Over the years, singles have asked me if they should disclose their relationship history with their dating partners. While some of this information may be important for a potential partner to know, there are a few guidelines that I recommend before deciding to “bare all.”
Dear Dr. Love Coach, I am about to propose to a woman I’ve known for 15 years. We were friends in college, married other people, but now both of us are divorced. What I’m wondering is this — Is it proper for me to ask about her past relationships and/or sex life ? If so, what types of questions are okay? George
Dear George, I’m a little surprised that you’re asking for permission to inquire into your girlfriend’s relationship history this late in the game. My question to you is this — What difference would it make if you had this information? My hope is that the answer would be “not much.” So is it “proper” for you to ask about her past relationships and/or sex life? At this point, I’d have to say “no,” yet with a caveat.
Before you propose, you can ask her if there is anything in her relationship history, or something that she learned in a previous relationship, that she thinks would be important for you to know. An example might be, “Well, my previous husband refused to help around the house which was a big source of arguments between us. So I need you to know that making the effort to keep things tidy is very important to me.”
Basically, the focus needs to be on sharing historical information that would have potential relevance in your current relationship. I get concerned when I hear about singles engaging in long conversations with a potential dating partner about what led to the destruction of their previous relationships. And sometimes they haven’t even met yet!
When singles talk about their past relationship failures, they shift the focus off of building a present, and possibily even a future, with another person. Instead, the focus can shift to seeing your dating partner as someone who is inherently rejectable. In a previous article, “Decisions, Decisions, Decisions,” I stressed the importance of remaining vigilant while dating to NOT talk about past relationship failures.
But if you do feel the need to disclose aspects of your relationship history, then you should do so by emphasizing what you learned, not just about yourself, but about the kind of relationship you ultimately want.
Asking for a sexual history though is a bit more complicated. I think it’s best to be sure that both of you get tested not just for any sexually transmitted diseases, but for genetically transmitted diseases as well. The results should provide you with enough relevant information to spark a conversation about moving the relationship forward, or not.
If you have been dating “consciously” all along, then you probably have already listened carefully to what your dating partner has said, and paid close attention to her many behaviors, to have determined that she is a good candidate for your life partner. Remember though, people do grow and change over time. The decision to propose should ideally be based on the knowledge that you’ve accumulated while in an exclusive relationship. Giving more credence to historical information will not necessarily move you forward — it will just keep you in the past.
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