How (And When) To Tell Your Significant Other You're In Therapy
Sometimes people are reluctant to tell a romantic partner they're in therapy. Often, they fear that "having issues" and needing therapy will make them seem less attractive. Below are some common questions and the answers that will help you integrate your therapeutic life into your dating life.
Do you have to tell someone you're in therapy at all?
Undeniably, the strongest intimate connections are built on a foundation of honesty, mutual support, and trust. So if you're looking for something more meaningful and longer-lasting than casual sex, you'll eventually need (and likely want) to discuss important aspects of your life, including the fact that you're in therapy, and why.
If you are reluctant to do this, you should ask yourself why. If it turns out that you fear rejection because you're in therapy, I strongly suggest you let that fear go. At the end of the day, a person who would dump you simply because you have some problems that you're actively addressing is probably not the loving, caring, genuinely supportive partner you deserve. So, good riddance.
It is also possible that you're dealing with a thorny, painful, shameful issue—childhood sexual abuse, for instance—and you're not comfortable sharing that information with anyone outside the therapeutic milieu. If so, you should discuss this with your therapist, who may have some useful advice, possibly even scheduling a couple's session to help you disclose. Of course, it's possible you will never feel comfortable sharing this information in any setting with the person you are currently dating. If so, you might want to move on to a partner who feels safer and more empathetic; otherwise, you will never experience the true emotional intimacy upon which great relationships are built.
Whatever your fears about disclosure, if you are dating someone seriously and you want the relationship to progress, you are going to have to talk about things that are really important to you—including the fact that you're in therapy. As such, the question isn't so much whether you should disclose but when.
When should you talk about being in therapy?
The first few dates are not the time for deep disclosure, no matter how much you like the other person. Early in a relationship, it's important to maintain healthy boundaries, and usually a good boundary is to keep things light at the start. Bringing up therapy and serious issues in your life in the first couple of dates might cause the other person to wonder whether you're looking for sympathy and a rescue rather than an intimate connection.
Generally, the best time to bring up therapy and issues you're dealing with is when you're ready to say something like, "Gee, we've been dating for a while and I really like you, and I think I'd like to get serious about our relationship." After making that statement, you can then say, "If you're also interested in taking things to another level, there are a few things I'd like to tell you about myself as a way for us to better understand and care about each other." Then, if your paramour seems receptive, you can move forward with the type of open, honest, empathetic conversation that brings two people closer.
Whatever you do, do not wait until you're a committed couple before you spring important information. Saying, "Now that we're engaged, I think you should know that I was horribly abused as a child, and because of that I struggle with bouts of depression and anxiety, and I go to therapy twice a week to deal with this." First of all, this is not fair to the person you're dating because it doesn't allow that individual to make a fully informed decision before making a commitment to you. Plus, it will cause that person to wonder what other important secrets you are keeping, which greatly undermines relationship trust and his or her ability to be empathetic and supportive with you.
In short, conversations in which you disclose therapy should occur at the midpoint of your relationship, when you're transitioning from casual to serious dating. Sharing this information too early or too late can be counterproductive.
How in-depth should you get?
The depth of the conversation that you'd like to have is probably linked to the amount of shame you feel about being in therapy and the issue(s) that led you into therapy. Unless your problems are very serious, a short straightforward statement about the fact that you're in therapy and the benefits you receive from it is usually sufficient. If your partner wants more information than that, he or she can ask, and you can answer to whatever degree you feel comfortable. If your issues are deeper, of course, a larger discussion is in order. In such cases, you might feel more comfortable disclosing with therapeutic assistance (i.e., in a couple's session at your therapist's office).
Whenever you disclose personal information to the person you've been dating, regardless of the nature of that information, be sure to watch his or her reaction, seeing how your disclosure (your emotional vulnerability) is received. The other person's immediate response will tell you a lot about who he or she really is. When you allow yourself to become honest in this way and your vulnerability is empathetically accepted, it goes a long way toward developing true emotional intimacy.
If the other person decides to share a few secrets of his or her own, even better. This is the way genuine, long-lasting connection is created. If, however, your partner responds poorly, making snide comments or shutting down emotionally, your relationship may struggle moving forward because he or she is not (at least for now) capable of dealing with true honesty and emotional vulnerability.
This material is based on research for the books Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction by Robert Weiss.