7 tricks to keeping (or telling!) a secret

By: Jessica Padykula

Author: Canadian Living


7 tricks to keeping (or telling!) a secret

By: Jessica Padykula
Juicy pieces of private information are everywhere.  It seems you're always hearing little secrets from friends, family and coworkers. You stumble upon these quiet truths accidentally, even when you're not meaning to. Some are salacious, most are harmless, but many are more complicated and can become a burden.

Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem, a registered marriage and family therapist, spills the beans on how to handle a secret and shares her tricks for when to tell, what to tell, and when to keep quiet.

1. Keep quiet.
The number one rule of secrets is: Don't tell. When a friend confides in you that she is pregnant, has lost her job or is having money troubles, keep quiet. No matter how tempting, do not break your promise of silence, Belleghem says. Spreading the word will destroy your trustworthiness and hurt your friendship.

2. Let them tell.

You can't always keep a secret, and sometimes you shouldn't. If someone tells you a secret that could harm someone's health or safety, it's time to spill. "If the secret is about a criminal offence or is life threatening, like he or she is planning suicide, tell your friend you cannot keep the promise and why," Belleghem says.

But before you blab, give your friend a chance to tell their secret themselves, she says.  Advise your friend that you have to tell the secret and explain why, but then tell them you'll give them a certain amount of time to do it themselves. "That way you are not taking their power away," explains Belleghem.

3. If you must tell, ask first.
If you are privy to information you think someone ought to know, such as knowing your best friend's husband is having an affair, don't automatically blab, warns Belleghem. Sometimes people don't want to know the truth if it's going to hurt, she says.

The best course of action is to ask her if she wants to know something you suspect about her husband. If she says she doesn't, then keep quiet. If she says she does then tell her what you know but don't embellish. Just tell her what you suspect or presume.

Page 1 of 24. Disclose, don't attack
When you have to share a potentially upsetting secret, frame your disclosure as a personal observations to make the info feel more like a disclosure than an attack, Belleghem says.  Do this by using 'I', like this:

• I saw a lot of kids going in and out of your house while you were out to dinner the other night.
• I'm concerned about your child, who I have seen at the mall a few times during school hours.

5. Understand privacy versus secrecy
"Other people's private business is not your story to tell," Belleghem says. But telling your version of an event and what you saw, felt and did is your business, she explains.

If you see a close friend using drugs and you're shocked by it, what you saw can be told as your experience. For example, "I was so surprised to see my friend using drugs. We had a big argument about it and I'm really upset." This is your experience of what happened, it's not just gossip about someone else's problems.
6. Consider the impact
If withholding your secret could lead someone to make a bad decision, it may be time to spill. For example, if you know your friend's husband is having financial trouble but she's unaware and planning to book an expensive vacation, sharing your secret means she may wisely opt out of booking the trip.

If sharing your secret can help a friend make a different decision, you should tell her — but only after asking her if she wants to know.

7. Shut your ears
Sometimes it can be better to simply avoid the pressure of taking on someone else's secret, Belleghem says. If someone says they want to tell you something they've done, or have a secret to tell, you can opt out of hearing it all together. Tell them you don't want to hear it because you can't promise you'll be able to keep a secret!

Read more:
Could money issues ruin your relationship?
Top 10 reasons you need a best friend
The dos and don'ts of being a good friend

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7 tricks to keeping (or telling!) a secret