A foundational expectation of a close friendship is the willingness and ability to keep a secret. There are certain things about your life – vulnerable areas – that aren’t wise to broadcast to every acquaintance you have.
So you save your secrets for a friend you’ve built up trust with over time. And if that friend violates your trust by spilling your business to someone else, it’s a big deal. That friendship could be over.
We know how important it is to us that our secrets stay secret. So we understand the necessity to be our friend’s secret-keeper. But is there ever a right time not to keep a secret? Is it possible to be a good friend and jeopardize that friendship at the same time? Yes and yes.Is it possible to be a good friend and jeopardize that friendship at the same time? Click To Tweet
I’ve often joked if my friends, April and Twilah, ever murder someone, I’d be obligated to help them bury the body. But that’s a far-fetched, television-inspired scenario. It’s a hyperbolic reference to the depth of our trust in each other after 40+ years of friendship. They’re both well aware I’d turn their homicidal butts in and then go find a good lawyer.
However, there are true-to-life confessions people make to their close friends that deserve serious attention. We cannot sweep them under a rug. These secrets fall into three basic categories.
When To Tell
You’re used to deceive a third-party in violation of your conscience.
It might not be your place to inform your friend’s husband that your friend is cheating on him, has gambled their assets, or aborted their baby. But if your friend presumed to use you as an alibi or accomplice without your consent, you’re not obligated to continue the lie.
Remember, friendship is a two-way street. A friend who has backed you into a moral corner has made the first strike against your friendship. Your refusal to be complicit in their deception may end your relationship, but you’re ultimately better off without friends who use you and dump you for objecting.
They did something illegal that requires protection/justice for the victim.
It’s a sad statistic of our society that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of childhood sexual abuse.* Chances are good someone in your circle is either a victim or perpetrator. If your friend admits abusing children or allowing the abuse of their children, you cannot keep that secret.
A defenseless child needs you to step up and protect them more than your friend needs you to enable them. Call the police. Immediately.
- Your friend’s secret exposes the fact they are a danger to themselves or to others.In this case, you need to tell their family and/or authorities. If suicidal admissions are not taken seriously, you may not ever have the opportunity to keep a secret. Besides, those confessions are invitations to help. Also, if your friend shares a plan to bring harm to another specific individual (ie. former partner, boss, or family member) or random targets, you need to raise a warning. Heed the golden rule and do for them what you’d want someone to do for you in that situation. And generally speaking, your friend faces less consequence for planning harm than for actually committing harm.
It’s important to remember that handling our friend’s secrets is rarely a choice between never speaking of it at all and reporting it to family or authorities. If we’re of any value as a friend, we’ll talk about their deceptions, abuses, and harmful intentions with them. At length.
And if we’re a true friend, none of those things have to be the end of our friendship. A true friend works through the mess, sin, and pain of life when everyone else scatters. A true friend knows when it’s best not to keep a secret.
* Statistical Source: National Center For Victims Of Crime