Mind Matters with Kyle MacDonald: Keeping secrets in a relationship is upsetting


Q: My partner keeps secrets. Not about big things, small purchases they make, conversations they have with others they never tell me about. Am I wrong to get upset?

A: It can be easy to assume – because so much of our culture tells us it’s true – that we should expect our partner to be all things to us, and as such our relationship has to be a particular way. But actually, there are no set rules – it comes down to what kind of intimacy works for each of us.

It isn’t wrong to be upset, but it is worth owning that as yours and taking some time to reflect on why this little quirk bothers you so much – assuming it is, as you say, that the secrets they keep are all quite minor things.

It is of course also possible that they are not deliberately and consciously keeping things from you, but they simply have a need – that is different to yours – to have small parts of their life outside of the relationship. That’s not unusual, and may even change and develop over time.

Either way, like most things, it’s a good idea to talk about it from a place of openness and curiosity. It would be helpful to understand more about why they do this, and it would also be good to let them know that it leads to you feeling upset – not from a place of blame, but by explaining what it triggers in you, and why.

Because while we might want, or even believe, our relationship has to be a particular way, the process of being open, sharing more of ourselves and building a deeper understanding over time is what works.

Not being completely open about day to day things doesn’t really matter in the long run. But building a habit between the two of you where you can share what goes on inside will ultimately make the two of you grow closer.

Q: My workplace is terrible for gossip, and it puts me off going to work some days. How can I handle it better?

A: It’s human nature to be interested in, and talk about, other people. We’re social creatures after all. But gossip can quickly spiral into being a hurtful and negative thing – we tend to think of gossip as talking about someone negatively behind their back, sharing secrets or personal information for our own entertainment.

It can seem like harmless fun when it’s about someone else – but not when it’s about us. In some cases it can be bullying, and simply hurtful.

Some of it comes down to workplace culture, people tend to gossip more when the workplace is unhappy or has a culture that allows for such things, and that comes down to leadership. You may not be able to control that, but you can control how you respond.

So even though it can be hard to take a stand (and even worse if you think doing so will lead to you being the target of gossip) make an active choice not to participate.

If you feel able to, you can even try to shut it down, by challenging people to talk directly to the person that they’re talking about, or simply get up and leave the room when gossiping starts.

Avoid getting triangulated, or caught in the middle of conflicts and problems. Instead, if you think someone might be having a tough time, ask them if they need help or support rather than allowing others to talk about it behind their back.

Be aware that gossip sometimes comes from a place of wanting to know what’s going on for others while at the same time avoiding the emotional work of talking to them, and hearing about their feelings.

Kindness grows in engagement and connection. And what you can control is your boundaries when others aren’t kind, and how kind you choose to be to those around you.

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