Dark secrets, white lies

In a perfect relationship, you wouldn't have any secrets. And you'd never have to worry that your man is hiding anything from you.

In a perfect relationship, you wouldn't have any secrets. And you'd never have to worry that your man is hiding anything from you.

But in the real world, even the healthiest couples sometimes hide things from each other. To most of us, the secret to end all secrets, and many marriages, is an affair. No one will quibble with the devastating consequences of infidelity.

Yet even small deceptions can rock a relationship.

Keeping a secret is often about protection. It is an attempt to shield yourself by hiding something you don't want your partner to see. It could be an old picture from before you had dental surgery or even shielding him from an unnecessary worry or fear like how much you really dig your vibrator.

A little mystery can be sexy. But what can stay safely tucked away and what calls for a confession? We asked the experts.

lSecrets you should spill

If you want a relationship grounded on mutual trust, certain issues require full disclosure.

"If something has a chance of impacting on your partner's future or his life with you, he has a right to know," says relationship expert Mira Kirshenbaum.

This includes anything from the past that will reverberate in the present; such as debts, a chronic medical condition, past sexual or emotional abuse and anything that could affect the future.

When you keep a secret that profoundly affects your family, you face a double tragedy when it eventually comes to light. After the first shock, you're hit with secondary tremors that come from the resulting feelings of betrayal and distrust.

"My husband was running a retail website and assured me it was doing well," says Karen*.

But a year ago, she discovered that her husband's business was in the hole for more than R4million and he had taken out a line of credit against their house.

The truth came out only when he told her he had to get an additional job.

"He said he didn't tell me because he thought he could turn his business around, and was embarrassed by his failures. I couldn't believe he'd left me in the dark for all those years."

The reason men in particular keep secrets is that they want to keep up an appearance of being strong and in control. They might fear dealing with the turmoil they know their secret will unleash. And yes, some men just hope that silence will help them avoid a fight.

l Secrets to consider spilling

If you're honest with yourself, it's not too hard to figure out which secrets must be spilled. But what about ones from your distant past?

On one hand, if some embarrassing episode is long past and has no impact on your life today, you can consider keeping quiet.

And that brings up another important factor when weighing whether or not to tell.

"Murphy's law of love" says that the less you want a secret to be revealed, the more likely it is to suddenly spring up in your relationship.

So are there any pictures floating around on the Internet that might give you away? Any friends who have a habit of telling your somewhat sordid old stories after a couple of drinks? How about an ex-lover who could potentially reappear?

If there's any way your partner might accidentally find out, it's better that you tell him.

Coming clean about your sexual past is a worthy goal, but Kirshenbaum warns you must tread carefully.

"You don't need to give the exact number of previous lovers or endless details about what you did with them," she says.

l Shhh! Secrets that won't kill him

As a rule, honesty is the best policy. But anyone who's been in a long-term relationship knows there is definitely some wiggle room, provided they're harmless secrets and don't involve lies.

Maybe you earned a bonus and spent it all on a new leather jacket without telling him, so what?

"Even when we're married, we still have private selves," says Kirshenbaum.

The important thing is to make sure you and your guy are on the same page. If you're both willing to trade candour for a bit of ignorance-is-bliss harmony, then there's no harm.

One clue that a secret is healthy is the evidence is usually hidden in plain sight.

If he really wanted to know how much those shoes cost, he could see the fancy label on the insole. And if you really have to know what offensive radio show he listens to in private, you could click on his preprogrammed radio stations next time you're in the car. - MSN-com

* Not her real name