I went to my cousin's graduation a couple weeks ago, and the commencement speech was all about secrets.
The speaker was talking about how, as much as society tries to make them look bad and evil, secrets are necessary sometimes. For example, he explained, when you're on a date and you have an inappropriate thought about the hot waiter, it's probably best to keep that one to yourself.
It make sense, right? You don't want to be going around blabbing about every stupid, sometimes inappropriate thoughts about everything and anything to your significant other. There are some things that are just better left unsaid...
...or so I thought, until I came across a new study.
The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia Business School, found that some secrets may not only be ruining your relationship, but they could also be ruining your health.
The researchers looked into 13,000 different secrets, ranging from little white lies to more serious offenses, like affairs and addiction, to figure out how the secrets affected our health.
Researchers defined the secrets, found in a series of 10 different studies, as things that were "divulged to at least one person but not everyone."
What sorts of secrets are people keeping?
The study found that the secrets we most commonly keep are of the romantic variety. Specifically, they were about "extra relational thoughts, sexual behaviors, finances and romantic desires."
I mean, you're bound to think of someone else from time to time, and for the sake of your relationship, you aren't going to go blabbing about that to your partner.
Or maybe you're really stressing about how much money you have in your account, but you don't want to tell your girlfriend because you want to treat her to a nice meal on her birthday without her feeling guilty.
Sometimes, we really do keep secrets out of love.
How are they affecting our health?
Even if the root of our secret-keeping is noble — though it certainly isn't always that way — the study found that secrets don't do great things when it comes to our health, especially when we start to obsess, or "ruminate" over them.
If you're more of a numbers person, let me put it to you this way.
Of the studies they looked into, the average participant was hiding around 13 secrets over the course of one month. Now, these people actually only had to actively hide their secrets from someone about two times a month. However, they also spontaneously thought about their secrets about five times a month.
That means they unnecessarily dwelled on their dumb secrets more than DOUBLE the amount they even had to hide it.
Needless to say, that kind of negative obsessive thinking is not so great for your mental health and can result in us becoming seriously unhappy and can even affect our productivity.
How are they affecting our relationships?
Michael Slepian, study co-author and assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School, told the Columbia Business School Newsroom:
People anticipate that, once in awhile, they will need to hide their secrets; they do so and move on. However, people don't expect their secrets to spontaneously pop into their heads when irrelevant to the task or current situation at hand. This seems to be the real downside of having secrets from others.
Another one of the study's co-authors, Malia Mason, professor at Columbia Business School, echoed Slepian's sentiments: “Secrets exert a gravitational pull on our attention, and it's the cyclical revisiting of our mistakes that explains the harmful effects that secrets can have on our well-being and relationship satisfaction."
Not only are you sacrificing your own mental health and well-being by continuing to obsess over whatever secrets you're keeping, but you're also sacrificing the health of your relationship when you're not completely present with your partner.
Honestly, I do believe that some things are better left unsaid. But, if you don't think you can mentally handle leaving them unsaid, then you better suck it up and tell your partner what's going on for your own sake and for your relationship's sake.
Citations: Keeping A Secret Is Hard, And Possibly Bad For Your Health, But Not For The Reasons You Think (Medical Daily), Keeping Secrets Is Harmful to Your Health, According to New Research from Columbia Business School (Columbia Business School)