Dating can be challenging for anyone. Throw having arthritis into the mix, and you’re faced with figuring out when to tell new partner about your condition. Disclosing to a new partner can be daunting, but these expert tips can help make the big reveal less intimidating.
Time It Right
There’s no “perfect” time to tell someone about your arthritis, but it may be best to wait a few dates in, says Julie Payne, licensed marriage and family therapist and director at the California Marriage and Family Institute. “First dates are for gauging compatibility,” says Payne, who also has rheumatoid arthritis. “Sharing too soon may be too emotional and show a side of yourself the other person has yet to earn.”
But waiting too long may bring up trust issues and raise questions about what else you’re hiding, she says. Payne says she experienced relationship problems after hiding her condition from an ex-boyfriend.
“He was a doctor and I was afraid what he knew about the disease would scare him away,” she says. “But he was more upset that I waited so long to tell him.” Payne says hiding her condition was one of the reasons they eventually parted ways.
Payne suggests telling your partner as soon as you sense the relationship could turn into something more serious – whether that’s the third date or third month in.
First Date Exceptions
If you decide to tell on the first date, that’s OK, too, says Liz Morasso, licensed clinical social worker at the department of radiation oncology at UCLA. But be honest with yourself about your intentions for sharing so soon. If you’re looking for emotional support or validation, that probably won’t happen on the first date with a stranger and could scare them off, says Morasso, who also has rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But if having arthritis has helped to shape who you are, and you want to share that, it’s fine, she says.
Ryan Conner, a graduate student and the Young Adult Chair of the Arthritis Foundation’s Virginia State Leadership Board, prefers being upfront about his condition from the get-go. He says it helps weed out unaccepting partners. Plus, he says working with the Arthritis Foundation is such big part of his life that it almost always comes up in conversation, even if it’s just a casual coffee date.
You may also need to disclose your condition if you have a visible disability or temporary impairment. Although Payne suggests waiting for a few dates, she admits to telling her husband on their first date. “That day my arthritis was affecting my foot and I was limping, so I was honest with the reason why,” she says. “It obviously worked out.”
However, there is one rule that Payne and Morasso say to stick to – never reveal your condition during intimacy. “It can be a real mood killer and there’s a chance you won’t get an honest response when both of you are caught up in the moment,” says Payne.
Disclosing during sex can also be unfair to your partner, who might need more time to process the news, adds Morasso. Unless your arthritis is going to affect the actual act, it’s best to keep serious conversations outside of the bedroom.
Keep It Positive
When you finally tell, be confident and optimistic. “Using a fearful or depressing tone can make your partner feel the same about your condition,” says Mark Lumley, a Detroit psychologist who researches the effects of disclosing chronic illness. Instead, confidently share how you manage your condition and your plans to have a healthy, happy future despite any challenges along the way, he says.
Conner says to share ways arthritis has changed your life for the better. Do you appreciate the simpler things in life more? Has it brought you closer to your family? Have you made new friends because of it or volunteer in new ways? Use arthritis to showcase the best version of yourself, he says.
Lastly, keep it casual. If your partner asks you on a hike and you’re not up for it, don’t dwell on why you can’t. Just suggest an alternative and move on. Focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t, normalizes your condition, says Payne.
After the Big Reveal
If your partner isn’t immediately receptive, don’t despair. Receiving difficult or surprising news can be tough, so give your partner time to process the information. Expect questions about your limitations, fertility, treatments and future health outcomes. But be clear that arthritis is not terminal, and you can lead full life with some adaptations along the way, says Lumley.
If you give your partner plenty of time and they still don’t support you the way you want, let them know. Otherwise, you may need to move on.
Life is about weathering the ups and downs. If someone doesn’t want to stick around or support you because you have arthritis, it’s about them, not you! You want a partner who can withstand challenges with you, arthritis and all.
Everyone experiences rejection, arthritis or not. So, hang in there!
Author: Robyn Abree
Research for this article funded by Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity and Foundation
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