10 Toughest Health Topics to Discuss With Your Significant Other
It’s never easy to start a conversation with, “Honey, there’s something I need to tell you” -- especially when it comes to you or your partner’s health. While you want to be truthful, you also wonder if bringing up an awkward health topic will be the deal breaker that lands you back on OkCupid. As writer, editor, sociologist and sexologist Carol Queen suggests, “Learning more about your condition or issue can help immensely before you address it. Also, talking to an experienced counselor with beforehand can be a good plan, so that you have an idea of how the other person might take your news.” But it still won’t be easy. From hygienic hindrances to mental illness to sexual stumbling blocks, here are 10 of the most challenging health topics you could tackle with your significant other -- and how to broach each subject.
1. Mental Illness
There’s no sugar-coating it: Mental-health disorders -- including bipolar disorder, depression and personality disorders -- can cause someone to have a poor self-image, emotional highs and lows, paranoia, aggression, a lack of empathy, erratic behavior and other traits that are difficult to live with. Any of these things can create challenges for a relationship because of stigma and misunderstanding. Author and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., says, “Every quarter, I ask my undergraduates how many would go on a second date if their date told them they had bipolar disorder. Sadly, most said they would not, so this can be a real concern for those who are experiencing mental illness.” She advises: “Depending on how chronic and debilitating the symptoms are, approach the conversation from a stance of educating your partner, preparing them and telling them how you manage it.”
According to its medical definition, an addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior -- like gambling, shopping, eating, sexual activity or on a substance (from nicotine to booze to marijuana to pills to harder drugs). If your partner has an addiction, Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum, founder of Couples Counseling Associates and professor at Northeastern Illinois University, advises starting a conversation about it when you are both sober and well rested. Ronald B. Cox Jr., Ph.D., of Oklahoma State University Center for Family Resilience, adds, “The strength, persistence and understanding you provide will be crucial to your partner’s recovery. But you also want to let your partner be responsible for his or her own actions. Recovery increases when you eliminate any enabling or caretaking behaviors.” He stresses that, “Your partner is not a bad person, but a person with a ‘bad’ disease that may be affecting your relationship.”
3. Sexual Issues
If only talking about sex was as easy as Salt-N-Pepa’s ’90s hit. But when your relationship seems to have some barriers between the sheets, it’s tricky to talk while treading lightly. These issues can range from dyspareunia (pain during intercourse for women), underarousal and underactive interest to Peyronie’s disease (scar tissue buildup for men, which can cause pain), premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, inhibited orgasm and more. Durvasula says, “The best time to have this discussion is not when you are already naked in bed, but perhaps when you are both relaxed and can talk about your issues in a connected and circumspect manner.” She adds, “In many cases, a frank and open conversation can often lead to your partner making revelations of his (or her) own.”
4. Genetic Predisposition to a Health Condition
So you and your love bug have started talking about whether your future children will be taller than average or musically or athletically gifted. Should you also bring up the unpleasant genetic traits that run in your family? Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., relates, “Although they are possibly not an issue until further down the road -- and they may not even happen -- these issues may still feel difficult to speak about, especially if you are on the path to get engaged or married.” She advises that even though it might be well into the distant future, you still need to make your partner aware that there may be a genetic predisposition in your family to things like certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or another condition.
5. “Down There” Disorders
Nothing kills the mystery in a relationship like being a little too open about “bathroom time.” But if you are one of the 1.6 million Americans with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America), you should definitely tell your partner about it. Irritable bowel syndrome and other types of GI pain as well as bladder disorders that may cause urinary incontinence are some of the most awkward subjects to bring up if you’re one half of a couple. Psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Karen Stewart, Psy.D., says, “Even though these topics may be uncomfortable to talk about, remember that this is the person you probably feel the closest to.” And there’s an upside: “Tackling issues together can often bring couples closer together. So you should consider that,” she adds.
6. Conditions That Cause Fatigue
When you’re part of a dating duo, you share fun adventures together -- from taco Tuesdays to karaoke and ballgames to weekend getaways and more. But it can be tough to explain or point out that one of you is tired all of the time and unmotivated to do anything except sleep, perhaps due to an underlying disorder such as chronic fatigue syndrome or Epstein-Barr. Dr. Seth Meyers, psychologist and author of “Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve,” says, “Health issues that have a psychological component and affect energy levels are difficult for couples because one member of the couple questions whether the other is truly ill or just complaining.” As difficult as it is, these issues do need to be discussed. He recommends, “The weekends are the best time to bring up these difficult issues because that’s the time of the week when stress is the lowest.”
If you’re in a relationship that’s heading towards marriage, a mortgage and a bun or three in the oven, you definitely need to consider if a) you want to have kids and b) you are actually able to have kids. After all, one in eight couples have difficulty getting pregnant, according to resolve.org. And ASRM.org reports that one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third is attributed to the male partner and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or is unexplained. You’ll eventually need to talk about it, but timing is key. In addressing infertility, writer, editor, sociologist and sexologist Carol Queen says, “If you have a sense that a partnership will stick…this topic should be broached relatively early in the relationship. If you are getting serious and thinking of having kids, it’s completely relevant and could be considered one element affecting compatibility.”
8. Past Traumatic Incidents
Certain kinds of unresolved trauma can creep in and tear apart a relationship. According to Stephanie K. Glassman, Psy.D., “Survivors of trauma may feel vulnerable and confused about who or what is safe.” She explains, “The impact of trauma doesn’t stop with the individual survivor. It often extends beyond that individual, taking a toll on important personal relationships.” Traumatic events can include those that have happened only once, such as a car accident, rape or assault, as well as those that have continued over a period of time, such as child abuse, separation or domestic violence. Jennifer Lehr, licensed marriage and family therapist and creator of WeConcile, an online program for committed couples seeking help, suggests: “If you want to avoid a trauma-induced disruption in your relationship, you must understand your past wounds in order to heal them, then see your relationship as a place to build a bridge between your differences.” She stresses, “You should share your wounds with your partner: They’re part of the relationship. And you should reach forward and support each other when you are traumatized.”
9. Poor Health Habits
Short of surprising your sweetie with a Fitbit, there’s really no easy way to mention that he/she should probably lay off the cupcakes. Or, if you’re the one with late-night pizza cravings, you might not want to admit that you could be compromising your health and your love life. Durvasula says, “When it comes to health habits, try to avoid becoming defensive. Own your vulnerabilities and guilty pleasures, then find a middle ground with your partner. You shouldn’t try to hide them. Instead, maybe try managing them better.” She explains: “A relationship can often lead to a shift to health. But any time we are ashamed of something, we can become secretive -- which tends to not be healthy for your relationship.” A shared healthier replacement like hiking or cooking wholesome dinners together may be a potential way to boost your health, your mood, your energy and your sex drive.
10. Hygienic Issues
“Sorry, babe, but your breath smells like dead people” isn’t exactly the sweetest nothing to whisper in your significant other’s ear. Let’s face it: When hygienic issues like halitosis (bad breath), excess flatulence (intestinal gas), body odor, etc. are present in a relationship, they can be embarrassing to bring up. But you need to address them with your partner because they can be signs of more serious underlying issues. Chronic halitosis may be a sign of gum disease or liver or kidney problems. And when it comes to flatulence, it’s normal for the average person to pass gas 20 times a day. But excessive farting may be caused by lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Writer, editor, sociologist and sexologist Carol Queen recommends to focus your “talk” as an expression of caring, such as, “Honey, I’ve read that when someone’s breath smells ‘off,’ it can be because of a health problem. And I’m a little concerned about that.”
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever had to talk about these problems in a relationship? What are your tips to breaking the ice when it comes to tough topics to discuss? Tell us in the comments!