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When a Secret Relationship Does and Doesn’t Work

A couple in a secret relationship sneaking a kiss in an alley outside a restaurant.

Secret relationships happen for a lot of reasons.  While some can have advantages, like creating a unique bond if the love is “forbidden”—think Romeo and Juliet—it’s rare.  After all, the Shakespearean couple was in a tragedy, not a romcom.  The reality is that most secret relationships will struggle to be successful because they create a lot of stress.  Constantly hiding your love gets exhausting and in the end, you may wonder if it’s really worth the trouble.

Here are 5 common reasons people have secret relationships and insight on whether or not they can work:

Reason #1: They’re in the midst of a divorce battle.
Some people may be worried about the legal status of their divorce, therefore, hiding their new relationship may be best in the short term, says Rori Sassoon, a relationship expert and CEO of Platinum Poire.  “They also may not want their children, friends, and family to know about their relationship until they themselves know for sure what is going on.”

Can it work out?  YES
“Sometimes a relationship happens too soon after a breakup, and everyone thinks it’s a rebound when it really could be the right person for you,” says Sassoon.  If you learn from your past mistakes and take your time to get to know the person, you can have a shot at something long term.

Reason #2: To date a friend’s ex.
“Your friend broke up for reasons beyond your knowledge, and you decide to give this person a shot. This happens too often, and many couples agree to keep things a secret in order to avoid a fallout with friends in their circle,” says Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Director for Been Verified, an online background check platform popular for daters.

Can it work out? NO
First, there are strict codes about this: you just don’t date a friend’s ex.  A relationship of this sort experiences friction as the couple struggles with keeping their act together. It’s hard to even go out in public for fear of that friend or other friends, finding out.  Unless you don’t care about losing a friend, or several, over this person, the relationship likely won’t work out.

Reason #3: To not upset parents.
We all know the stress parents drop on their children when it comes to who they date. “Knowing your parents’ reaction to meeting a partner not up to their standards is the incentive many couples need for vowing to secrecy. Some couples go as far as eloping without their parents’ knowledge so they do not face relationship sabotage,” says Lavelle. And this can be especially common in cultures where parents may want their children to date within a specific religion or within a specific community.

Can it work out?  YES
Some parents may learn to accept the relationship, especially if they see their child happy and maybe even get grandkids out of it.  Some parents may never learn to accept it, but that doesn’t mean the relationship can’t work out.  In the end, we find someone we approve of for ourselves, not who our parents would like to see us with.

Reason # 4: There’s another person in the picture.
Many relationships are kept secret because the person they’re dating is either married, in a relationship, or is still trying to date other people. If they reveal the relationship, it could cause bigger problems for their marriage, or will simply take away other dating options if they’re not looking to commit.

Can it work out?  NO
If one or both of the partners is being unfaithful it’s going to be a rocky start. For some, secrecy could be what’s making the secret relationship attractive. But if the relationship was no longer a secret, it would likely take away some, if not all, of the thrill. Even if the relationship did continue on and eventually become public, the chances of the cheating partner being faithful, is slim.

Reason #5: Societal/religious pressure.
Though support for the LGBTQ community has progressed dramatically, many same-sex couples are still faced with daily prejudice and discrimination. Or, perhaps one’s cultural or religion says they must only date/marry someone of similar background or belief. A couple may choose to hide their relationship if they fear repercussions from family, religious leaders, their community, etc.

Can it work out?  YES
Whether it’s their sexuality, or religious/cultural differences that motivates a couple to keep their relationship a secret, this situation can also form a unique bond that can make this a really strong relationship. By tackling challenges together a couple could grow closer together.

There are lots of reasons to keep a relationship secret, but not all are created equally. If you find yourself in a secret relationship, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re happy in it or if you feel like you’re compromising your happiness for the other person. Exploring your situation and thinking honestly about what you really want from a relationship, may help you discover if a secret relationship is right for you.

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