What's even stranger than a romantic partner with a past? A partner with no past at all. After a certain point, we've all got baggage in the form of personal struggles, previous relationships, and experiences beyond our control. Singer and actress Dinah Shore wisely said, “Trouble is a part of life, and if you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you enough chance to love you enough.” That goes for trouble of all kinds — in the present and in your past.
Of course, it's not always easy to open up. In Lori Foster's "Getting Rowdy," the third in her "Love Undercover" series, Avery Mullins and her boss Rowdy Yates are clearly attracted to each other. But something is holding Avery back from taking the relationship further, and it has nothing to do with Rowdy. Throughout this fast-paced romantic thriller, Avery alludes to a traumatic experience, and soon enough, Rowdy starts trying to piece the puzzle together. If Avery doesn't reveal the truth, it could come back to haunt them both.
YourTango asked real women "What's the biggest skeleton in your closet?" Check out some of their shocking responses. Then, read on for expert tips on coming clean.
"I'm 32 and have slept with just two guys." -Sarah V., 32
"I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 17." -Jane, 24
"I'm a young widow. My husband died in an accident when I was 30." Mary, 34
"I've cheated in every relationship I've ever been in." -Mackenzie W., 30.
"I can't have kids." -Lia, 37
"I've always been with more partners than the person I'm dating, so I refuse to share 'my number'." -Bailey, 28
"I used to be in an open relationship...and I never want to do that again!" -Shayla, 26
"In the last few years, I lost almost 80 pounds. I look great dressed, but feel self-conscious about loose skin once the clothes come off." -Stephanie, 33
Now that others have come clean, it's time to find out how to do it yourself! We asked YourTango Expert and psychotherapist Abby Rodman for advice on sharing baggage from your past with a new lover. Below are her four tips.
1) Don't share on the first date.
"Big secrets in relationships just don't work," says YourTango Expert Abby Rodman, author of "Should You Marry Him?" "They put up walls and create distance between partners." There's no concrete rule about the right time to come clean. You want to avoid surprises, especially any that could harm your new romantic partner, but taking time to build trust is perfectly normal. Obviously, a person needs to know if you have an STD before you ever have sex. But no one needs to hear about your cheating ex on a first date.
2) Not every secret needs to be shared.
The good news: You aren't required to tell your new partner everything. "I'm not sure we'd even want or expect that from our partners," Rodman says. "Skeletons are, at their core, secrets — and sometimes they're best left alone." However, making ourselves vulnerable and confiding in others also builds relationships. Rodman suggests asking yourself these questions when deciding what to share with a new partner:
A. What is my high-level purpose in revealing this secret to my partner?
B. Does the quality/length of this relationship lend itself to my revelations?
C. Am I safe in knowing my partner will treat my confession with respect and love?
D. Am I going to do more good than harm in revealing this skeleton?
3) Prepare to share.
You can share spontaneously, but it's easier for everyone involved if you think about what you want to say and anticipate how your partner might react. Rodman suggests talking it out with a close friend or therapist first, so you can figure out a way to reveal your truth in a way that doesn't make you feel ashamed. If you're in a loving, supportive relationship, coming clean about your past won't change how your partner feels about you, but he or she still may be surprised or upset about what you share. The most important thing for both of you is to react to each other's feelings respectfully. "If you're about to reveal something painful to your partner, give him a heads up that you're about to share something with him that is hard for you," Rodman advises. "Let him know you're afraid he might judge you or even leave you once he has this information. Give him a chance to react to that feeling in you — and not just the skeleton itself."
4) Remember: This is a test.
It's hard to put yourself out there and reveal your secrets, but it could also come with a great reward — knowing that you're with the right person. Closely observe how your partner reacts to your revelation, both long- and short-term. Perhaps he will reciprocate and reveal personal information of his own, or express sympathy at something that happened to you. His actions may change for the better in light of what you've shared. The most important thing is feeling accepted, not judged for what has happened in the past. "When you share a secret with the right partner, he now has the honor of protecting that secret as well — especially if it's one that has brought you a lot of pain," Rodman says. "He then has the opportunity to help you heal from the shame and guilt that may have plagued you for long time. In relationships, there's nothing more valuable — or beautiful — than that."
Can Avery share the skeletons in her closet to move forward with her life — and with Rowdy? You'll have to read "Getting Rowdy" to find out!Comment