How (And When) To Tell Your Partner 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?
These days, going to therapy is more common and openly discussed than it's ever been. For some people, it's less of a big secret they need to plan out how to tell someone and more something that comes up in passing on a date. (Ex. "I was telling my therapist the other day...")
Of course, early in a relationship, it's important to maintain healthy boundaries. If you're bringing up therapy and serious issues in your life in the first couple of dates, make sure it's because you're wanting to connect with this person and share more of yourself with them, not because you're looking for sympathy or a rescue. And of course, make sure you're on the same page about going deeper and getting closer with each other--don't spring your personal issues on someone who seems to be more interested in a casual relationship.
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." 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 their ability to be empathetic and supportive with you.
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 issues 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, they 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 their reaction, seeing how your disclosure (your emotional vulnerability) is received. The other person's immediate response will tell you a lot about who they really are. 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 intimate details of their 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 they are not (at least for now) capable of dealing with true honesty and emotional vulnerability.
Robert Weiss PhD, MSW is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions, based in Los Angeles. A clinical sexologist and practicing psychotherapist, he has his master's in social work from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and his doctorate in human sexuality from the International Institute for Clinical Sexology. Robert frequently serves as a subject matter expert for major media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR.