Sex & Relationships

So, Does Your Partner Need To Know Everything?

Relationship experts weigh in.

Should you tell your partner everything about your past? Experts weigh in.
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There comes a point in each budding relationship when you start peeling back petals on your respective pasts. While it may feel tempting to reveal everything, it's OK to be discerning. "Relationships don’t have to be a complete open book," says Jonathan Bennett, a relationship and dating expert. "There are some things you might want to keep private because you find them embarrassing or regretful, [or] because your partner just wouldn’t want to know."

Former Bachelor Nick Viall agrees. “If there’s a big heavy thing you want to share, I think you want to kind of sprinkle it in,” he told Bustle earlier this week. “See how they respond to adversity. Sometimes people will want to share these vulnerable stories and they share it with people who don’t show grace or empathy and they get judgmental or nervous energy... so I think you kind of want to see [if] people can handle [it].”

According to a 2020 survey from Lelo and OnePoll, the most uncomfortable topic for couples to talk about is their number of previous sexual partners. Of the 2,000 survey respondents currently in relationships, 40% hadn’t disclosed “their number,” and of the 58% who had, nearly half shared the information within the first three months of dating.

As a guiding framework, weigh the pros and cons. That way, “[you can] proceed knowing that the information is necessary to share," says Anna Gonowon, a relationship coach. Below, six experts recommend topics to share with your partner — and a few to keep close to the vest.

Do Share: Your Current Health

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While you don't need to list every health issue you've had, it’s important to keep your partner up to date on things affecting you today, like STIs or mental-health challenges.

"You should share health issues, or issues that may affect having children, or debilitating illnesses that can impair your ability to do certain activities," psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina tells Bustle. "Be real about this. This is not going away, [but] there are things you and your partner can do to make things work better."

Do Share: Your History Of Cheating

If you've cheated on partners in the past, experts recommend sharing this with your current S.O. "It will cause a lot of pain and lead to loss of trust if your partner finds out first from a source other than you," Gonowon says. So go ahead and own it. By taking matters into your own hands, you'll show your partner you take responsibility for your actions, which can help establish trust.

It’s hard to quantify the prevalence of affairs in couples, but of course, cheating does happen. In a survey from Bustle Trends Group last year, 53% of readers reported having been cheated on.

"What I normally tell my clients is that achieving and supporting healthy, strong communication is the most important determinant of the longevity and success of their relationship," Gonowon says. "Part of this involves fostering trust, which you can establish by encouraging an open and safe environment for both of you to be vulnerable with and fully support each other."

Do Share: Your Financial Situation

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Talking about credit scores and student debt isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but it's a necessary topic to cover if you want a serious, healthy relationship. According to Business Insider, money is the number one issue couples fight about.

"Your partner is entitled to know if old financial problems — [like] liens, tax issues, unresolved debts, bankruptcy — are liable to haunt your relationship," Tessina says. And vice versa. By being honest with each other, you’ll figure out if you're financially compatible and can create a plan for the future.

Do Share: Past Traumatic Events

If painful moments from your past are still affecting your daily life, it could be worth talking to your partner about. Whatever they may be, "these events will affect your relationship today, especially if you haven’t worked through them in a therapy setting," Tessina says. "Revealing them will allow your partner to support you in overcoming them."

Consider attending couple’s therapy as well, which could help create coping skills for you and support skills for your partner.

Do Share: Any History Of Anxiety & Depression

As suggested above, there are many benefits to being honest with your partner about a history of mental-health issues, especially if it’s ongoing. "Answer their questions and talk to them about your current treatment plan,” says Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show.

For example, are you taking medication? Have you tried therapy? These conversations will better equip them to be a helpful, understanding S.O. "If you are going to be intimate with your partner in any sense, then part of that intimacy is sharing your health, particularly if it is something that you may need them to support you down the road," Klapow says.

Do Share: Why Your Last Relationship Ended

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Life coach Chelsea Leigh Trescott recommends talking through your last breakup with a current partner. Were there communication issues? Were there deal breakers that ended things? You can work together to avoid making the same mistakes again.

"Plus, it will actually give your significant other something to aspire to," Trescott says. "For example, if you tell your partner that your ex used to never pick up on the small details that mattered to you, [which] made you feel insignificant and overlooked ... it can act as a direction for [them]."

Do Share: Problems You've Overcome

If you overcame something difficult or embarrassing in the past, such as family tiffs or social anxiety, go ahead and let your partner know. "[It] can be helpful information to share," Bennett says. "It gives great insight into your character and proves that you’re capable of personal growth."

Do Share: Your Family Issues

Regardless of whether you’re close with your family, consider sharing stories about your upbringing and familial relationships with your partner. It’ll help them understand you, and also how to be supportive. For example, do you have a complicated relationship with a sibling? How did you cope with your parent’s divorce?

Do Share: Your Grief

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In the past year, millions of Americans have experienced the loss of a loved one. Grief is complicated and nonlinear, and will likely resurface in periods or moments of mourning. It might be difficult to talk about, but consider letting them into your grief journey.

“The healing benefits that come from sharing one's grief are related to how community-building and social support is important in the face of any stressor or life transition,” Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D., an adjunct professor at New York University and an assistant professor at Queensborough Community College in New York, told Bustle last month.

Don't Share: Intimate Details About Your Past

There's no hard rule about what you should share with your partner when it comes to exes or your past. Consider how they might react. "Everyone has different triggers in relationships and it’s important to know them, not necessarily test them," Trescott says. If you think your partner would enjoy the story or learn something from it, go forth. But if you reckon it’ll just make them upset — without any benefit to either of you — feel free to keep it quiet.

Don't Share: Your Past Sexual Partners

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"You don’t need to share how many partners you’ve had," says Kailen Rosenberg, a matchmaker, life coach, and founder of Love Architects. It’s 100% up to you. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but frankly, it’s not your current partner’s business.

Don't Share: What You Liked Best About Your Ex

This could be controversial, but when talking about an ex, "it’s important that you don’t complicate your [current] relationship and chemistry through comparisons," Trescott says. According to a 2016 Associated Press-WE tv poll, 21% of Americans admit to staying friends with an ex, and another 44% stayed on speaking terms. It’s all well and good, just avoid direct comparison.

"You can easily avoid [comparisons] by telling your partner what excites you or simply guiding them in the moment," Trescott says. "Be vocal about your needs without attaching those needs to anyone who isn’t present to fulfill them."

Experts:

Jonathan Bennett, counselor, part-time professor, and owner of The Popular Man

Anna Gonowon, communications strategist and relationship coach

Tina B. Tessina (a.k.a. Dr. Romance), Ph.D., LMFT, psychotherapist

Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist

Chelsea Leigh Trescott, breakup and life coach

Kailen Rosenberg, matchmaker, life coach, and founder/CEO of Love Architects