Disclosing your herpes diagnosis to your partner

Disclosing your herpes diagnosis to your partner

  Disclosing your herpes diagnosis to your partner.   Even if you have been living with genital herpes for years, it can still be a difficult task to tell a new partner who you care about, and who you want to be sexual with, about your diagnosis. The inability to predict a partner’s reaction, if they will look at you differently, or if it will impact the relationship, can be a scary and vulnerable position for many.

Before deciding whether or not you want to be disclosing your herpes diagnosis to your partner, try taking some time to imagine what some of your own personal needs are, and what your partner’s may be. For example, if you tell someone you have herpes, are you okay with them broadcasting it to everyone? Identify what you need to feel safe when disclosing to ensure your own comfort with the situation, because as responsible as it is to disclose, it’s still risky, and it can be intimidating. It’s difficult to predict how your partner will take the news, and what they choose to do with the information. What do you believe your partner will need? Perhaps space to form their thoughts, answers to many questions around your diagnosis and possibly how you contracted the virus. Do your research for you and for your partner. You have had a lot of time to process and learn, your partner may have limited knowledge about herpes. Be prepared to share the facts about herpes. For the most updated information, share with your partner the website http:www.ashastd.org . The other reason it’s important to have the most updated information for yourself for you and your partner to be able to make an informed decision about safety issues. The more knowledgeable you are with your own health issues, and the less confusion you have, the more calming and informative you can be when having this discussion with your partner.

In general, we strongly encourage people to disclose as soon as possible, at the point you have made the decision to become sexual with someone. For some, the point you are sexual with your partner may be the first date, for others they may prefer remaining as friends for a year before taking the relationship sexual. It is not recommended to tell every male or female you give your number to about living with the virus, but it is recommended to disclose before you put someone at risk.

There is no one way to share such personal information with a partner. From being blunt when disclosing, to taking the more researched approach, or simply disclosing via letter, are just a few of the 8 approaches discussed below. Everyone is different with how they want to share their diagnosis with their partner. The approach that bests fits you depends on what you are most comfortable with, and what your envision to be the most feasible based on your personality and preferences. Take your time to read the 8 approaches to find out which style you most prefer.

The Blunt Approach Some prefer to just face challenges head on, and rip the band-aid right off before there can be anymore hesitations or setbacks. This approach is recommended for the type of person who hates the anticipation of things, who is afraid that if they don’t do it now, they will never do it, and can be prepared for an array of possible reactions to the blunt disclosure. The downside to this approach is that the bluntness may prevent the ability to have a calm and productive conversation. It may be tempting for the receiver to jump to conclusions before hearing all sides of the issues. As for knowing how/when to use this approach, your gut will most likely let you know. Again, this approach will often happen when the person can’t hold in their secret anymore, and can no longer manage with the secret, that having it out in the open is all they want in this particular moment.

The Researched Approach This includes disclosing your diagnosis, while giving the full scope to the best of your educated ability: the risks, the myths, best means of prevention, providing literature to read to calm his/her nerves. Go even further by going to a clinic with your partner for education, recommendation, screening, etc. It is very important to know what your talking about, because there are so many misconceptions out there, especially when it comes to STIs. This is your chance to set the record straight with cold hard facts, which may be just what your partner needs to handle this news. Keep in mind however, there is such a thing as “information overload.” For some, this approach could be the opposite of calming, it could be overwhelming, and the cold hard facts may be perceived as a scary future.

The Written Approach The written approach is good for those who struggle with confrontation and being put on the spot. Whether it’s “snail mail,” or email, writing what you want to say allows you to put your thoughts out there on paper,  ahead of time, from start to finish, without interruptions. This often helps address fears of not knowing what to say, or how to say it, and avoids facing your partner’s facial expressions and reactions. Overall, the written approach allows time to respond and a react, possibly preventing impulsive responses. The drawback to the written approach is that you will not be on the other end with your partner when he receives the news. Once it’s on paper or is out there in the cyberspace, you can’t get it back. Email also means easy access to others; the proof is now out there and easy for others to receive it. You miss out on the opportunity for eye contact, to be able to read your partner’s non-verbal cues. Once you send the letter, the decision is done. At that point, there is no opportunity for changing your delivery, and there is the risk of your partner sharing this letter with others. While some benefit from having time to form thoughts, it can also give one too much time to think, and possibly be influenced by others reactions.

The Skype Approach This is an an option for those who want to tell their partner in person, yet long distance prevents it. To help you ease yourself into the conversation, Skype gives you the option of typing conversations with or without video, in case you want to begin the conversation with just typing. It can give the person the sense of safety, personal space allows the receiver of the info to deal with their own reactions. While we are in modern times, and Skype is a legitimate form of communication, your ability to fully connect is limited, due to the computers and distance being in the way. There is no opportunity for touch, or for a hug, which some need for reassurance or as a way to connect during a difficult moment.

Asking your Partner first As a way to open up the discussion, you could ask your partner if she/he has any sexually transmitted infections (STI), or if there is anything you need to know about their sexual health. This is a creative icebreaker, which will most likely turn the same question onto you in the end. It’s important for you to hear your partner’s medical history, and this also gives you a good opening to share your own story. Again, only use this approach if you are ready to share your own medical history. A possible downside is that your partner has nothing serious to share about his/her medical history, and they wonder why you put them in the spotlight first rather than speaking up about your background. Or, the other downside is your partner may have a whole bunch of STIs, and the question will then be, can you handle it?

The Backdoor Approach We have all been there, “I have this friend who..,” or, “I read this book once.” Talking about your herpes indirectly gives you the opportunity to feel your partner out, get a sense of his/her reaction before you open up about your own personal experience. Not everyone will appreciate your indirect  style; it may build up too much anticipation and anxiety as to “what is he/she getting at?” You are taking a risk not being straight forward, and some may perceive this as dishonest, or wonder why it took you so long to speak the truth. Again, it’s up to you and your comfort level for how you want to share more of yourself.

The Story Telling Approach Your story can include how you got it, or your experience of learning how common it is, from it being contracted through kissing an Aunt as a child, through being exposed as a child in daycare, etc. This allows you to be as elaborate as much or as little as you want. For some who receive the news of having herpes, they feel there is a negative stigma to their diagnosis, and that there will be automatic assumptions that if you have herpes that means you have slept around carelessly. Story telling takes you and your listener away from the assumptions and into the story of how you believe you contracted the virus. This is your chance to educate your partner on the various ways one can contract herpes, and it’s your chance to clear the air and ditch those negative assumptions. Be prepared however, there will be questions, and depending on how elaborate your story is, there may be skepticism.

Get Tested together If you ask your partner to go get tested with you, this action states that both of you are admitting the possibility of having a sexually transmitted infection. Getting tested together puts the focus on both of you, and has the potential of bringing the two of you closer after sharing such a vulnerable moment. The act of getting tested can be a humbling experience, and to share it with someone else may be too overwhelming for one of you, especially if the results come back positive for only one of you, that may leave things unbalanced and awkward. If you choose this approach, it is best you still prepare any thoughts you may want to share in response to the results.  Just because you chose the action route, does not ensure you won’t have to have a talk with your partner.

Role Play No matter which approach you choose, practice what you plan to say, and how you plan to say it ahead of time. You can practice in front of a mirror, or ask a close friend to role play with you. Acting out the situation in advance can give you a better idea of how the disclosure may go. If you have the chance to role play with a friend, this gives you the opportunity to play around with possible reactions your partner may have, and help you generate ideas for your responses. There’s no way to be 100 percent prepared, but the more preparation can bring you more confidence going into such an unpredictable situation.

Allow your partner to react. You have had time, you can’t hold your partner to the initial reaction he/she may give. Your job is to give your partner the information and then give space. You don’t want to be judged, but neither does your partner. He/she may need a day, a week to process, but respect the need for time. In the meantime, make sure to take care of yourself and have your own support system in place (support group, a trusted friend, therapist, family members, etc.).

The point of sharing all of these various approaches, is to explain that there is no one set way to tell someone you care about that you have herpes. There is no road map, no guidebook. It’s okay to combine a few of the approaches into your own. Experiment. It is up to you  to try a few different approaches out and decide for yourself, what works best for you. Different people will respond to different approaches, there is no one way.

While you may feel like damaged goods, everyone has skeletons in the closet. Part of finding the right partner is finding someone that embraces what you consider to be your weakness, because what may bother you may not bother someone else.

Having herpes may change how you approach sex, but it’s doesn’t have to change you as a person. Addressing your diagnosis by disclosing it with your partner early on, before putting him/her at risk without their knowledge shows just how much you are in control of your herpes, and just how much you are staying true to yourself. Giving yourself permission to continue living your life is key. Disclosing your diagnosis gives you more power and ability to move forward, and gives you and your partner the chance to decide together how to reduce the risk.