How do I tell my boyfriend I once had an abortion?
Tell Me About It: My secret from a previous relationship is keeping me awake at night
PROBLEM: I am in my late 20s and have been in a relationship for the past nine months with a great guy. Our relationship has become serious very quickly, and we are hoping to move in together in the autumn. I am having great difficulty with one issue, however: how to share with him that in my early 20s, when I was in a very bad relationship, I became pregnant and had an abortion. The only people I could confide in at the time were my mum and my closest friend. I managed to keep it from my boyfriend at the time as our relationship was very volatile and he had started to physically hurt me. At the time, I was in fear for my life.
My relationship now is completely the opposite. I have met the most loving, caring man, whom I want to spend every day of the rest of my life with. But I fear telling him about this dark part of my life and the decision I took because I could see no other way out. I fear he may not understand and that it will make him see me in a different light. But I feel the need to tell him and soon, because I feel that by moving in together we are making a big commitment to each other. I am turning it over in my mind constantly. I sometimes find myself awake during the night, and thoughts about telling him are the first ones that come into my mind. Then I feel panicked that it will ruin everything. I don’t know where to turn.
ADVICE: It is very sad that you are in this situation – one that very many women find themselves in – and that you are struggling to keep this secret from the very person you would entrust your life to. You decided to have an abortion at a very difficult time in your life, when you were in a relationship with a violent and unstable man. That you had the support of your mother and your closest friend is indicative of the seriousness of what was going on at that time, and it is wonderful that you have gone on to trust and love again so completely.
Having an abortion can mean a lifetime of silence and condemnation, but now women are beginning to speak about their experiences, and there is a growing sense of compassion and understanding in Irish society. But abortion remains a divisive issue and it can create intense conflict because positions are held on the basis of very strong personal principles and beliefs. These principles need to be heard and respected, even if they are not agreed with. The concern is that by not speaking you risk compromising your own and your partner’s ethics and values.
Your relationship is loving and caring. Of course you fear losing this wonderful prospect in your life, but the possibility of basing this relationship on some form of deceit or withholding is also an enormous risk.
Talking about your past is clearly on your mind, as you are having trouble sleeping, and there is a danger that you will blurt it out at an inappropriate time.
If you are going to tell your partner, now is the time, as you are beginning a serious commitment and it would demonstrate a true regard for his ability to make an informed decision about your life together. That you are so fearful of breaking up might indicate that you suspect his disapproval, and you have to consider if this is how you will manage any major disagreements you will have in your future together.
All couples have conflict and disagreements, and there is strong evidence that how they manage these issues is a measure of the success of the relationship. (See John Gottman’s extensive research.) Saying nothing in order to keep the peace offers some accord in a relationship, but it does not augur well for the intimacy and development of the couple. You have an opportunity here to set the scene for your future life, and it is worth considering what you want to have as a basis.
When we find happiness, we try to hold on to it, but the truth is that by holding on to it we often destroy it. You cannot keep your relationship as it is at this moment; it will change and develop or finish, as life unfolds. What you can do is commit to how the relationship will proceed; you only have control over your part in this.
Suggest a time and place for an important conversation, and tell him of your real concern that he will reject you following this. Try not to come to a conclusion, but give him time to absorb and reflect before both of you make a life-long decision.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into