How Much Privacy is Good for a Relationship?

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How Much Privacy is Good for a Relationship?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Photo: goodfreephotos


Emotional intimacy is the hallmark of close, loving relationships. It involves sharing personal information, including vulnerable truths. But that doesn’t mean sharing everything. After all, you might prefer to keep previous sexual exploits to yourself, or just not discuss your bathroom habits. In thinking about your relationship, your natural question might then be – How much should I share?

The unfulfilling answer is that everyone is different. Some people say practically everything that comes into their heads while others are more protective of, or simply less inclined to share, their personal information. If there is a difference in how much privacy you and your partner require to be comfortable, this can cause problems. One person’s comfortable distance can feel like rejection or not caring to the other person. They might even interpret their partner being close-mouthed as them being secretive (an affair, perhaps?).

Importantly, there is a difference between privacy and secrecy. When people are inclined toward being private, they are generally not hiding anything that they think would upset their partner. However, being secretive specifically involves trying to prevent their partner from finding out something upsetting.

That said, the line between the two can be blurry. For instance, someone who fears being criticized might be particularly private as a way to prevent being attacked or rejected. Still, the “secret” is not about something that would be hurtful to their partner. Or, someone might not tell their partner something that they think would be hurtful, especially when they also didn’t see a benefit in doing so. (For instance, you might consider keeping to yourself that you think your partner’s self-styled, COVID-19 lockdown haircut is hideous.) In this situation, they would be, in a sense, “secretive” – though they would not be secretive as a rule. Whether or not that is acceptable is likely a judgment call.

What is most important is that partners are respectful and loving toward each other. Your relationship will be better when you and your partner accept the other person’s need for privacy and are sensitive to any struggles that this boundary causes. If you are upset by your partner’s silence and really want to know what they are thinking, resist the urge to keep asking. Instead, let them know how their silence is affecting you, such as worrying you or making you feel lonely. Your partner might respond by sharing a bit of what they are thinking about, even if it is mostly that they need to be alone with their thoughts. These types of conversations can help you both to feel cared about as you develop a way of communicating that is comfortable for both of you.

If either of you is particularly insecure or sensitive to rejection, it is especially important to discuss this problem. When partners of jealous people are sensitive to this issue, they can offer support that may alleviate their partner’s insecurity – even if there are still some things they want to keep private. However, depending on how upset they are with being on the receiving end of mistrust, they might need to sensitively communicate this so that the two of them can work through the issue together.

Ultimately, relationships work best when partners work collaboratively to manage their boundaries around privacy. They thrive when partners feel invested in each other feeling safe, supported, and accepted – even when they need different amounts of intimacy and privacy.



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Important:  This article is part of the WebMD Relationships blog. The articles in the WebMD Relationships blog are for general education purposes only. They should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read in this article.