Handling difficult disclosure in dating

You have posted an ad on a popular dating site and are actively trying to meet compatible singles both online and off. You know you are relationship ready and that you could be one half of a great partnership--if only you could meet and connect with that right person. There is only one problem, the same one that has put your dating life in limbo for awhile now. The problem itself has become almost secondary to the problem of when, how or if you should share this with the people you will be dating.

If you are this person, it is important for you to decide before that first date how to handle the issue of disclosure. To assist you with this, the following are some of my best tips for deciding when, how and if you should tell it like it is:

Things you need to disclose upfront

* Marital status- including separated, especially a recent separation
* Your gender- applies to anyone who has gone through a sex change
* Any chronic illness that is either contagious or directly affects lifestyle and functioning
* A major mental disorder- not to be confused with intermittent or mild depression
* You are sure you don't want children and the other person does
* You are sure you want children and the other person absolutely does not
* You have a child (children)

Even though one or two of these may seem farfetched, they are all issues that I have worked with. The reason these should be disclosed upfront is that they are all common deal breakers for people and waiting to disclose them can lead to anger and resentment if someone has spent time getting to know someone and is feeling a connection only to find out that the person is; not who they say they are, still married, may not be able to be a full, functioning partner in a future relationship, or doesn't have the same goals for their future that they do (children/family).

What you can save for a third or fourth date

* You have been married before
* You are a cancer survivor
* You can't have children
* Your living arrangements
* A discussion of your last relationship if it was very painful and problematic
* A strong religious belief that guides your life choices and lifestyle
* A family history of a genetic disorder
* Past treatment for a serious mental health issue

For some of you, there may be one or two on this list that you would want to know upfront. However, I put all of these under this category because they may not be absolute deal breakers due to the fact that they do not have an immediate impact on the couple relationship and goals for that relationship. If a relationship grows and it looks like it could be moving towards something more, it would be important to share a family history of a genetic disorder or the fact that you can't have children. These are things that may be difficult, but ones that the couple could take into consideration and work with as they plan for the next step of marriage and children. As an example, there are options like adoption, donor eggs and sperm, etc., that would be available to a couple who want to be parents.

What you need to share before the heat of the moment

* You have an incurable STD
* Your sexual history involves multiple partners and risky sexual encounters

These should be fairly self-explanatory. Again, some of you may believe that someone should disclose an STD that could be contagious. However, a number of STD's can be carefully controlled and couples can practice safe sex as a general rule. It's understandable that this is not for everyone; however there are many couples where one of them has one of these and their partner does not.

Issues that can wait until you have gotten to know each other for awhile

* You are a virgin
* Your political views
* Family background that includes skeletons
* Past treatment for a mild physical or mental health problem
* A past pregnancy that resulted in a child that you gave up for adoption

This is a sampling of some of the "easiest" issues for couples to negotiate and work with. Yes, for some folks dating a person of the opposite political party is out of the question--however, we all know of couples who have mixed relationships, including some very high profile ones.

Things you may never want to disclose, and it isn't necessary to

* Past conviction for a misdemeanor
* Past treatment for an STD that was treatable and you are healed from
* Past abortion

I put these in this category because they do not have any bearing on a new relationship and will not come back to haunt the couple later on. They are things that can be part of a person's past- a past they are not obliged to share with anyone.

This list is not meant to be all inclusive, rather the examples used are meant to provide guidelines for anyone who has a "secret" that they are not sure when, how or if to share with their new love interest.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"Technology and the Loss of Intimacy"
List of more "Problems with communication" articles

"Lonely in a crowded world"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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