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The secret I can never tell my partner - The Sydney Morning Herald - June 5, 2021

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

Article written by Dilvin Yasa

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 2021

'He'd probably have a heart attack'

Fresh from a visit to her cosmetic surgeon, a friend recently divulged that she was keeping her love of Botox a secret from her husband. “He would be livid if he knew I was getting injectables and I just don’t want to rock the boat,” she admitted.

Surely keeping such a secret from your life partner is akin to setting your relationship on a crash course? Not necessarily, says Dr Amanda Ferguson, the psychologist behind the popular podcast Psych for Life.

“Not only is it incredibly common for people to keep secrets from their partner, I’d say it’s probably more uncommon and unhealthy not to,” she says. “Research shows 100 per cent transparency is too much to expect in a marriage and too much pressure; there needs to be some individuation but this means the smaller things, such as not sharing a friend’s secret with him.”

Keeping “big ticket” secrets such as sexual or financial infidelity, however, can eat you alive. “If it’s something you wouldn’t want your partner to withhold from you, or something you really don’t want to tell them, that’s a warning sign of a serious transgression,” Ferguson says, adding you may need to work through the problem with a counsellor or trusted friend before speaking with your partner.

“Put time aside to discuss your disclosure, as this gives it an opportunity to be received in the best possible way. And remember to do so in a respectful way. Everything within a relationship comes down to respect.”

"I have a secret bank account"

Although Amie*, a 38-year-old accounts manager and mother of one, says she trusts her husband, she feels better knowing she has a healthy savings account to lean on should she ever have to start over on her own.

“I grew up in a household where it was not unusual for my mum to cry immediately after opening the mail. A single mother from the get-go, there was never enough money to go around and she kept hooking up with guys who would fleece her for the rest of what little money she had. Even as a small child, I couldn’t believe how gullible she could be when it came to love and sex. It’s through watching her that I swore that I would never leave myself so vulnerable.

By the time I met Pete*, I’d worked hard to create a stable financial foundation for myself. I’d purchased my first home, had some investments under my belt and was fanatical about putting 10 per cent of my salary each week into a rainy day account.

There was – and is – nothing about Pete that warrants mistrust, but as soon as we moved in together and began talking marriage, I felt an uneasiness I couldn’t put my finger on. The minute I opened up a new bank account and transferred $20,000 of my savings into it, that feeling of panic dissipated. If a psychologist were to unpack the scenario, I guess they’d say childhood scars run deep.

“That feeling of freedom far outweighs the negatives of having to hide the account.”

Pete and I have been married for six years now and despite having very different financial personalities (he’s a spender and I’m very cautious), we’ve found a nice balance that works for us. We don’t have any joint bank accounts, but we share a mortgage and we’re able to see each other’s individual accounts. Sometimes he might take my card and buy groceries, for example, or I might happen upon his bank statements.

What he doesn’t know is that I not only have that secret bank account, but I’ve been adding to it over time. It’s ridiculous how I do it – withdrawing $100 here and there from my regular account and depositing it into the other like I’m some sort of criminal. I’m terrified the electronic trail will alert him to my deceit.

Today, I have close to $40,000 in my secret account, which is a strange position to be in. Obviously there’s a sense of guilt that comes with having this account but I’ve seen so many friends lose everything over the years (joint bank accounts are no woman’s friend) that I know I’m doing the right thing. Even though our marriage is concrete, I know that if Pete were to walk out tomorrow, I’d be able to stay afloat and take care of our daughter. That feeling of freedom far outweighs the negatives of having to hide the account.

My biggest fear? That I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow and he’ll discover the account. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life wondering, ‘Who was this person I was married to?’ ”

"I love my husband but I'm not sure if he's the one"

Kate*, a 47-year-old charity worker and mother of three children, describes herself as happily married but says she is haunted by the ghost of a former relationship.

“I was 27 when I met the man I believed to be the love of my life. Ours was a ridiculously passionate relationship; we loved each other like crazy but were always arguing, breaking up and getting back together.

The last fight we had was serious, but even after he dropped out of my life, I don’t think I ever really believed that was the end of our story. I just told myself we’d eventually work it out, get married and have a family together because that’s who we were. When a mutual friend texted me a photograph of his wedding invitation later that year, the shock of it floored me for months.

I don’t know that I’ve ever recovered from the heartbreak, but those first few months were unbearable. I was sad but also angry that I’d wasted so many years on someone who’d strung me along.

By the time I met Adam*, I was well into my 30s, lonely and desperate for children. I didn’t feel the same spark I felt with my ex, but I could see Adam would make a loyal partner and good father. When he asked me to marry him after four months, I said yes, even though my heart really wasn’t in it.

The first few years of marriage were hectic. We had three children in quick succession and the exhaustion and sleepless nights proved a welcome distraction. There’s not a lot of time to think about anything else when you’re knee-deep in nappies and toilet training and that was a real blessing for me.

It’s only as the kids grew older and more self-sufficient that my ex began working his way back into my consciousness. I wondered what his take would be on recent world developments such as COVID-19. What did he watch now? What did he listen to?

When I heard that my ex had got divorced a couple of years ago, my reaction to the news really surprised me. I always thought I’d react differently, that I would leave my husband and run to my ex, but I’ve actually since turned back towards my family.

“I always thought I’d react differently, that I would leave my husband and run to my ex, but I’ve actually since turned back towards my family.”

There’s no doubt I love my husband. I don’t know that it’s in the romantic sense everyone always gushes about, but in a way that is very real and considered. He’s always been so good to me that I would be crazy to walk away. There will always be a part of me that wonders ‘what if?’ but the guilt and the weight that comes with that remains my cross to bear.”

"The truth about my sexual history would break him"

Alexandra*, a 35-year-old waitress, had plenty of dating years under her belt before she met her husband, Dom*. She says it’s a history she’s since had to wipe clean.

“Whenever I tell friends about Dom’s views on dating and sex, I always feel I need to qualify it by adding that he was born into a culture where women are expected to remain virgins until they marry. That’s what he grew up hearing from his friends and family and that’s the kind of marriage he figured he, too, would one day enter into with someone from his own faith and nationality. But love doesn’t work that way, and meeting me – a Sydney north shore WASP – has been an exercise in patience and understanding for both of us.

Before I met Dom, I dated and had one-night stands like anyone else. I was raised to own my sexuality and enjoy it, so I feel no shame in admitting that I’ve lost count of how many men and women I’ve slept with. I guess it would be about 50 or 60, which is probably quite a bit higher than the number my friends have slept with.

“Dom reacted so badly when I said, ‘I’ve slept with a few’ that he took off and didn’t speak to me for days. When he came back, he said he didn’t know if he could be with someone who could sleep so freely with people she wasn’t married to.”

What I’ve discovered about men, though – whatever their cultural background – is that they don’t like hearing about how many others their partner has been with before they arrived on the scene. Dom reacted so badly when I said, ‘I’ve slept with a few’ (which he took to mean three or four) that he took off and didn’t speak to me for days. When he came back, he said he didn’t know if he could be with someone who could sleep so freely with people she wasn’t married to.

We weren’t married at the time and were sleeping together, so the irony was lost on him. Even though we worked through the issue and went on to marry, I realised I could never tell him the truth about my romantic history. He’d probably have a heart attack.

Ordinarily, hiding the truth about your ex-lovers wouldn’t be so difficult but I’m forever running into them when I’m out and about with Dom. My friends joke that it must be a ‘numbers game’ but we’ll run into them at a cafe, on our morning walks and I’ve even had one – another waiter – serve us at dinner.

Each time, I force myself to blank the other person out of fear of having an ugly confrontation with Dom and then I feel angry at myself for being so rude to someone who was once in my life, even if only for a moment.

Sometimes I have imaginary arguments with Dom in my head where I scream, ‘Mate, you’re living in modern times, in a modern country, and you have to get with the program.’ But I would never say that to his face. The risk is too high and, frankly, he can’t help how he was brought up. I would never want to hurt him.”

*Names have been changed.

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