Privacy, Secrets and Shame–Part IV: On the Edge of Discovery

Benjamin Fanklin said many, many wise things, and this saying speaks to one of the simplest dangers of keeping a secret–the secret isn’t safe if more than one person holds it.

“Three may keep a secret,” wrote Ben–“if two of them are dead.”

It was this reality that turned Alan’s world into a minefield.

Alan* never graduated from his small town’s high school. If we’re to be perfectly frank, Alan hardly went to high school, but no one takes attendance in later life—it’s more about that piece of paper we call the diploma. This was a cause of great shame for Alan at the time, but he hoped that time would heal.

When Alan met Alayna,* he was blown away by her good looks and easy way with people. Since she and her friends were college graduates, he believed that she would never be interested in him if she knew about that missing piece of paper. So as they fell more in love, he simply lied about it. Well, he justified, he didn’t really lie  about it. He told her where he went to high school, and the year he would have graduated, and if she just went ahead and assumed he had, well, ball was in her court. However, his sense of shame, as well as of being ‘lesser’ than his wife, pervaded not just Alan’s internal landscape, but the marriage, as well. The burden he carried was great.

Alan and Alayna moved out of town to be near her parents as they aged, and Alan took a job as a locksmith, which he actually was skilled at and enjoyed, but which Alayna felt was beneath him.  The marriage soon soured. Alayna found Alan dull in social affairs; he feared revealing his ignorance to the educated friends and family.  She left him out of social engagements and went on her own.

Small clues would appear from time to time, letters from his home town, old photos fallen out of a book, small verbal missteps revealing suspicious times periods. Each episode caused Alan intense anxiety, which would pass after a few days, leaving a residue of discomfort.  He would withdraw one more step from his wife and his life, whittling himself down to a nubbin.

So began our work together.  After coaching and role-playing practice sessions—and with considerable trepidation–Alan finally outed himself.  What would you have done in Alayna’s place?

She was more upset that her spouse had lied all those years than she was at the actual information.  She said she would have married him had she known but would have urged him to take his GED exam and perhaps a college course or two.  And that’s exactly what she proceeded to do.

Their relationship was invigorated.  Alan and Alayna began to know each other honestly for the first time.  Both Alan and Alayna accepted the real Alan.  And the real Alan found he could pass the courses which interested him.  He had topics to discuss with her and with friends. The shadow of what happened years ago shrank when the light of truth was shined upon it.  It wasn’t really a monster after all.


**As with all characters in my blog posts, there is no real Alan or Alayna, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching characters, composed of bits and pieces from real life humans plus details from my imagination which make the story more interesting and, hopefully, instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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