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Secrecy or broken trust?

Your 19-year-old son confides to you that his girlfriend is secretly bulimic. In sharing this news, he acknowledges he has broken a trust with his girlfriend and swears you to secrecy. You and the girlfriend’s mother have become good friends; you see each other at choir practice and at church on Sundays. What do you do?

By Kevin Little and Lee Simpson

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.


First, what did my son hope to achieve when confiding in me? Did he need an ally with whom to address this with his girlfriend’s family head-on? Did he need my support in taking a stand with his partner — stating she needs to get help and offering information about how to get it — as an act of love and concern for her well-being? And whose interests do I serve: my son’s, his partner’s or her mother’s? How might I facilitate a conversation between the people who really need to engage?

My focus would be on supplying my son with resources he could share with his partner to assist her with her bulimia. My 19-year-old son may not be aware of these healing agents and, in his emotional state, may not be able to organize himself to navigate the maze of community health-care programs.

I take confidentiality very seriously. For my son’s partner, trust may be such a make-or-break issue that sharing information like this could cause her to retreat from everyone. Isolation would be traumatic. So I will use my resources to support my son so that he can support his partner.

Friendship is important, but it does not bring with it the sharing of privileged information that someone has related in confidence. If I felt the life of my choir mate’s daughter was in danger, that suicide was being planned and discussed, then — and only then — would I break confidence and intervene.

Many a time, people have shared information with me about their mental illness, life-threatening health problems or unwanted pregnancies. I have respected that confidence, even if it meant not sharing it with a young adult’s parents. In this case, the information came to me indirectly. I must do my best to protect the privacy of my son’s girlfriend while supporting him along the way. Hopefully, the information I pass on to him will be of benefit to his partner.

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.


There is a course of action implicit in my son’s sharing. Matthew 7:12 says, “In every-thing, do to others as you would have them do to you.” That mother must be told, just as I would wish to be told if the circumstances were reversed.

I must test my powers of persuasion with my adult son and, potentially, our newly forged relationship as grown-ups. A restless night of prayer gives me the courage to see this through.

At 19, my son has already dealt with mature issues. He has formed a mature relationship and now must exercise his responsibilities in this partnership. My task is to persuade my son to give his girlfriend the first in what may well develop into a linked series of ultimatums with deadlines.

Step one is to convince my son to persuade his girlfriend to confess her problem to her mother (three-day deadline). If nothing happens, step two is to convince my son to tell his girlfriend’s
mother himself, also with a tight deadline. If he cannot, then it’s time for step three: I will steel myself to take my choir mate aside after our next practice and tell her myself.

Bulimia and anorexia do not just go away. They are debilitating diseases that wreak havoc on growing bodies. They are indicative of challenges the mind is having, and the longer eating disorders corrode young lives, the more damage they inflict. This is not a situation where my son, his girlfriend or her mother is served by qualms about the survival of relationships. This young woman’s life is threatened. Her health is more important than my fellowship with a chorister or even my son’s rapport with his girlfriend. He and I have years to heal any bruises our bond may take.

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