You’re starting to date someone new. You have a secret. At what point do you reveal uncomfortable information with your new partner?
Here are some things to consider before spilling the beans on your past:
Beware the overshare.
“Too much too soon” can often be a deal-breaker, regardless of the information being shared. Unless your secret affects your everyday life — and will affect your dating life very early in a relationship — hold off on unloading “heavy” stories until there’s a reason to tell them. If you’re nervous on a first date, focus your attention on the other person rather than babble on about how you filed for bankruptcy last year or why you’re currently suing your ex-wife for alimony. Don’t unload simply because it will make you feel better. It’s not fair to your date to tell her everything about your abusive childhood before the drinks arrive. Wait until you know you can trust her — and you believe she cares enough about you to want to know painful details about your past.
Is the person trustworthy?
Can the person be trusted with the information you’re about to share? If you two were to break up, would you be okay with him knowing your secrets? If you’re not sure, hold off until you feel safe with the person. If you know the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t be dating him in the first place. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position with someone who can’t be discreet or compassionate.
Provide context — and explain why things are different now.
Before sharing your secret, determine what you really want to say. Emphasize that you’re sharing this information because you hope the relationship is going somewhere and you want to be honest with him. If you’re nervous about being so vulnerable, say so. Rather than bombard him with difficult news, give your date the opportunity to empathize with your story.
Outline the circumstances that led you to annulling your first marriage, hurting your credit score, or losing your license. Don’t just blurt out, “I’m a recovering alcoholic.” Be transparent about your past, and about the steps you’ve made (or are currently making) to turn your life around. If a secret is about past behaviour, be ready to demonstrate how you’re a different person now. If the secret is about something that happened to you that wasn’t your fault, share how it impacted your life and how you’re learning to move beyond it, manage its consequences the best you can, or become a better person because of it.
Reassure your partner.
Some secrets can be overwhelming. Let your partner know that you’ve thought about her before sharing, and reassure her that any ongoing consequences won’t affect her. If they will affect her — you have a sexual transmitted infection, for example, are infertile, or have been diagnosed with a mental illness — outline the steps you’re taking to protect her, and what a future will look like if she chooses to stick by you.
Accept that the secret might end things.
Your secret might be something that your partner can forgive, overlook, support you in, or help you move beyond. Or it might be too much for him, or carry too many complications or risks for the relationship. Accept that. Don’t deceive him into staying in a relationship with you by not sharing an important relevant part of your past with him. Respect his need to know the real you, and be honest about the skeletons in your closet, even if that honesty puts the relationship at risk. You might be surprised, and be met with understanding and support.