Q: I’ve been married for 17 years. Is it necessary to share everything for a marriage to be fundamentally honest? I have a few little secrets (the occasional cigar even though she’s anti-smoking, etc.) that my wife doesn’t know about. Should I feel guilty? Just how much information should a married person share with their spouse?

A: Good question, and a complicated one to answer:

1) You are entitled to your privacy – and full and honest communication is a good thing in a relationship. But nobody is completely honest even with themselves, so, of course, nobody can be 100% honest with a partner either. How much you tell your wife and how much you don’t tell her is a matter of whether you are satisfied with the degree to which you are honest with her, and the consequences you notice (e.g. – feeling distant from her when you hide information).

2) We are all completely in charge of our own life, and we need to acknowledge that this is true. So, even if you give in to your wife’s wishes sometimes (like by not smoking that cigar), you need to admit to yourself that you are choosing to give in to her – and you need to know in your heart that you aren’t going to blame her for losing that smoke! She’s not your mother, and you don’t owe her obedience.

3) It is possible that your wife is too controlling, and that you hide things from her so there won’t be a battle of the wills. If that’s going on, I think a battle of the wills would be better. She needs to know that you make your own decisions, even including those she doesn’t like.

4) It is also possible that you aren’t telling me about much more serious things you hide from her. If so, remember that my response here is related to your example of the occasional cigar. If you have bigger secrets, you might find that you don’t feel “known” or “seen” in your relationship with her, because there is so much about you she doesn’t know. This would bother you a great deal, especially over time.

5) You might have a guilt or a shame problem. Because of this, you might not just be avoiding telling her these things, but you might be avoiding the experience of owning up to your own actions. If you know you have a lot of guilt or shame (and depression), this is an important personal issue regardless of how it plays out in your relationship. Bottom line: You are more important than your relationship – and if you don’t love yourself as you are then you won’t be able to feel her love for you either – regardless of what you choose to tell her about your actions.)

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