It can be uncomfortable to have health conversations with anyone. Having them with a romantic partner, particularly early in a relationship, can be awkward in the extreme.
Nonetheless, avoiding these tough conversations can cause serious problems in a relationship. Some of these discussions need to occur right away. Others should take place as your relationship becomes more serious.
Timing might be everything. But here are five conversations about your health you definitely need to have with your partner sooner rather than later:
1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
It’s best to take the bull by the horns on this one. Disclosing any STDs you have and asking your partner to do the same should be an early conversation.
Trying to hide an STD is a bad idea for many reasons, beginning with the issue of trust. If your partner spies your herpes medication in the medicine cabinet before you mention it, trust will take a hit.
Diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause serious health issues, including to your reproductive abilities. And if you have HIV or hepatitis B, you must talk to your partner about it. Failing to protect each other from transmission could be deadly.
Your partner has a right to know what risks they might be taking by having a sexual relationship with you. You also have a right to know what risks you might be taking with them. Clear and open communication is the best route to take with regard to STDs.
2. Reproductive Health
Since we brought up the issue of reproductive health, we might as well address it. STDs are part of reproductive health. So are things like contraception, fertility and menopause.
The burden of STD protection falls on both partners. Contraception, on the other hand, often ends up unfairly on the woman’s shoulders in a heterosexual relationship. Both partners should be concerned about contraception and talk about it if they aren’t attempting to conceive.
Women must be able to freely discuss contraception methods and side effects on her health. Men need to learn about more than condoms and be open to discussions about avoiding pregnancy.
As a relationship grows, partners have to have a conversation about the “c” word: children. This is particularly critical if you both want children but one of you has an infertility issue.
Older women should talk about changes that occur with menopause, especially those that affect sexual pleasure and mental health. Men must be open to these conversations. They also have to be willing to take steps (e.g., using lubricants) that might help alleviate menopausal problems for their partner.
If you’re recovering from addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, social media or something else, your partner needs to know. This isn’t a conversation you want to have on a first or second date. As your relationship becomes more secure, though, you’ll have to speak up.
The saying “Once an addict, always an addict” is fairly accurate. It doesn’t mean a recovering addict will always relapse — just that they need to remain mindful of the risk. Relying on stable relationships and coping skills can keep you from ever turning back to your addiction.
If you don’t have a discussion about your addiction with your partner, you risk losing their trust. Worse, you risk making that person an unwitting enabler in a potential relapse.
After you have an initial conversation with your partner, seek assistance with answering the inevitable questions. A counselor can help you both understand the impact of your addiction on your relationship and vice versa.
4. Mental Health Issues
Many people suffer from mental health issues, including eating disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, PTSD and more. The stigma associated with mental health conditions prompts many people to remain silent about having one.
There’s no law that says you have to disclose a mental health diagnosis to a partner. And you certainly have to be ready to talk about it if you decide to. But having this discussion is still the right thing to do. Having your partner understand the condition might even take some stress off you.
Again, this isn’t a first-date conversation. In fact, it might be helpful if the first conversation you have is with your mental health professional. Your therapist can help you decide when to disclose your condition to your partner and how best to handle it.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests there are three likely reactions to this disclosure. Some partners won’t consider it an issue. For others, it will end the relationship, which — painful as this is — might be a reason to have the conversation early.
The third reaction is curiosity about the diagnosis. Your partner may want to learn more about the condition, your treatment, its triggers and any long-term impact.
It’s unlikely that you could conceal a mental health diagnosis from a partner forever. This is especially true if you take medication for it, undergo therapy or experience episodes.
You might be relieved when the issue is out in the open. If this partner is “the one,” you may feel even more supported.
5. Chronic Disease
A lot of people suffer from chronic disease, especially as they age. Effectively managing a chronic condition is vital in whatever stage of life it occurs. This means that trying to hide one from your partner isn’t a good idea for either of you.
If you’re managing Type 1 diabetes, for example, you have to avoid intake of too much sugar or alcohol. That might make getting a heart-shaped box of chocolates and bottle of champagne an awkward moment on Valentine’s Day.
Other autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis can be controlled. However, some require medications, including steroids, with serious side effects. Others can’t be controlled forever and will result in physical disability at some point.
This is something your partner needs to understand so they can be prepared to care for you should the necessity arise. If they’re not able or willing to do so, it’s better you know this painful truth sooner rather than later. You’ll have to make other arrangements for your long-term care when you’re still in a position to do so.
When it comes to chronic disease, you might have the diagnosis, but both of you need to deal with it. You can’t do that if you don’t have the necessary conversation.
Talk About It
None of these health issues makes you less desirable. They do, however, have a lifetime effect on your health, which affects your partner’s life as well.
Talking about health issues won’t be easy. If your partner is worth having around for the long haul, however, the conversations will be worth it.