Keeping Secrets

This post is going to have some spoilers about The Secrets He Kept, so if you haven’t read it yet and don’t want to read spoilers, you might want to save this post and read it later.

In a review or two, and quite often when I speak with someone who’s read the book, a common comment or question is something along the lines of, “How can someone keep secrets like that?” Sometimes the person couldn’t see how that could happen until they read the book, and sometimes I’ve even heard that they still don’t believe it can be done.

I wanted to address it today. Because the truth is, it can happen. Speaking from personal experience, if someone wants to hide something from you, they can. And if you don’t want to know about it, you won’t see it even if it’s staring you in the face.

Even the worst liar, when he or she knows that they have something to lose, can come up with a convincing lie. The bigger the potential loss if they get caught, the harder they will work to come up with a good lie and to keep it going. In the book, Sander knew that he was risking everything: his family, his legitimate career, his freedom (he knew he’d go to prison if he was ever caught), and his life. He had, literally, everything to lose. So it was imperative that he not get caught.

My ex-husband was not the greatest liar, but that didn’t stop him from trying. And most of the time, he came up with lies that worked. An unreliable car gave him credibility when he was late because of “car trouble.” Friends would cover for him when he claimed he was out with them, people who felt no compunction to be loyal to me, because they were his friends, not mine.

The thing that most contributes to hiding something as major as what Sander hid in the book, though, is the spouse’s unwillingness to see the truth. For me, I knew my ex was unfaithful, if I were honest with myself. But I was a stay-at-home mom, and I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t want to have to return to work and leave my son in daycare. Later, I was pregnant with my second child, and didn’t want to be a single mother with two kids. So even when I knew he lied, I looked the other way until I just couldn’t look the other way anymore – until the point came that I realized he was not just cheating, but actively putting me at risk. There were other issues, but I’m not going to get into all the details.

Meadow was much the same in The Secrets He Kept. She wasn’t happy, and she knew that Sander was probably hiding something, but her life was comfortable. She was able to stay home, take care of her kids and the house, and she knew that even if he did nothing else for her and their children, Sander provided a steady income, stable financial support. Fear of the unknown, of being a single parent of three, of having to go out and find employment after so many years of being a stay-at-home mother, made her turn a blind eye to what she thought she knew her husband was doing. Then, of course, there’s also the fact that, by admitting it’s not working and the marriage should end, she would have also had to admit that marrying Sander was probably a mistake. She knew she’d been attracted to Stetson, knew that she didn’t really want to marry Sander when he asked her, but she’d gone forward with it anyway – so by calling him out on his deception, she would have to admit that she was wrong to marry him. She didn’t want to do that.

Couples do it all the time, all over the world. They hide affairs, sexual orientation, gender identity concerns, debts, addictions, and so much more. They are able to hide them because they work hard to hide them, and because the other spouse often ignores their suspicions. If you ask someone whose spouse has admitted to an addiction after years of marriage, or to being gay after years of marriage and multiple kids, you’ll often find that (once they’ve come to terms with it and can be honest with themselves) they’ll admit that “I probably should have known” or “there were things that I thought were not quite right.” Even if they can’t specifically tell you that the signs pointed to the secret that came out, and even if they couldn’t put it all together and come up with that answer on their own, they often saw things, heard things, or felt things that told them there was a secret there. They choose to ignore it because they don’t want to upset the balance, they don’t want to give up the life they live and step outside their comfort zone. It might be family pressure, cultural or societal pressure, fear that they can’t start over alone, or maybe even fear that they’ll never have another relationship. There’s probably thousands of reasons why they might not want to see the truth. But it happens all the time. Most just aren’t hiding criminal activity, like Sander does in the book. Although there are those cases, too.

If you think it could never happen, if you think your relationship is too solid and honest for that to ever happen I say this: I’m glad. I’m glad that you have such a great relationship that you don’t see how people could keep secrets like the ones in The Secrets He Kept, or any others. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s not possible. While it may not happen to you (and I hope it doesn’t), it does happen to people all over the world. And if you know someone who’s been the betrayed spouse, don’t insult them by asking how they could be so blind or stupid. Yes, they probably did look the other way and pretend not to know, but reminding them of that while they’re still hurting and trying to get past it isn’t going to help.

And if you haven’t read The Secrets He Kept yet, what are you waiting for? 🙂

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