Hiding Chocolates, Online Purchases From Spouse? Research Claims Small 'Guilty' Secrets Good For Relationship

Hiding Chocolates, Online Purchases From Spouse? Research Claims Small 'Guilty' Secrets Good For Relationship

Bought something online and didn’t tell your spouse? Do you hide chocolates from your partner? You may feel a little guilty about it, but a new research has said such small harmless hidden actions could actually be good for the relationship.

The research conducted at Indiana University Kelley School of Business, the University of Connecticut, and Duke University — claimed to be the “first known study of the emotional, behavioral and relational aspects of secret consumer behavior” — found that the guilt from secret consumption often leads to greater investment in relationship.

“In our study, we found that 90% of people have recently kept everyday consumer behaviors a secret from a close other — like a friend or spouse — even though they also report that they don’t think their partner would care if they knew about it,” Kelley Gullo Wight, assistant professor of marketing at the Kelley School, was quoted as saying in a press release issued by Indiana University.  

Wight, one of two lead authors on the study, added: “Even though most of these secret acts are quite ordinary, they can still — positively — impact the relationship.”

The research paper, “Secret Consumer Behaviors in Close Relationships”, was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Consumer Psychology, in which the authors explored how common it was for people not to tell their spouses or partners about their everyday consumption behaviour, and what could be the consequences.

Previously, all research on secrets generally found negative outcomes, but those studies mainly focused on secrets involving significant and negative information, such as trauma or extramarital affairs. 

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Greater Relationship Investment

In the latest research, it was found that hiding mundane things — such as watching a TV show before the spouse could, or secretly eating a pizza or something else — can lead to slight pangs of guilt in people but also drive them to be willing to invest more in their relationships, and that is a positive effect.

This “greater relationship investment” may include, for example, spending more for their partner or watching the spouse’s favorite movie.

Wight and her co-authors Danielle J. Brick, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Connecticut, and Gavan J. Fitzsimons, the Edward S. and Rose K. Donnell Professor of Marketing and Psychology in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, conducted a series of studies as part of the research. They collected information from couples (both partners), asking them about their secret consumption. They also gathered data from hypothetical examples, according to the researchers.

The results showed the majority of secret consumption was best described as a product (65%), besides an experience (12%) and a service (10%). Most of those surveyed cited food or drink (40%), followed by clothes and jewellery (10%) and a hobby (10%). Some of them also cited a gift/donation (8%), and a health, beauty or wellness product (6.3%) as a secret consumption.

“…partners often keep the same secrets from each other,” said Brick, the co-lead author, calling it one of his “favorite findings”. “In one couple, both partners reported secretly eating meat when they were both supposed to be vegetarian.”

Future studies may look at the reasons why people engage in such behaviour, the researchers said.