Q: What is the statute of limitations on a secret? I just found out that my mother once did something terrible to my girlfriend. Five years ago my girlfriend's dog went missing, and my mom joked about how it was she who let Jo-Jo out because she hated the barking. We found the dog a couple hours later, so everything ended up fine. But it was traumatic for my girlfriend, and I'm worried if I tell her who's responsible she'll blame me. I know, Honesty is the Best Policy. But I'm convinced she'll think I've been keeping this secret all along even though I just heard about it. Isn't it better for everyone if we just let bygones be bygones? Why reopen old wounds? — Dustin, 21
Dr. Susan: I believe in and usually advise complete honesty in intimate relationships. Yet sometimes there are minor exceptions. What you've described is a relatively small old matter that, luckily, turned out okay. If you worry that your girlfriend will blame you if you admit you learned it was your mom who let the dog out, then perhaps it's your relationship with your girlfriend that is of more concern than this particular "untruth." If you think you're going to stay with this girlfriend for keeps, telling her about your mom's rather stupid and mean actions will make her upset at your mom. If, however, it feels to you that you're keeping a secret, that is an intimacy-killer, and I'd just tell your girlfriend what you found out and have it in the open. I would hope she's mature enough not to blame you for something you had nothing to do with.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.