Mental Health Portrait of a homosexual couple

Published on January 31st, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles


Privacy VS Secrecy

by Jim Duke

Any relationship between one gay man and another requires a balance between the needs of the two people involved. Intimate relationships involving a boyfriend or partner require a bit of a dance, each one figuring out how close you can be without smothering each other, how distant you need to be without making the relationship invalid. Finding that degree of space between yourself and your partner includes the issues how privacy and secrecy are defined in the relationship.


Privacy is whether or not you and your partner have the option to separate yourselves – or information about yourselves – from your couplehood. Are you able to have space from each other for individual interests, contacts and experiences? Despite the intimate nature of a relationship, there are things to which you simply do not need to be privy. And speaking of privy (how’s that for a segue?), the bathroom door is a great example of how a couple views privacy. It’s socially acknowledged that you don’t barge into a bathroom when the door is closed because some things are considered private and sensitive. Partners talk about how a relationship reaches new stages of intimacy when the bathroom door is not seen as a necessity while other couples install double locks on the door so that privacy is guaranteed.

Privacy issues come up around listening in on phone conversations, looking at mail, checking email accounts. What is considered private differs among cultures and individuals. There are areas in relationships where “giving someone their privacy” is considered the socially correct thing to do as a sign of respect. It’s up to individuals to choose whether or not those personal things should be revealed to their partners. There are also areas deemed private to a couple that are not aired in public, such as intimate details of their sex life. Each couple decides for themselves what is private and what is shared with others outside the relationship.


Secrecy involves hiding information from your partner that you might also share with other individuals. Secrecy can be problematic in a relationship, though it depends on the nature of the secret and why it is being kept from the other person. Planning a special party or surprise trip can have perfectly benign motivations – secrecy doesn’t always mean something negative is occurring. You may be asked by a friend to keep a confidence, even from your partner, although in instances like that you have the option of explaining to your partner why the need for secrecy exists.

However, secrecy in a relationship involves what can be a damaging component: exclusion. By its nature, secrecy excludes the other party – it’s deliberately keeping things from him. That exclusion creates the perfect medium for suspicion, jealousy and distrust to grow and develop. When a partner has clandestine meetings, covert communications with others or marks important areas of his life as “off limits,” the result is that intimacy suffers. Ironically, while secrecy is about trust, it’s not just about whether the person being excluding is having difficulty trusting the secretive partner. Instead, the damage is often done because the person keeping secrets is unwilling to trust his partner and be open and honest with him. A partner can rationalize hiding out of fear of rejection if the secrets become known or of being vulnerable and revealing his true self to someone else, but the effect is still one of eroding the foundation of trust that is necessary for relationships to thrive.

Remember that in a relationship we give each other privacy; we don’t give each other secrecy. If your intent is to build something lasting with a partner, ask yourself if what you are doing includes him and fosters trust, or are you keeping secrets that exclude him and will ultimately have a detrimental effect on the relationship? Conversely, are you disrespecting your partner’s privacy by ignoring boundaries and insisting that everything be shared? No one can breathe if they are being smothered. Give each other space to breath, but do it in a way that is open and inclusive.

Coming together and drawing apart, finding the space for each other – all part of the dance a gay couple does.


Jim Duke is the Founder and President of “Guide For Gay Men,” a service which provides personal life coaching and consultation primarily to older gay and bisexual men. Navigating the issues involved in coming out, dealing with relationships, love and sex and the transitions of careers, life decisions and aging can be daunting… unless you have someone experienced to help guide you. Contact Jim and read what he has to say on these and other topics at


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