How to Deal with Secretive Friends

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Has your friend been hiding something from you? Or maybe you were the last to know about some big news? Secrets can rip apart a friendship for a variety of reasons, but they can also bring people closer together. Knowing how to deal with secretive friends and coming to terms with the friendship's expectations is key to maintaining lasting relationships.

Simple acts of information withholding, too, can hurt feelings. But before getting mad at a friend for not spilling the details, put yourself in her shoes: You may look at her differently once you learn her secret, and thus, her hesitancy in sharing. A friend may feel completely justified by keeping you in the dark and might not intend to hurt you in doing so. "Certain matters might lead to being ridiculed if they were discovered," points out Fredric Neuman M.D. in Psychology Today. For example, investing in a scam, committing a criminal offense, using illegal drugs, getting fired or failing at work, and dealing with a failing marriage or even a miscarriage might provoke keeping a secret for fear of eliciting confrontation or pity.

You'll also need to recognize the fact that while you might share deep relationships with many people in your social circles, some still may only qualify as acquaintances. In this case, the nature of your familiarity doesn't incline them (or you!) to share vital information, even if you've known them for ages.

Alternatively, if a very close friend is keeping secrets, you have every right to be concerned. Even if you find yourself angry and bruised as a result, it's important to approach your friend once you're calm so you can best articulate your feelings. Here's how to identify, and deal with, secretive friends. 

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Don't Jump To Conclusions

Word travels fast. Perhaps you found out about a secret from another friend, or from someone your friend isn't even close with. Or maybe you heard about it via social media. When you hear about a secret from someone other than your friend, it can certainly feel like a betrayal. Be patient and try not to take it personally. There could be a whole host of reasons why your friend hasn't spilled the beans. Among them:

  • The secret you've heard isn't entirely accurate.
  • Your friend is embarrassed about the matter.
  • Your friend doesn't realize that other people know about their secret.
  • Your friend is waiting on more information before informing you.
  • Your friend doesn't trust you.

Considering all these possibilities, it's important not to jump to conclusions. How you deal with the fallout might be a positive or negative turning point in your friendship, for better or worse. If your friend shares her secret, she likely trusts you and you could become even closer. If not, start a conversation to understand why. Remember healthy boundaries. Learn to accept them.

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Rebuild Trust

If you feel your friend is holding out on you because they simply don't trust you with the information (or feel as though you're likely to tell others), it's time to look inward. What reasons, if any, have you given that friend to doubt you? Do you make a habit of gossiping about your friend to others or typically trash everyone around you? Then, face up to the fact that you're not necessarily the go-to person people confide in. The only way to rebuild trust is to prove that you can actually be a great friend. 

But if you're not the town blabbermouth, there's probably another underlying reason why your friend hasn't shared their news with you. Perhaps you've both outgrown your friendship? Try to find some common ground by calmly broaching the topic in a non-accusatory way.

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Lead With Kindness

If you feel your friend's secret is destructive (eg, they're having an affair, struggling with addiction, or engaging in violence or criminal activity), approach the subject gently. Confront your friend with kindness instead of trying to incriminate or call them out.

Start by saying that you care about them and are concerned about their behavior. Then discuss the secret without judgment. Your friend may or may not open up to you; if not, wait patiently until they're ready to do so.

You may wait forever, so it's important to recognize how much of your friendship rides on them being able to admit their secret.

If, however, your friend's secret isn't destructive, you can still ask them about it. "People tend to exaggerate the awfulness of certain failures or limitations, and not speaking of them prevents those failures from being put into perspective. Often, what seems embarrassing to that person seems trivial to other people. It is reassuring to know what others think," observes Neuman.

But before you do, ask yourself if the secret directly involves you. Otherwise, it may not be worth a confrontation. Again, their reasons for hiding it may have nothing at all to do with you. It's simply a fact of life that some people keep stricter privacy than others, and not every friendship means sharing every tidbit all of the time.

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