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Secret Relationships

Should they always be condemned?

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Most people think of secret relationships as sexual infidelities. The feelings of betrayal, humiliation, and loss often leave a relationship irreparable. The majority of relationship partners who have been on either end have paid a high price for those choices.

However, there are many secret relationships that may not deserve the same criticism or negative judgment. People who are caught up in them often suffer in silence because they are not able to disclose them for legitimate reasons.

The secret relationships I will describe can be between a committed couple and the outside world or internal thoughts, feelings, or prior experiences that one partner is fearful to tell the other.

I have been a relationship therapist for over four decades and have heard many of these often heart-wrenching descriptions of these hidden conflicts and why they exist. When you hear them, you will have likely either have been a participant in a similar situation or have known someone who was.

The following situations and the stories that accompany them are fictional composites of what I have heard from many people over the years. Please try to read them with an open mind. Though you may not agree with what they have done, you will be able to find the humanness in them we all share.

Forbidden Love

Adopted Siblings

Two siblings have grown up in the same household, adopted a year apart. They have been close and loving friends their entire lives and have both felt welcome and beloved by their family. When they graduated high school, they went to different colleges but stayed very close.

Then, completely unexpected, their father suffers a major heart attack and dies. They come home to comfort their mother and are thrown together in grief and mutual support.

Somehow, during this period of tumult and sorrow, they realize that they have always loved each other, though were never able to reveal their feelings. One evening, their bond becomes sexual. They realize they have always been in love and now cannot bear being apart, but cannot ever let others know. After graduation, they move to another country to be together, knowing that they must leave everything they know behind forever if they are to continue their relationship.


A foreign student comes to live with a welcoming family to go to college. His own family has been destroyed by a brutal regime. After graduation, he stays with the family to help out financially.

The mother of the family is 20 years his senior and he has always deeply cared for her. One night he finds her in the kitchen, sobbing. She has just found out that her husband has been having an affair with her best friend for over two years, and has left her. She is distraught and broken.

Over the next several months, he is constantly at her side, trying to help her through her unending sorrow. One evening, after drinking some wine, they become intimate. He realizes that he has been in love with her for years.

She tells him that he has saved her life and that she can never remember being this happy. She wants him to stay with her but forever keep their relationship a secret.

Religious Taboos

A devoutly Catholic woman is deeply unhappy in her marriage and is avoiding sex with her husband. Feeling troubled and guilty, she asks for help from her priest. He tells her to talk to her husband about the way she feels so that they can reinvigorate their sexuality together.

A good friend encourages her to watch “educational” pornography to help her increase her sexual desire on her own. As she flips through episodes that seem helpful, a site comes up that depicts two women making love. Despite not wanting to, she finds herself strongly pulled to watch it. Highly aroused, she begins masturbating for the first time in her life.

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She now has a secret relationship within her marriage, filled with fantasies that she can never divulge to her husband. She knows that he would never approve.

Cultural Taboos

A Muslim and a Jew are taking a college class on religion. Their attraction to each other grows more strongly every day. They talk openly about not being able to ever be together but cannot bear being apart. Like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, they struggle with the risks of the judgment of their elders, whom they know will never approve.

Can they leave everything they know and cherish behind to embrace an unknown world, or, unable to pay the price, meet in secrecy forever?

Socioeconomic Differences

A financially struggling young man meets a wealthy woman in a posh hotel where he is tending bar. They are immediately attracted to each other but do not act upon it at the time.

Several months later, she is on a cruise where he, once again, is tending bar. They are not visible to either of their social circles so decide to get together, even if it is only for that short time.

They unexpectedly fall deeply in love but she tells him that he would only be seen by her friends and family as a “boy toy” and it would lessen her standing among them. She asks him to continue the relationship but to keep it totally private.

Secrets from the Past

A woman in her 20s, forced by her prominent family to have an abortion at 15, has promised her parents that she will never tell anyone.

Now she has fallen in love with a devoted Catholic man who has just proposed to her. She loves his family and his commitment to his faith and has had many talks with him about how negatively he and his family feel about abortion.

She is terrified to reveal her secret, for fear he will see her as no longer worthy of his commitment. But she doesn’t feel right about holding it from him and is in terrible conflict.

Past Traumas

There are many experiences that a person has had that he or she is afraid to share with another. Childhood incest experiences, time in prison, sexual fantasies, family histories of physical or mental illnesses, fears of past relationship failures, past or still present addictions, or relatives with questionable behaviors, are examples of secrets that often remain hidden.

Terminal Illness

A man’s wife has suffered a major stroke and is in a coma, brain-dead but still alive. He faithfully attends to her and their four children for two years, trying to take care of everyone’s needs as he feels he must.

The neighbor next store is a widow. He and his wife were constant companions of their next-door neighbors, spending countless joyful hours as extended families.

She is his only confidante, able to share his grief because she is also missing her best friend. They find solace in one another and eventually fall in love. He cannot tell anyone while his life is still alive, and prays nightly to his God to understand and forgive him.

Secret Fantasies of Another Life While in a Relationship

A man marries early in life to a woman he continues to love and cherish. They live life’s stages as both want and feel a mutual sense of gratitude and pride in the way their lives have gone.

But, inside, he feels his spirit is dying. He dreams of being free to explore the riches of a world. He remembers being a kid who loved to get lost, and then excitedly figure out new ways to get home. He always wanted to fly a plane or travel to exotic places.

Now he is feeling more and more trapped and resentful, but cannot find the courage to share his inner world with his wife for fear she would only see it as self-indulgent and selfish.

Emerging Past Loves

Often life’s most beautiful romantic relationships happen to young people who fling all of everything they are into one another, blending together in a rhapsody of sexual, sensual, emotional, and spiritual union.

Most of those relationships have natural endings, but some are aborted by concerned parents who believe the participants are too young and might do something counter-productive to their futures.

When first loves re-emerge, they often trigger the same feelings that were there when the relationship existed. Many who experience them say they have nothing to do with their current relationship, but ache to just see what it would be like to spend some secret timeless-time together. Think Same Time, Next Year.


The sadness about secret relationships is that they take energy away from living fully and authentically. The people who must keep these secrets hide the fullness of who they are because they feel that is they feel they have no other option.

People have only so many resources to distribute in their lives. Time, money, love, devotions, hobbies, causes, love, and family obligations take different chunks out of every person’s storage of those available assets. Every secret unexpressed must use some of those resources to continue hiding it from the world, leaving less to invest in what else might be possible.



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