Is Your Partner a Private Person or Trying To Keep Your Relationship a Secret?

Photo: Getty Images / Brothers91
When you’re in the beginning stages of dating someone, you may not know each other well. That's the point of dating, after all—getting to know someone. As you learn about the other person, you'll uncover aspects of their personality and certain preferences. For instance, are they introverted or extroverted? What's their sun sign? And do they skew more public or private? Learning your love interest wants to keep things under wraps may make you feel like they lack confidence in or excitement about the flame. But is it inherently a red flag if you're dating a private person who wants to keep your relationship mum?

Experts In This Article

According to experts, not necessarily—especially if keeping things private is mutually agreed upon by all parties involved. Especially if your relationship is more on the casual side, there may still be some things each partner chooses to keep private, which is completely fine, says psychologist Paulette Sherman, PsyD, author of Dating From the Inside Out and host of The Love Psychologist podcast.

"If you keep the relationship a secret over time—unless it is mutually approved—it can breed insecurity." —psychologist Paulette Sherman, PhD

However, if you express to the person you’re dating that it's important to you to be more public and they don't agree, it's a sign that they may not be a private-leaning person so much as working to keep your relationship a secret. And to be sure, privacy and secrecy are not the same thing. "If you keep the relationship a secret over time—unless it is mutually approved—it can breed insecurity when you hide your partner from the rest of your world," says Dr. Sherman.

But, how can you tell the difference between privacy and secrecy in a relationship, and what is the tip-off point that the latter is present and posing an issue? Finally, when dating a private person, how can you know if their preference is not a threat to the relationship? Here's what the experts think about the difference between privacy and secrecy in a relationship, and when there's cause for concern.

Why someone you're dating might want to keep things private

According to relationship therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW, there are myriad valid reasons someone might want to keep things private—like focusing on building a strong foundation to the relationship before exposing it to the world, being introverted, and taking more time to think about how you'll fit into each other's lives. Maintaining a low profile can also give you more time to see if the relationship is serious and has long-term potential, says Ross.

“Some people feel it’s better to keep things private for a while in case they break up and things don’t work out,” says Ross, who adds that this is an attempt to avoid explaining a would-be breakup, which would need to happen if the relationship were public knowledge in your respective communities.

Comfort levels also differ from person to person, and that may have to do with how things went in past relationships, says licensed marriage and family therapist Karla Zambrano-Morrison, LMFT. “Maybe they've had experiences in the past where they didn't keep things private and it didn't go well for them, so maybe this time around, they are just being careful," she says.

With this in mind, a little understanding and healthy communication could go a long way with understanding why someone has the privacy preferences they do, says Zambrano-Morrison. "Perhaps there can be a discussion as the relationship progresses related to being in agreement about when it might be a good time to start letting others know about their relationship,” she says.

The telltale sign that dating a private person may have turned problematic

The main signal that dating a private person has turned into a relationship red flag is if they inflexibly insist on keeping things to themselves long-term and the other party doesn't agree. “You should be worried if they won’t discuss it with you, if they gaslight you and pretend it’s not the case, or if it goes on for too long and gets in the way of progressing your relationship,” says Ross. “If it’s openly discussed and you decide together, or if you at least feel you have a voice in when things become more public, you should not be worried.”

The key here is to understand when someone is keeping things private and when they’re keeping you a secret.

The key here is to understand when someone is keeping things private and when they’re keeping you a secret. “There is a difference between privacy and secrecy,” says Ross. “Privacy has to do with appropriate boundaries, keeping some things to yourself and your partner—because it can strengthen your bond and be empowering.”

Secrecy, on the other hand, might be what people turn to if they think public knowledge of the relationship would be undesirable, Ross says. So if you’re getting the sense that keeping things private has turned into you being kept a secret, it might be time for you to do introspective work and figure out the best way to proceed—because you don't deserve to be kept a secret. You should be celebrated, whether you're dating a private person or not.

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