Telling a Partner about Herpes
Although herpes is not usually life-threatening it can be life altering and so you have a responsibility to inform your partners of the possibility of infection.
How can I tell someone for the first time?
When it comes down to the basics of telling there is no foolproof method. What you say and how you say it are going to depend on your own personal style. It is only natural to feel apprehensive about telling someone else about herpes for the first time because there is a lot of misconceptions in our society.
Carefully choose the time and place for telling someone. Although it may not be necessary to tell someone right at the beginning of a relationship, do not wait until after a serious relationship is established as this is not fair to the other person.
If your partner does decide not to pursue a relationship with you simply because you have herpes, it is in your best interest to find out now. It takes a lot more than the occasional aggravation of herpes to destroy a sound relationship.
Some Practical Tips
Choose a comfortable place
The discussion could take place where you feel safe and comfortable. Some people turn off the TV, take the phone off the hook, and approach the subject over a quiet dinner at home. Others prefer a more public place, like walking in the park, or a quiet restaurant, so that their partner will feel free to go home afterwards to think things through.
Be ready to answer questions about the facts
Be prepared. Plan what is going to be said and have your facts about genital herpes clear. It can be a good idea to have relevant printed information on hand to read.
For straight forward facts, a good place to start is our Herpes Prevention article which gives statistics on how unlikely it is to pass on herpes in a relationship if you take some sensible precautions (such as not having sex during outbreaks).
Be yourself and let the conversation flow naturally
Be spontaneous. Be confident. Regardless of their response, you are doing the right thing for both of you. By telling your partner you are allowing them the choice of whether they wish to take on this risk (although it is very, very small). It also allows the two of you to communicate together to prevent transmission.
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes
Consider how you would feel if the roles were reversed and you were being told. You can also role play the situation with a friend who already knows your situation, but do not let them always play the understanding partner. Convincing another person can help convince you.
Do not be negative or make it more than what it is!
Your attitude will influence how this news is received. Psychologists have observed that people tend to behave the way you expect them to behave, and expecting rejection increases the chances of an unhappy outcome.
I don’t want to be rejected…
Being honest with your partner is part of the process of becoming more wise and more true to ourselves. Even if this one person rejects you at this point in time, this does not make you any less of a person. In fact, you are more gracious and courageous for doing the right thing in a difficult situation.
Can I just NOT tell my partner?
The problem with herpes is that there is no guarantee that you will not transmit it even if you take all the precautions possible. The risk will be small but still a risk, which is why it is humane to tell someone before putting them in a situation where they could contract a life long condition.
Personal rejection, with or without herpes, is a possibility we all face. Fear of rejection can lead some people to question why they should risk talking about herpes and choose not to disclose the fact. Instead they abstain during outbreaks, practice safe sex at other times, and hope for the best.
This negative way of thinking can have more disadvantages than advantages:
- You spend a lot of time and energy worrying that your partner is going to get herpes
- The longer you put off telling, the more likely your partner will find out elsewhere
- It gets harder to do the longer you wait
- For most people, the anxiety of not telling is worse than the telling itself
- Excuses create distance between partners and often lead to dangerous guesswork. Your partner might interpret your excuses in ways more damaging to the relationship than an honest discussion of genital herpes would be
Keep in mind that all relationships face challenges, many far tougher than herpes. Good relationships stand or fall on far more important issues — including communication, respect, and trust.