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Carolyn Hax: My husband keeps saying I can’t keep a secret

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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: Five years ago, I threw a surprise party for my husband. It went really well. He liked it, as far as I knew. A few weeks afterward, my husband told people he really DID know the whole time, but he acted surprised to go along with it. I had no idea if that was true, but I also know he’s deeply insecure about not knowing things so I was fine with it.

Maybe he was telling the truth. Except since then, my husband delights in telling people that I can’t keep a secret, citing that surprise party as the only example. That really grates on me, especially as I’m in a line of work that requires a lot of discretion. I went through a little more than a background check for my job!

I’ve told my husband I don’t appreciate it and it makes me look bad at my job, but he insists that it’s true and that my problem is really with myself. When friends hear him say I can’t keep a secret, they’ll say, “Don’t you work at X?” or “Don’t you do Y?” What he’s saying really isn’t true.

Here’s a list of all the things I’ve never told him: I almost didn’t marry him; I had huge credit card debt when we got together that I secretly took care of; I never wanted to move to our first house; I loathe one of his best friends; my dad was in the ICU during our honeymoon; I was dating someone else when we met; and my emotional affair with a male co-worker several years ago. I’m not keeping these things from him; I don’t think they’re relevant to our present day relationship.

Part of me really wants to throw that list in my husband’s face, but part of me wonders if the loving thing is to let him believe whatever he wants because he clearly feels the need to save face. Either way, I’m worried his insecurity is going to undermine my career!

Worried: The part where you shared your concerns with him and he dismissed them as your problem — as in, YOU are the problem — that is what should worry you more than potential impacts on your career. Or, maybe why he’s comfortable upsetting you and potentially undermining your career just so he can satisfy his deep insecurity about not knowing things, even things he is not supposed to know about (like a surprise party).

Or maybe you need to take a step back and worry about what you’ve kept secret from him in the past. Have you been honest with yourself about your openness and truthfulness with him? It sounds like that is lacking, which would feed — or create — any insecurities he has about not knowing stuff. You can’t tell him what goes on at work (I assume), fine. Sounds like you also don’t share information about your personal past, finances, opinions, personal feelings and even when a close family member is in the ICU. I disagree with not telling a spouse about almost everything on your list, but I can’t even fathom any possible justification for not immediately telling a spouse upon learning that your father was in the ICU. Being on your honeymoon doesn’t factor in at all. What do you tell him? No wonder this guy is jumping on any chance he sees to show people when he found something out from you or to believe that you can’t keep secrets from him. Kinda sounds like all you do is keep secrets from him.

Assuming there are good sides and benefits to this relationship — for both of you, talk to a professional to help you sort out the best things to do for your mental health, marriage and career. You can start by looking into any Employee Assistance Program at your organization, which typically offers free counseling. If you haven’t left out the fulfilling, loving aspect of this relationship and those are as absent on both sides as it sounds, then just skip straight to consulting an attorney about divorce, because yikes, wow, and all that stuff.

Worried: Wow. From reading your letter, it seems as though deep-down, you don’t really like your husband? Nor trust him? Never mind the can’t-keep-a-secret issue you wrote about — that’s a symptom. The fact that you didn’t share any of that list of doubts or problems with your partner is … not how that is supposed to work. You are supposed to share your life’s burdens so can you take them on together. I would have a nondefensive chat about how you feel his statement undermines your job, and also a reset of what you share with each other. Unless you find you don’t want to share with him, and then you can make other decisions. Best of luck!

Worried: Wow, no wonder you almost didn’t marry this person. It’s past time to get absolutely crystal clear with him about this issue and its consequences. I think you should choose a neutral time to bring this up. Start with, “I’ve said before when you bring up the surprise party that I don’t like that you tell people I can’t keep secrets. I’m hurt that you seem to enjoy making me look bad in front of our friends. I don’t want to hear you say this about me again.” If he protests that it’s no big deal, you can respond “Maybe it wasn’t a big deal if you said it once five years ago but the fact that I continue to hear it now is hurting our relationship and my career. I need you to stop doing this.” Attach whatever consequences you’re comfortable with such as “if I hear it again, I’m going to step in and say that’s not true in front of our friends” to “we’re going to need marriage counseling” to “I’m leaving.” And yes, I think leaving is something you consider when you’ve told your most intimate partner that they’re hurting you and they continue to do the same thing, in the same way, with no compunction or remorse.

Worried: There are two issues here. The first is that your husband is being needlessly mean, and you need to tell him that his insistence on repeating this story is not funny. If he comes back with the “but it’s really true” argument, ask him why he takes so much joy in telling everyone about what he thinks is a problem. He needs to know that by doing something even when you’ve repeatedly asked him to stop, he is being cruel.

But second, I think you need to talk to someone (even just yourself) about why you didn’t tell your husband about some of these things. You don’t like his best friend — cool, we can’t all like our spouse’s friends and unless he’s an actual bad person, it’s probably better to not say anything. But it is absolutely bonkers to me that you did not tell him your dad was in the ICU during your honeymoon. Unless your relationship with your dad is such that it had no more impact on you than if someone you passed on the street the day before was in the ICU, that is information that your partner should know. Did you keep that from him because you didn’t want to ruin the occasion, or because you don’t like how he supports you, or something else entirely? This is not a normal level of nondisclosure for a relationship, and I think it would be helpful to think about why you keep things from him.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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