Never Use Secret Tests in Your Relationship

Ever used a secret test, like waiting for a partner to text you first, to assess the state of your relationship? Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt, the Relationship Doctor, explains why secret tests can actually be harmful to your relationship.

Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #27
The Quick And Dirty
  • Secret tests are when you behave in a predetermined way to see how your partner will respond.
  • Secret tests usually only punish the person employing them, and they aren't fair to your partner.
  • Be direct. Have a conversation about what's bothering you.

It can be frustrating when a partner, or potential partner, behaves in a way that makes you feel uncertain:

"Why aren’t they texting me first? I am always the one texting first. What if they are interested in other people when they are out with friends? Do I have to worry about them flirting with other people? If another romantic opportunity presented itself, would they actually flirt with them, or worse, try to pursue something with them?"

This uncertainty is normal as feelings grow in a new relationship, or as you start to become more serious with a romantic partner. But watch out: these feelings can sometimes manifest in some pretty unhealthy behaviors as we try to understand our partner’s intentions or how they really feel. One of these behaviors is known as a "secret test."

What is a secret test?

If you're worried about a partner's lack of interest, a common piece of advice you might hear is to withhold sending that first text. If you feel like you always make the move to initiate conversations, try to force their hand! If your partner reaches out to you, then it's a sign they're interested, but if they don’t, then they aren’t actually interested in you and you should move on.

This is an example of what researchers call a “secret test.” Secret tests are when you behave in a predetermined way to see how your partner will respond in order to assess the state of your relationship.

Don't follow this advice! Secret tests can be harmful to your mental health and to your relationship. They can make you ruminate about your problems, make up scenarios in which your partner fails, and then stress about whether your partner is going to live up to your expectations. Secret tests are often a sign of a deteriorating relationship, one where trust isn’t present, or the self-esteem of the partner creating the test is low.

Secret tests can be harmful to your mental health and to your relationship.

7 categories of secret tests

What behaviors actually qualify as secret tests? Here are seven categories of secret tests researchers have identified:

  1. Asking third parties. Going to a third party, such as a friend or family member of your partner’s, to ask them how your partner feels about you is a secret test. Although indirect, you are seeking out information about how your partner is feeling about you without including them. These questions may find their way back to your partner and result in your partner feeling like you don’t trust them, or that you didn’t feel like you could ask them directly about how they're feeling. Your partner may perceive these behaviors as a red flag.

  2. Triangle tests. These secret tests also involve a third party, but they are used to assess whether your partner will stay faithful if given an alternate option, or whether they'll get jealous if you flirt with someone else. Typically, you try to elicit jealousy to determine whether they care enough about you to step in. Similarly, a popular trend on TikTok right now is having a friend call your boyfriend to try and meet up as a test to see if your boyfriend will remain faithful, or in the best-case scenario, tell you about it.

  3. Directness tests. OK, when I said don't use secret tests, there is an exemption: I do firmly approve of using the directness test in your relationship or potential relationships. Directness tests involve asking your partner outright about a concern you have about the relationship, or disclosing your own feelings or experience to try and prompt your partner to reciprocate with their feelings. Open communication is the most effective and least harmful way to get information from a partner when you're feeling uncertain. What makes this a secret test? If you have expectations for what you are hoping to hear from your partner that may decide the future of the relationship, and those expectations are not explicitly stated to your partner.

  4. Separation tests. This includes three categories of tests you might use to see how our partner responds to physical or emotional distance:

    1. By forcing a physical separation from a partner, you may see if they are willing to endure a long-distance relationship to prove their commitment.

    2. You refuse to initiate contact with your partner to see if they will contact you first, or refuse to plan a date to see if your partner will plan one for you.

    3. You try to force a partner to do something that is unreasonable, such as coming to visit you when you're really far away, to prove their commitment to you.

  5. Endurance tests. These are tests in which you test the boundaries of the relationship to see how much your partner is willing to prioritize you over themselves. 

    1. You might try to toe the line of certain relationship rules to see how your partner will react to your boundary-pushing, such as pretending to be upset when you're out in public to see if they care enough to ask what’s wrong. 

    2. You may put yourself down to see if your partner tries to talk you out of those negative feelings—similar to fishing for compliments.

    3. You try to get a partner to make an inconvenient choice to prioritize you, such as going to their gym where they're working out to tell them you're having a hard time to see if they'll drop what they're doing to help you talk through those feelings.

  6. Public presentation tests. These tests are meant to try and push your partner into labeling their feelings for you or the status of your relationship by putting them on the spot in public. An example of this might be introducing your partner to your friends as your boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic partner to see if they will correct you.

  7. Indirect suggestion tests. These are ways that you interact with your partner to test how intimate they are willing to be with you. For example, trying to hold their hand and seeing if they pull it back, or joking about their readiness to get married to see if they'll tell you more about how they're feeling on the subject.

What to do instead of a secret test

Some of these tests are much more harmless than others. Fishing for compliments or joking about your relationship to see how your partner responds aren’t the world's worst ways to elicit information from a romantic partner. But if your partner is not texting you first, you shouldn’t withhold communication as a test of their loyalty or interest in you, even though dating coaches may recommend doing so. Waiting around for them to text you first is a fruitless and disappointing endeavor, and is quite frankly unnecessary. 

If you don’t like that someone isn’t texting you first, let them know that what they're doing isn’t working for you. Explain that when you are nearly always texting first, it feels like they aren’t interested in you. You are looking for a relationship where the other person puts in a similar amount of effort in reaching out and communicating. This puts the ball in their court. When their behavior continues to not meet your needs, you’ve at least given them a chance to correct it before you move on.

Being direct is always better than being indirect. Secret tests usually only punish the person employing them, and they aren’t fair to your partner. If you're worried about your partner, you need to have a conversation about what’s bothering you. Testing your partner should never be the answer in a healthy relationship. The best way to reduce your uncertainty about the state of your relationship is to have an open and honest conversation with your partner.

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD

Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt is the host of the Relationship Doctor podcast. She is a relationship scientist whose research examines how we communicate in our romantic relationships. Specifically, she studies how we communicate in our romantic relationships as we age and our relationships mature, particularly during conflicts that are difficult to resolve. She believes that we can all benefit from evidence-based recommendations about how to have healthy and happy relationships.

Do you have a question for the Relationship Doctor podcast? You can leave a voice message for the show by calling (813) 397-8165 or send an email to relationshipdoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. You might hear your question on a future episode.