If you feel uncomfortable talking about your romantic past with your partner, you have plenty of company. A recent study found that 38% of men and women avoided talking about past relationships while only 16% hesitated to discuss controversial topics like religion and politics.
It makes sense, if you think about it. Talking about past relationships means telling your partner that you once had feelings for someone other than them. Acknowledging that you once had sex with someone else and having to acknowledge that your partner did too. It can feel awkward and embarrassing. And sometimes you can end up sharing more information than your partner wants or getting more information than you want.
And yet, not talking about past relationships can feel like you’re hiding something. It’s expected that we all share at least some details about certain previous relationships with new partners. How do you find the line between sharing just right and sharing too much?
This can be especially tricky if you’ve recently divorced and you were married for a long time. You feel your marriage is the only past relationship worth talking about, but what if your new partner disagrees? What if they want to know more than you’re willing to share?
Would you like to share more information with your partner, but are unsure how to approach this sensitive topic?
Following these steps will enable you to feel more confident as you discuss your past romances and help ensure a positive experience.
Take these steps ahead of time, before you have the discussion:
Decide how much disclosure is right for you
Some people prefer to leave the past in the past while others want to be able to talk about
everything with one they love. Strike the balance that feels right for you.
Consider it from both ends. You may be comfortable sharing more detail than you’re willing to hear — or wanting to hear more detail than you’re willing to share. If you find this is the case, you may need to determine a compromise. You’ll at least need to be clear with your partner about what you want to share and what you want to hear.
Know your criteria for a partner
Some people have religious or other reasons for wanting a partner who has never been in another relationship or who has not been sexually intimate or hasn’t had children. It’s important to be clear about your own status to allow those people to move on if you don’t meet that criteria.
But it’s also important that you know your own criteria. Just because you have children doesn’t mean you want a potential partner who has them. Or you may have specific religious or other preferences that are important to you. Get clear on those before you worry about how much detail about past relationships to share so you aren’t sharing intimate details about your relationships with people who won’t be around for long.
Develop valid bases of self esteem
Feeling good about yourself reduces jealousy and possessiveness. It also makes you more attractive to potential mates. Look for healthy ways to increase and maintain your self-esteem.
Base your worth on your accomplishments and values instead of putting an unrealistic burden on your mate. While compliments from your partner are nice, they shouldn’t be solely responsible for your confidence and self-esteem.
Take a long term view
Of course, we all have insecurities. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk to open up so you and your partner can grow closer even if it’s a struggle to talk about things you may have kept secret.
Consider how opening up and being vulnerable with your partner can affect your relationship. If that’s a difficult thing to consider, try looking at the opposite: how might keeping secrets and closing yourself off impact your relationship?
Protect your physical health
Whatever the nature of your relationship, protect the health of you and your partner. Muster up the courage to assess any risk factors and practice safer sex.
In other words, even if you discuss nothing else, you must have a talk about your sexual history, including when you were last tested, what those results were, and if either of you have ever had an STI.
Take these steps together with your partner:
Think before asking
Figure out how much you actually want to know. Consider whether the information you request from your partner really matters or is likely to make you happier together. Sometimes we think certain details will satisfy our curiosity or make us feel better about our partner’s past relationship, but it actually just makes things worse.
Before you ask, consider what the worst possible answer could be. Then sit with that answer for a while. Could you live with it? Could you continue to love your partner and stay happily in this relationship? If not, don’t ask the question.
Go easy on the details
You can often give your loved one a rough outline rather than a minute-by-minute replay. Sometimes all your partner needs or wants to know is that you had a relationship. They don’t necessarily want the person’s name, how many times you had sex, or the tiniest details about the breakup.
Gauge their body language and comments to avoid too much information. If you’re still not sure, ask them what they want to know. Let them ask the questions and you just answer what’s asked to avoid oversharing.
Remember as well that some details really aren’t relevant. Acknowledging that your ex cheated might matter, but telling your new partner the names, ages, and descriptions of each of the affair partners doesn’t.
Recognize that everyone is unique. Downplay your dalliance with a TV chef if your new love has trouble distinguishing between the rice cooker and the toaster.
Don’t point out similarities or differences between your current partner and previous ones, whether your intention is to be kind and positive or to hurt them in an argument. Either way, it’s more likely to cause hurt feelings, tension, and trouble.
Pay attention to patterns
The greatest value in this whole exercise may be spotting areas in your past where you can make positive changes. Talking things over with someone you are close to is an effective way to feel validated and motivated to move ahead.
As you tell a new partner about previous relationships, you may suddenly become aware of something you’ve repeatedly done, or something you’ve repeatedly tolerated from others, and this can allow you to set the intention to change that starting now.
Time it right
Neutral times and places can make sensitive subjects easier to address. Eye contact and physical connection might seem like a good idea for this, but sometimes it’s easier when you’re able to have a little space.
Good opportunities may include long car trips. Going for a walk together or bringing it up during a movie you’ve both seen before are also good ideas. These allow you to keep a little space with the lack of eye contact and other things to focus on.
An uneventful weekend can also be a good opportunity because it allows you both the chance to walk away and come back to the conversation if needed. You won’t feel forced to push through the discussion because of time constraints.
See the humor in the subject
The world’s top social scientists concede the illogic in decades of studies reporting that the average heterosexual man has more sex partners than his female counterpart. There is still social pressure for men to exaggerate and women to underestimate.
Try to find reasons to laugh about it. Whether it’s an actual funny story or just laughing about the subject in general, if you can lighten the mood with laughter, it’s always a good thing.
In most cases, the way you respond matters more than any magic number. Your reactions and responses will tell your partner if they’ve shared too much, not enough, or a detail that you didn’t want to hear.
Try to appreciate your partner’s willingness to communicate openly rather than punishing them for stuff they did before you even met. Even if they share something you didn’t want to know, try to be open and accepting so they know they can talk to you about more than just their past relationships.
Focus on the future
If looking back helps you to gather more insights, put them to good use by making improvements in your future. That history could help you learn to make your current relationship a success.
But even more important than learning from your history, remember that the only thing you can affect is the present and future. Focus on your current relationship and trying to make it the best it can be.
It’s up to you how much you want to talk about your previous relationships. If you decide to discuss more of your love life with your partner, use these strategies to process your feelings and demonstrate mutual respect and support. You can be at ease with your past and ready for your future together.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her newsletter where she offers more insights, tips, tricks, advice, and information to help single moms find purpose, creativity, passion, and peace.
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