an exception: “I try to avoid making requests like this, but would you mind not sharing with anyone including ‘spouse’? Thanks so much.”
• This guy seems to be redefining “privacy” as “secrecy.” Does he think he should be able to open mail addressed to his wife, and monitor her computer history? I see a real boundary problem here.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.