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Secret Lives: When to Keep Quiet, and When to Really Open Up

May 25, 2006 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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I''ve always been a big believer in keeping some things private. For instance, he doesn''t need to know every little thing I do each day. He doesn''t need to know that I stopped by the dry cleaners (unless he has a suit that he asked me to get). My boyfriend certainly doesn''t need a play by play of my night out with the girls, and especially doesn''t need to know that multiple guys approached me at the bar.

Of course, telling him what I do on a particular day we spend apart is something I usually want to share, and he should want to know, but there''s no real need for him to know every little detail. He doesn''t gain anything about me as a person by knowing I went to the dry cleaners or took the long way home through the park. I think it''s a good idea to have some activities in your day that are just yours.

I also think that many of these moments should include some past events and relationships. Every woman''s biggest pet peeve is to hear all about an ex on a first date. And I''m sure plenty of men would agree how irritating it is to hear why the last relationship ended poorly.

If it''s good first-date etiquette to keep the horrors of your last significant other to yourself, then why can''t we all just keep our mouths closed for longer?

The thing is, when you enter into a new relationship, a part of you wants to know everything.

You want to know every person they were with and for how long. But what do you gain from knowing? The majority of what you "find out" you''d probably rather forget, because envisioning your significant other with someone else can be painful. Still, everyone has a past.

The Past as a Key
Personally, I don''t want to know anything about an ex in the beginning. I want the start of a relationship to focus on us - not why his last relationship didn''t last. This changes as a relationship progresses. It is important to know the key players to help understand why he acts the way he does in our relationship.

If your significant other was previously cheated on or involved in an emotionally abusive relationship - or even if he just got his heart trampled on -knowing some of his past can help you understand why he''s inclined to act the way he does.

It will also hopefully help him realize when you don''t respond the same way that you are different. With some knowledge of the past, the two of you can learn how to make your relationship stronger. If learning a piece of history can be helpful, how do you know when to share and when to shut up? Same question applies to a current relationship.

If you run into your ex at the bank, is it beneficial to tell your significant other? In a healthy, trustworthy relationship, knowing won''t make a huge difference. On the other hand, if you simply share the same air space for more than five minutes with an ex, does your current love really need to know?

Does your significant other need to know that you hate his friends, or that you really dislike his family? Certain information is better left unsaid. But how much omission is the right balance? The answers get tricky, especially when one of you makes a mistake.

My friend went out with the girls one night; her boyfriend of a year had other plans. She had one too many drinks and her dance partner, a different guy, moved closer - and they kissed.

She immediately knew she''d made a poor decision, but didn''t know if she should tell her beau. She had never seen this guy before and knew she''d never see him again. The kiss meant absolutely nothing, but she was upset with her actions and felt she couldn''t live with herself if she did not tell her boyfriend.

But what would she gain by it? He would be extremely hurt, potentially never trust her again, and possibly end the relationship.

Why throw out a good relationship for a tiny mistake that meant nothing and led to nothing more? Personally, I wouldn''t want to know.

I''m not saying my friend''s actions were insignificant. If she kissed another guy besides her boyfriend, she has a lot to think about. But if she knows she will never do it again, I think the information is better left forgotten.

If, however, it does happen again or if her actions lead to more than a kiss, then she should tell him. In a cheating scenario, it is your responsibility to tell the other person, and it''s his or her choice what to do next. If you cheated because you want to break up, then just break up - spare him the greater heartache.

Choosing not to tell your significant other you saw your ex at the bank or that you stopped by the dry cleaners is not the same as not sharing that you kissed another person. Keeping things to yourself to prevent potential pain in your significant other is part of a good relationship.

However, openness and communication is the key to any lasting relationship. It''s important to trust your significant other. You can''t protect him from all your actions, and you certainly can''t prevent all the bad choices you''re still bound to make. But you can show you care, by choosing what to say.

If you take that extra moment to really analyze what he needs to know before you speak, it will be in everyone''s best interest. If the answer is that he can handle being told, it might just mean the relationship has a future.

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