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Skeletons in the closet?
Discretion key when talking about past loves

By ELAINE MOYLE
Toronto Sun

Make no bones about it -- discretion is key when it comes to revealing a closet of relationship skeletons to a new-found lover. Should you tell all? Not necessarily, say the experts who warn singles to tread carefully when discussing the details ofpast romantic forays. Registered marriage and family therapist Marilyn Belleghem says the time is ripe to kiss and tell when a relationship has moved beyond the casual stage. "When you meet someone who fulfills the criteria that matches your expectations and you feel there's potential to take the relationship further, it's time for a heart-to-heart chat," she says. "Reveal who you are, what your values are and what's important to you. If you're going to have a relationship with this person, you must know they can accept you for who you truly are." Such dialogue determines whether the couple has a common ground for building a future together. It also injects reality into the fantasy that swirls around blossoming romance. "You want to find out if you share the same values and are looking at life through the same kind of scope," Belleghem says. Instead of opening a floodgate of intimate confessions, Belleghem insists it's important to unravel your past slowly, carefully gaging your partner's reaction. "For example, if the person is shocked and repulsed when you ask them if they've ever had sex at the office, don't continue the conversation," she suggests. A person intent on maintaining their virginity until marriage and seeks the same in a partner will be off limits to a person with a colourful past, Belleghem adds. At all costs, avoid people who criticize your values and respond with name-calling.

"Guard yourself and guard your privacy from abusive people -- those who value-judge," she says. Joan Marsman, a Toronto sex, relationship and marriage therapist, agrees. "Some couples are very open and quite comfortable with the openness and can handle the information in a mature way," she says. "They're interested -- not threatened -- and don't hold it against the other person. There are other situations where it can damage the relationship, so tread carefully."

Sexual History

Avoid total disclosure -- such as the cast of characters in your sexual history, their roles and performance reviews -- even if your companion appears unthreatened by the information, Marsman advises. And when you decide it's time to discuss your sexual history, pick your moment carefully, she says. Wait for an intimate time when you're alone and relaxed, but not before a romantic encouter. "It's nice not to know everything about your partner," she adds. "In my practice, I hear the other side. A person may feel that they have to live up to past partners and experimental sexual practices that may not be relevant to the current relationship." When it comes to revealing your personal love map to a potentially serious prospect, family therapist and mediator Deborah Mecklinger suggests "sharing enough information to allow the other person to get to know you in a decent and respectful way." Be wary of withholding significant secrets -- especially when they inhibit the bond you ought to be building with your significant other. "The secret begins to take on a life of its own and becomes bigger than the actual piece of information being hidden," she says. "This is a very different scenario from guarding past issues that represent a piece of who you once were and are no longer relevant."
This article first appeared on February 23, 2001.







STDs exception to the rule

While an air of mystery can contribute to the allure of a relationship, the experts agree there's one exception to the rule. In an era of sexually transmitted diseases that have deadly consequences, it's absolutely essential to 'fess up if you're carrying a virus such as HIV, herpes and genital warts. "When it comes to health, total honesty is the best policy," saysfamily therapist and mediator Deborah Mecklinger. "Zero tolerance (to withholding vital information) must apply to sexualdisease."


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