Seven Tips for Confessing a Secret

Seven Tips for Confessing a Secret

You’ve finally decided that it’s time to share the secret that you’ve held close for so long, but that’s been consuming your thoughts for years. Perhaps it’s about your identity. Maybe it’s admitting to a loved one that you served time in prison when you were young. Or that you were married previously. Or that you bore a child very early in life who has been raised by someone else. Whatever it is, if you find this secret monopolizing your thoughts, it’s time to get it off your chest. Regardless of the result, you’ll likely feel better once you can truly be yourself.

So what’s the best way to do that? It’s all about respect. Here are some tips for ensuring that your confession lands as positively as possible.

Respect Its Significance

Handle your confession mindfully. Remember the significance that this secret has had on your life and treat it with the respect it deserves. Don’t downplay it. Don’t be afraid to become emotional. Your confession is probably a life-altering one, not just for you, but also for your loved ones, so keep that in mind while you’re explaining.

Respect Yourself

Understand yourself, your personality, and what caused you to lie, to cover up, or to decline to disclose your secret. Explain these reasons. Maybe you’re coming out, but you’re not yet comfortable with the idea yourself. Perhaps you tend to be a more reserved person, avoiding discussions of relationship, intimacy, or sex. Maybe you feel that your family won’t accept you if they know who you truly are underneath, and that frightens you. Whatever it is, it’s likely worse in your imagination than it will actually be once you share your secret.

Respect Your Feelings

If you feel guilt or shame about this secret, seek professional help. After all, that’s what counselors are there for. A counselor can facilitate your coming to terms with your own feelings and also help you to understand how those you love will deal with or have already responded to your confession.

Respect Your Timing

Remember that, as in most things, timing and venue are everything. Determine your recipients’ moods before proceeding. Don’t initiate this important conversation when others don’t have sufficient time, are consumed by other stressors, or are simply in a bad mood.

Ensure that the location is appropriate, as well. Don’t try to share your secret at someone else’s birthday party, for example, or at the neighborhood bar during an office get-together.

It may feel like the timing is never right, and it may never be perfect, but, to some degree, you can control that. And, to have the best dialogue, take your audience’s temperature before proceeding.

Respect Your Recipients

Show empathy and compassion for those on the receiving end of your confession. Remember, this may be difficult news for them to accept. While you’ve been dealing with it for a long time, the truth may be confronting them for the first time, and they may need time to adjust. Merely because your recipients don’t react well, at first, doesn’t mean they won’t come around once you’ve afforded them some time to digest the information you’ve shared.

Respect the Reactions

Allow others in the room to decide how to react. Be prepared that their reactions won’t necessarily be positive. Because they may not be. That’s the challenge and the truth. Give them the time they need. It’s not just hard on you; it may be hard on them, as well. After all, that’s probably why you kept your secret for as long as you did.

Respect Your Truth

Understand that whether those close to you accept your truth, it is far more important for you to share your secret, to tell the truth, and to stand your ground. You only have one life, and it’s important that you live your legitimate truth.

Accept that there is no real relationship without honesty about who you are. To enjoy positive relationships going forward, your loved ones must know who you are. You may lose a few friendships in this process, but those who stay with you will value you more for learning what you’ve shared.

Confessions are difficult, but they are a part of life for everyone. From big to small, following these tips will help you to ensure that your confession lands as effectively as possible.

For more relationship advice, visit us at OpenPalmLaw. If you have a secret to share, but need assistance in delivering your truth, we can help.

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

Open Palm Share a Secret Poster

Available now for collaborative professionals as well as the public at large our “Share a Long-Held Secret” infographic, available in various sizes. The information on this document is based on decades of experience on how individuals can unburden themselves of long-held secrets. It is worth having a proven road map when it is time to reveal something like this.

The Big Secret

Once again, I see how the collaborative process for divorce actually brings people back together in their relationship, even as they end the legality of their marriage. This is critical for folks who must remain co-parents for life. In this case, I was struck by the possibility that my client might never have known why her husband had become “so selfish” if she had not chosen to proceed collaboratively. And that would have been tragic, not just for her, but for him and – more importantly – for the two children they share.

The Couple Involved

Tampa Bay’s Bay Area Legal Services recently referred Tabitha Jamison to me for help with her divorce. Tabitha is a matronly woman of color, with striking clear green eyes, whose face is usually crinkled in a smile. She is habitually dressed in a professional looking pants suit. Because she only makes $8,800 a year and lives in a leased apartment, she qualifies for pro bono services.

After I explained her options – the kitchen table divorce, the mediated divorce, and the traditional courtroom brawl, among others – she opted for the collaborative choice. She explained that she and Mr. Jamison had been separated for over twelve years. Although he had had two more children by two different women during those years, and she believed that his current girlfriend might be pregnant, they had continued while separated to co-parent their own two children. She saw no reason why their divorce should change that.

Although Chuck Jamison makes approximately $60,000 a year, he has five children by four different women, and his current girlfriend is pregnant. All of his children live with their mothers, but he spends substantial amounts of time with each. He religiously maintains his child support payments.

The standards of our practice group’s pro bono committee permit me to make the judgment call, so I found him a lawyer who was willing to take his part on a pro bono basis, as well. Chuck agreed to participate with Tabitha on a collaborative basis in their divorce. His lawyer, Eric, and I chose the facilitator, Melinda, and the neutral financial professional, Tanya, and both of them agreed to volunteer their time.

The Initial Meeting

The clients each met with both Melinda and Tanya. The professional team and our shadows (professionals trained collaboratively but who had not yet handled a collaborative divorce themselves) held a conference call thereafter to discuss the case details as we each understood them. Thus, the facilitator shared with us her perspective on the wife’s anger, caused by her perception of her husband’s recent selfishness. Over the last few years, he’d been less forthcoming when she asked for extra money towards the children’s expenses.

Her irritation came to a head because their daughter was turning sixteen and wanted a special Sweet Sixteen party. Tabitha’s research showed it would cost $2500 for the party venue that her daughter wanted, and that was more than she could pay. Her anger rose when she approached Chuck to discuss it. He simply said that he couldn’t afford to help her and failed to even offer to contribute. Until recently he had never been so close-mouthed; they used to be able to talk about everything. She didn’t know what had changed, but she was fed up!

During our first full team meeting, we reviewed the particulars of the collaborative participation agreement and ensured that everyone present—the shadows, as well as the entire working team, had executed it. We identified the clients’ interests, which was not complicated. There was no personal property to distribute, no home to argue over, and their long separation left neither asking for alimony.

Nevertheless, we proceeded judiciously. Our team had never worked together before, and we were cautious; we didn’t know what the team dynamic would be yet and we wanted to ensure that we were communicating and collaborating well together.

Tabitha’s number one interest was providing higher education for their two children. No one in either her family or in Chuck’s had attended college, including his oldest son by his first wife who was now nineteen. She appreciated that Chuck had already had lengthy discussions with their two children about the advantages of higher education. Tabitha emphasized her regret and frustration that she had never been able to go. She beamed when she told us how well her sixteen-year-old girl and fourteen-year-old boy had done in school. Despite the daughter’s near-blindness, she believed they both would continue to excel beyond high school.

Tabitha did not mention, at this point, that she wanted Chuck to increase her child support. Because his earlier-born child, a nineteen-year-old, was no longer in school or legally entitled to his support, she believed this was fair. She did emphasize that Chuck was a wonderful father, always available for parent-teacher conferences, always available to be the disciplinarian when she needed his support, always there for their kids, and always understanding of both their children and of her.

The Selfish Husband

This led to her concern over Chuck’s inexplicable selfishness, particularly regarding the Sweet Sixteen party. Melinda ensured that Tabitha was able to fully express her feelings about this issue and that she had no other interests that she wanted to cover. Only then did she ask Chuck to express his interests.

Chuck was the same age as Tabitha, but he looked older. He was a handsome man, and also dressed in business casual—a nice pair of trousers and a golf shirt, with a closely cropped haircut and a clean-shaven face. He did not smile when he explained what a wonderful mother Tabitha was now, had always been, and how much he valued that in her. He completely affirmed her desire to have their kids go to college and earn bachelor’s degrees. That would make him very happy.

However, he emphasized, his primary concern was to ensure that his children were participating citizens of the United States. They were growing up in the best country on earth, at the best time possible, and he wanted so very much for them to be full members of our society. That meant that they would make a contribution, that they would understand that they were important, and that they could make a difference.

His passionate comments generated a long pause around the table. At this point his attorney asked if Chuck would feel comfortable sharing what they had discussed in their off-line meeting earlier in the week. Chuck hesitated for a long moment before he said, “Yes.” He then turned in his chair slightly, but noticeably (to me, at least) away from Tabitha and myself towards Eric and Melinda, the facilitator.

He looked down at the surface of the table for another lengthy silence, and then began, “I never thought I’d have to say this.” He paused. “But I know what it’s like to be America’s Most Wanted.” He continued to face Eric and Melinda; he avoided addressing Tabitha. “I had a great job with the railroad. But a few years ago, I was laid off. So I applied for unemployment.”

Tabitha nodded; she remembered.

The Railroad Story

“My unemployment insurance helped me pay the bills, but it couldn’t cover all of my child support, as well.” He paused again. “I hoped the railroad would rehire me, or find me another job, so I continued to look for other positions with the railroad. But it was a long time, and I exhausted my savings just keeping my child support payments current.”

“Eventually, I found a part-time job. It was minimum wage but I thought it was better than nothing. The money I made from that job, and other part-time jobs I was able to find, together with my unemployment, allowed me to pay my child support without missing a beat.”

Chuck took a deep breath, and continued with his story. Eventually, the railroad rehired him for his old job and his life returned to normal. Throughout this time, none of his children ever lacked for his child support. Then he got the phone call. At first, he didn’t grasp its significance; a woman called from the railroad board and asked to meet with him. He set a time outside of business. But then his plans went awry, so he called to postpone and reschedule. When she said, “Let’s just meet at the police station,” he realized this was more serious than he had understood.

At the Police Station

The following series of events blurred together. As requested, he went to the police station, where he met with the woman and a federal investigator. They accused him of defrauding the federal government. Unbeknownst to him, his minimum-wage part-time jobs had violated the railroad’s unemployment conditions. He had been under the mistaken impression that any part-time position was acceptable as long as it wasn’t for the railroad. The federal investigator threatened him with ten years in prison if he didn’t plead guilty to fraud for each two-week period that he had reapplied for unemployment while earning money part-time.

Of course, he retained a lawyer, but his limited resources forced him to borrow against his retirement funds in order to pay for legal fees. His attorney recommended that he accept the plea bargain; plead guilty to all twenty-five counts of fraud in exchange for five years of probation and complete restitution. He agreed to pay back all of the unemployment money he had received while he worked part time. With his back against the wall, he had no choice but to sign on the dotted line.

At this point Chuck’s eyes were moist. Although he wasn’t crying, it took all of my self-control to contain my own tears. And I was not alone.

Then Chuck detailed his fears about being on house arrest while awaiting his sentencing. Would his children know something was wrong when they visited? How could he hide it from them? Would they notice that he wouldn’t step outside the front door during their sleepovers? Thankfully, they did not.

At his sentencing hearing, the man preceding him pled guilty to selling two hundred and fifty pounds of cocaine. The man following admitted to setting up a pyramid scheme. When Chuck faced the judge to discuss his plea bargain, he was unable to agree that he was guilty of the crimes with which he’d been charged. The judge was adamant that he should show some remorse. However, Chuck stood his ground. He had not intended to commit fraud; he had simply been ignorant. As a former prosecutor, I realized how lucky Chuck had been. After the judge castigated him far more severely than either the preceding man or the one following him, he approved the negotiated plea bargain.

The Aftermath

Chuck was on probation until 2018. He payed the restitution, as well as repaying the retirement fund loan he withdrew to pay his lawyer. With no money to spare, he has no resources to help with the Sweet Sixteen celebration. He’d been unable to tell Tabitha why, until now—with the help of our facilitator and the rest of the collaborative team.

At this point, an hour and forty minutes into our first full team meeting, I suggested a break.

Tabitha and I met off-line; I wanted her reaction to Chuck’s news outside of the team environment because her body language had signaled extreme anger to me. She was fairly vibrating with it as she explained that she and Chuck had known each other since high school, and had always been able to talk to each other. She was furious that he had not trusted her enough to confide in her.

I asked her to trust me; she agreed. I explained that I understood her feelings of betrayal, but asked her to consider his view, to try to stand in his shoes for just the moment.

“Tabitha, I think that preserving your respect for him, and even more important, your children’s respect for him, was so important to Chuck that he’s been unwilling to risk losing it by confiding in you. Now, in this safe environment, he felt that he could tell you.”

While she sat deep in thought, I waited for her reaction.

Understanding the Other Person

When she finally responded, I knew my words had struck a chord. She acknowledged that his feelings for her were more complex than she had imagined. She agreed to process the new information and to reassess past events in light of it. We went back to the meeting and asked to adjourn until the next full team meeting in a few weeks. I begged her not to confront Chuck in the meantime, but instead to meet with Melinda, our facilitator, to help her process.

A few days after we adjourned, Melinda sent the following e-mail:

I spoke with Tabitha today. She is doing fine. She said that she and Chuck actually spoke yesterday after the meeting and processed what happened a little more. Then they went on to discuss Kasey’s Sweet Sixteen. She said they are in a good place. She thought the meeting went real well.

Here’s the thing: the outcome would have been far different with traditional trial attorneys and other litigation-oriented professionals. One result could have included either Tabitha’s lawyer uncovering the fact that he is now a felon, or Chuck spilling his guts in the courtroom. Either way, he would have been humiliated by Tabitha’s attorney, and undoubtedly his kids would eventually have learned of his embarrassing conviction. The other possibility is that his conviction would have remained secret, and Tabitha would have continued to believe that he’d simply become a selfish son of a bitch. Either way, their efforts to co-parent effectively would have been tragically compromised, and their children would have lost the benefit of having two congenial parents working in unity together.

Let there be no doubt that proceeding collaboratively was the best option that this couple could have elected. We are not finished with their divorce, but we are well on our way to helping Tabitha and Chuck finalize the dissolution of their marriage while remaining amicable parents of the children they share.

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