I’ve written about the weight of sharing one’s chronic medical conditions for people in the public eye. I’ve also touched on explaining illness in all types of relationships. How does that look? What is your responsibility to share the issues and symptoms that you face? How much and how loud do you go? Who do you tell and how do you say it?
The idea of concealing information is a sticky topic. Everyone’s morals and interpretations of what “truth” means, are different. Especially where feelings are concerned… categorizing information in black and white terms doesn’t allow room for the immense grey area.
Do you share every pain and flare with your partner and risk them looking at you through a sickly filter? When does compassion and empathy bleed over into resentment and losing attraction? While letting loved ones in on your battles is critical to strengthening bonds and maintaining a support system, the complications are also very real.
Many of us look at that shared information as placing an unwanted burden on the other person. Now, when they think of you, it always comes with a side of knowledge that you aren’t perfect. Sure, perfect doesn’t exist. But in intimate relationships, especially in the beginning, the illusion of perfection and meeting their ideals is a part of the attraction. Breaking that façade, instead of the typical slow melt of reality, can be jarring.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work. Maybe you shared your daily struggles and let them in to your normal. You told them about the messy details of dealing with chronic conditions and the unfiltered truth of living with pain. They understand (in theory) but as the days move on, you see and feel the shift. That change from eager and passionate engagement to careful and withholding. Eventually, the relationship becomes strained and distanced. They see you as a victim or think you won’t be able to be what they want in the future simply because of your health. You don’t fit their picture anymore.
Sometimes, it does work. Maybe you share an overview with them. Instead of bringing the person into all the minutia of your day, you keep them abreast of the problems that might affect your time together and the alterations you need to make the growing relationship comfortable. Balancing what you decide to share shifts slowly. Over time, you both have learned all of each other’s smallest speed bumps and limits. They see you as a whole person and worthy partner. The relationship succeeds because you gave them the time and space to see that your health isn’t your defining feature. You fit their new picture.
Of course, those are extreme ends of the spectrum. Most partnerships fall somewhere in the middle of failure and success. Taking a beat to get to know the new person’s personality is worthwhile. Do they require laid-bare honesty? If so, does your mental and physical health respond well to that type of communication? Or, does holding back on some details still feel honest and respectful of their needs? Do they tell you their every ache and pain? Is it possible for them to understand that your day is so heavily peppered with symptoms that it barely registers as shareable?
Possibly, more daunting, do they not want to know anything about your medical conditions? Do they ignore the reality of dating someone with symptoms while still expecting you to be completely transparent and honest? Will they brush aside your information and offer platitudes, yet still require you to share everything about yourself? That leads to white lies and holding back truths to better squeeze into their narrative. Is that relationship a welcome reprieve from your health? Maybe it’s a make believe game you play until one or both of you feel disconnected in a world of half-truths?
I don’t have an answer for, “What constitutes secrets when it comes to sharing health information in a relationship?” The answer will always be highly personal and fairly malleable. All I can offer, is the advice to do what your instinct says. If you feel bad keeping something from someone, it’s probably a secret. If you would want them to share if the roles were reversed, it’s probably a secret. If you expect them to guess your limits and needs, it’s probably a secret. Holding too much back isn’t sustainable. It might hurt up front and there will be some relationships that fall apart, but you’ll find the healthiest ones are the ones that take you as a whole person. Pain and all.