How to Tell Someone a Big Secret

Have you ever noticed that a secret usually requires you to hide it from the same people you itch to tell it to!! Every time you see them, the secret comes alive and it’s a consistent battle to remain calm and not tell. Fearful thoughts, guilt, and shame linger and it’s hard to tell which is easier, to tell or not to tell. Secrets decrease the freedom to relate, as a result, we distance ourselves from our loved ones and hurt our relationships.

If you want to tell someone a big secret, whether positive or negative, don’t share it in one instance as if you are venting. Be mindful of your audience; prepare them before sharing by leaving hints. You can initiate light discussions and use them to prepare a platform for opening up. Be mindful of the timing and place as you share the secret, do it as calmly as possible.

Ultimately, all of us desire to be liberated, to be fully present, and to hold no secrets. We long to be transparent but we fear to expose ourselves to the ridicule that comes with opening up. The more we hold on to the secret, the more we drain the courage to face the outcome. But there must be a way out and that’s what we seek to share with you.

Here are a few hints you may follow.

1.    Prepare your audience with hints

The safest way to share a secret is to prepare the person with suggestive conversations. If it is a person you haven’t been in touch with, initiate a conversation by introducing light discussions. Make an effort to incorporate humor touching on the topic and take note of the reaction. Let’s assume your secret is leaving employment. You can circle the discussions around the frustrations that employment brings and how you feel you should not tolerate such frustrations.

2.    Choose the timing cautiously

The challenge with secrets is that you can’t predict how much damage they will cause. Even though you feel you are well equipped to share. The recipient may not be ready yet. The good news is that proper timing can lessen that damage or neutralize the effect of the message you are sharing. 

Psychologist Evan Imber-Black in his book “The Secret Life of Families” advises against sharing a potentially damaging secret during transitional times. Occasions such as graduations, weddings, engagement, and any other new beginning are the worst of times to share secrets. For a family member to modestly handle a life-changing secret, you should reveal it on a normal day.

Although Evan admits there is nothing like perfect timing when it comes to big secrets, he is quick to note that big secrets shared during ceremonial times result in more damage. Either the excitement of the event will overshadow the secret and prevent resolve or, the secret will mess up the celebration.

3.    Decide on a venue

I am imagining your family is like mine and there are at least two loud people. I am not sure what you are going to do to manage the noise or the effects of letting out the secret. Whatever it is, it had better not be in a restaurant where every other person in there will know the secret.

You would rather hold the meeting at home (behind closed doors) if there isn’t sufficient room outside. Sometimes the ambiance of a venue can help set the mood. If you don’t mind spending a little, let there be some setup, décor, and a shared meal.

4.    Speak calmly

Express sincerity in your tone as you reveal the secret. This makes you believable and prepares the other person mentally for the news. In instances where the secret is a continuing condition, it’s important to explain the process step by step. Give an account of how it affects the family and their daily lives.

 Let’s assume the secret is a life-long health issue where the family and their relationships are affected. Will you just share the news superficially? You need to be sympathetic and open. The members may become overwhelmed and pour out their frustrations. This requires being stable-minded, it is difficult but the family needs to forge forward.

 If you are going to take the risk and tell the family secret, getting ready to bear the initial shock and mixed reactions are paramount.

5.    Be ready with answers for possible questions

When people are exposed to an enormous secret, emotions tend to run wild, questions pour out. “Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” “Who else knows?” “What else are you not telling us?” “Did you ever think about how it would make us feel?” People pour all sorts of questions. Most people mess up the moment by getting emotional and fighting back. This is definitely the wrong move. If you are going to tell a secret, prepare answers to questions you expect to receive.

6.    Have a proposed plan

Where the secret requires an immediate change of family routines, for instance, a long-term illness, a re-location, or a pregnancy, you need a plan. The family may need a plan as lack of it may cause disorientation. Even though it may not be immediately adopted, a proposed plan helps to refocus and bring back stability to the family.


Secrets are recurring in nature, after sharing one, there immediately appears another reason to withhold further information. Desist from manipulating your audience with further secrets as this will nurture mistrust. Realize that secrets permeate any societal level and could make or break your relationships.

There many instances where we think we are saving a situation by keeping a secret, we picture the end and fear the outcome. This discourages us from sharing but as human nature demands, there is always that one person we share with. Once we share with specific people, we create divisions in our communication. As a result, unnecessary guilt builds up and family ties crumble. My advice however is, to choose the right time and place, prepare your audience and share, use that avenue to reunite the friendship.

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Am a graduate sociologist and a regular contributor to national publications such as the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Journal of Applied Social Science and the Annual Review of Sociology.

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