- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Little white lies, awful truths, naughty fibs: Such is the secret stuff of husbands and wives, those things they just don't tell each other.

Shame, shame. Tsk-tsk.

These marital mysteries have little to do with clandestine paramours, hair-raising family secrets or impending doom, however. They reflect instead the plain vanilla details of finances and family, at least according to a survey of 1,000 couples released yesterday by Reader's Digest.

Hubbies outrank wives on the secrets scale. More than 42 percent of men and 36 percent of women admitted that, yes, they had kept stuff to themselves.

Wives, however, acknowledge their blabby side. More than 83 percent said they were always the one to initiate that dreaded conversation that begins, "Let's talk about us "

"My wife usually has the first word in anything. I have the last," sighed one man who has been married 43 years.

The biggest secret of all between couples? Price. The survey found that almost half of all husbands and wives hid the cost of something from their spouse, a fact that intrigued Seattle-based marriage counselor Julie Gottman.

"Money is freedom, money is power, and it's interesting that both men and women lie about it," she noted.

The second biggest secret is an erring child. When behavior or grades go awry, details are often obscured by a well-meaning parent, though wives are more likely to hide such problems than husbands.

"There are times your kids do things that you know make the other party ballistic," one wife of 26 years said.

But husbands are more likely to hide a problem at work, the third best-kept secret. Twenty percent said they had omitted tales of horrific bosses or co-workers from their conversations at home.

There is a little hot romance afoot, though.

The poll found that 62 percent of the wives said their husbands knew everything about their previous love lives; only 52 percent of the men said they "spilled the beans."

Another 38 percent said their wife only knew select details, either because she just didn't want to know about it (22 percent), or because he would only share the partial story (17 percent). Just 10 percent of men and 5 percent of women say their partners know absolutely nothing of previous amours.

"We may be married, but we're not dead" is how the survey described the response. About 19 percent of men and 10 percent of women have kept mum over a secret attraction to someone else.

Yet couples remain wistful about the conversations they wish they could have, but don't.

Twenty percent of the couples admitted they had a "secret dream" they were afraid to talk about, for fear the other would "hit the ceiling."

Dreams vary. More than 56 percent said they yearned to travel with their spouse, 53 percent wanted to live somewhere new, 42 percent wanted to travel on their own, 41 percent hoped to start a new career, 21 percent would like to live on their own temporarily, 14 percent wanted to have an affair, and 10 percent wanted to get a dog.

Last but not least, the survey revealed subjects which get a little too much play. The favorite "nagging topics" among both men and women included "Be less messy," followed by "Please lose weight" and "Stop criticizing me."

Where does this all leave the typical couple? While honesty is almost always the best policy, "brutal honesty" is not necessarily a panacea for a troubled relationship.

"You need a foundation of closeness before you can start difficult conversations," a therapist with the poll noted. "When you have something yucky to talk about, it's better to start at a high emotional point than a low one."

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