Tips for Telling Your Partner a Health Secret

Sharing a secret
Dating someone new means sharing idiosyncracies, emotional baggage, and experiences that have shaped your lives. But what if that includes a health secret?

Jill*, a 33-year-old New Yorker, knows that finding Mr. Right also means telling him she has bipolar disorder. Though she takes medication, she still lives with symptoms like insomnia and a nervous smoking habit.

So how much should you reveal about a health secret? If you’re considering spilling the beans, here are eight tips to help.

Practice what to say
Rehearse with a friend or therapist, says Ken Robbins, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Laurie Davis, an online dating expert, suggests asking a friend what sounds most intimidating and then smoothing it over.

Mark Snyder, a 32-year-old writer from New York City, used to dread telling a new boyfriend that he was a recovering alcoholic. “I often blurted out, ‘Oh, I don’t drink. Sorry.’”

However, as he got used to talking about his condition, “so did the ease with which I told a man not to expect a tequila-scented smooch at the end of the night,” he says.

Never tell on a first date
“Never tell someone on a first date,” says Davis, who is based in New York and Boston.

That doesn’t mean you should lie, but revealing too much too soon “may color how your partner sees you,” Dr. Robbins says. “It defines you before you’re ready to be defined.”

If you’re worried your health secret might be a deal-breaker, ’fess up by the fourth date, says Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, a New York City therapist and relationship expert. That way, if your secret does make a big difference, you won’t have wasted too much of their time—or yours.

Be casual yet confident
Davis suggests saying, “I feel like we’re heading in a great direction, so I wanted to tell you something.”

Be sure your delivery is drama free; don’t make a big deal about it, Dr. Robbins says.

Allison*, a 30-year-old marketer from Baltimore, casually tells dates about her multiple sclerosis (MS).

“I’ll work it into another aspect of our conversation,” she says. “It’s a lot easier to tell someone I have MS as a side note in a conversation than to sit down and have a formal discussion focused solely on MS.”

Don’t have this conversation in bed—or anyplace you associate with intimacy
Amy, a 29-year-old graphic artist from Chicago, always tells boyfriends about her hepatitis C, which she got through a blood transfusion at birth. “They have a right to know,” she says.

Any talk about your condition—whether it’s communicable or not—should take place in a neutral spot, like a park, Davis suggests. “Do not tell your partner during intimacy. Telling your partner your health secret means you are opening up to them, trusting them, and becoming more vulnerable,” she says. “The place you choose to tell them should reflect this.”