privacy boundaries in relationships



Several people have raised the issue of secret vs. private in session recently, wondering about the difference and how that plays out in healthy relationships.

While the dictionary does not make a clear distinction between the two, in practice they are different.


Here are my distinctions:


Privacy is the state of being unobserved. That which I keep private, I am merely withholding from public view. Private matters are those traits, truths, beliefs, and ideas about ourselves that we keep to ourselves. They might include our fantasies and daydreams, feelings about the way the world works, and spiritual beliefs.

Privacy is a choice we make to have our own boundaries around what we will reveal or not reveal to our partner.  Privacy is the inner space that is like an inner sanctum protected from outsiders.  What we choose to keep to ourselves may be things that we want only for ourselves.

In time intimate relationship privacy boundaries usually soften. Sharing vulnerable or private information (trauma history, family issues, health concerns) often requires trust that must be built over time. Private matters, when revealed either accidentally or purposefully, give another person some insight into the revealer and should be treated with respect.

Sharing private information with a trustworthy partner can greatly deepen the connection between partners.

Which is why some people think sharing everything is the best path.  But respecting boundaries and honoring privacy is just as solid a path to trust in relationships.  A healthy couple has to find a balance between respecting privacy and sharing to build a foundation of trust.

Keeping something private is an act of choosing boundaries and staying comfortably within them.  Withholding private information has very little to no direct impact on your partner.



Secrecy is the act of keeping things hidden -- that which is secret goes beyond merely private into hidden. While secrecy spills into privacy, not all privacy is secrecy. Secrecy stems from deliberately keeping something from others out of a fear. 

Secrets information often has a negative impact on someone else-emotionally, physically, or financially. The keeper of secrets believes that if they are revealed either accidentally or purposefully,  the revelation may harm the secret-keeper and/or those they care about.

Withholding secret information likely has a direct impact on your partner's trust in you.  Often the impact on our partner is WHY we are being secretive.

Sometimes a secret is something kept from someone else to protect behavior that you don’t want to give up, but that you know your partner might not approve of. You may be, embarrassed about it or feel what you are doing might be questionable. We keep something secret out of fear and shame of what others would think if they knew. 

Often secrecy becomes more rigid and stress-inducing in time, rather than softening like privacy. Typically secrecy causes the secret-keeper incredible stress until discovered or sabotaged, leaving them in pieces. 

Secrecy is when we choose to keep something to ourselves knowing that there may be negative consequences if it were to be revealed. 


Here are a few examples:


I have an online gambling addiction.

I forged my degree.

I peek at other people getting dressed in the morning.

I take showers with other people.

I'm acting on a fetish I'm not telling you about.

I'm sleeping with a coworker you don't know about.


I don't share my internet passwords.

I got terrible grades in high school.

I like to dance naked when I get dressed in the morning.

I sing in the shower.

I have a fetish I am not ready to share with you.

I talked to my friends about my concerns at work.


This difference between secrecy and privacy centers on the feelings about the information which is withheld and our motivation to withhold it. 



To get clear about the secrecy and privacy boundaries you're holding ask yourself the following questions.


How will this information help my partner?

Why is it important to keep this information to myself?

Do I imagine this boundary could soften or change?

Why do I want to know this information about my partner?

How will my partner's possible answers directly impact me or our shared life?

How will it impact me not to have this information from my partner?

How can I respect my partner's boundary even if I don't understand it?


Polyamory counselor | open relationships therapist | open marriage therapist

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

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