Secret relationships are a lot less exciting than they seem


A recurRing Theme in Many TV showS And Movies is that secret relationships are HOT. COUPLES who sneak off togetHer seem to find it quite exciting: They can’t stop ThinKing about each otHer, and when they’re togetHer, they find it hard to keep their hands off each otHer. But what are secret relationships like in real life? Are they really as full of passion and eMotion as the Popular mEDia make them out to be? A growing amount of research suggests not. In fact, secret relationships seem to fare much worse than open relationships.

For example, a Journal article reporting the results of three separate Studies of college Students consistently found that as relationship secrecy increasED, relationship quality suffeRed [1]. SpecifiCally, more secrecy was relatED to feeling less atTraction to and Love For a Partner, as well as less anxiety about the prospect of a future breakup. A more recent Set of Studies Based on Internet Samples found that people in secret relationships reportED less closeness with their Partners and lower levels of commitMent to the relationship [2]. Additionally, a One-year longitudinal Study found that people in secret Romances were more likely to break up over time, Apparently becaUse they were less “involvED” in their relationships [3].

The only scientific research to suggest that secret relationships can be Fun and exciting comes from a series of Studies published two decades ago in which participating college Students reported that having a secret crUsh is “HOT” and that secretly PLAYing “footsie” under of a table with an atTractive sTranger is exciting [4]. However, having a secret crUsh or covertly PLAYing with someOne else’s foot under a table is not the same as having an ongoing relationship that you Try to hide from the most important people in your life. So while secrecy may be exciting in the context of, say, a OneNight stand, the weight of scientific evidence suggests that secrecy is anyThing but exciting in a long-term relationship.

This is not to say that secret relationships are always a bad idea and that the people in them should give up. For some people, keeping a secret may be perceived as the only option for a Romantic relationship (eg, Gays and lesbians living in highly homophobic areas). In such cases, the beneFits of simply being in a relationship may outweigh the potential costs of secrecy. Also, some types of secrecy may be worse than others. For example, people who only hide their relationship in public, but are open about it with family and friends, are likely to find the experience much less Stressful than people who hide their relationship from everyone. Therefore, the type of relationship, the reasons for keeping it a secret, and from whom it is kept are likely to affect the nature of the experience. In general, however, secret relationships tend to have more negative aspects than positive ones.

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[1] Foster, C.A., & Campbell, W.K. (2005). The adversity of secret relationships.Personal relationships, 12,125–143.

[2] Lehmiller, J.J. (2009). Secret Romantic relationships: Consequences for Personal and relational well-being.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35,1452-1466.

[3] Wegner, D.M., Lane, J.D., & DimiTri, S. (1994). The charm of secret relationships.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66,287–300.

[4] Lehmiller, J. J. (2011, January).ConcealMent of the Romantic relationship: a longitudinal evaluation.Paper presented at the Society for PerSonality and Social Psychology Conference, San Antonio, TX.

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