Posted by Summer Katz, M.A., NCC, LMHC Patient Advocate
Dating and intimacy can be both desired as well as confusing, or even become quite complicated to navigate; certainly when trying to determine how or when to handle discussing cystic fibrosis with your new partner. Telling people you have CF is a personal choice, and you actually do not have to disclose it to every person you meet.
With that said, maintaining our health to reduce many of the unwanted CF symptoms means that we have to regularly participate in taking medications, completing treatments, and engaging in good hygiene practices. Because of this, logistically, we have to acknowledge that when we engage in closer, intimate relationships – these people now become part of our support system and ultimately have to learn about and understand what we need to do to maintain healthy outcomes.
Each person’s decision as to when and how to include their partner is quite individualized. There is no specific timeline or rule on including your partner into your medical regimen; however I must emphasize the benefit (to you, as well as the relationship) of welcoming that person into your support system. It will impact factors such as honesty, openness, ability to welcome supportive assistance, participation in healthy boundaries and assertive communication, as well as engaging in vulnerability and trust.
Tips on how to talk to your new partner about CF:
Practice what to say. Engage in practice conversations with your trusted friend(s); ask your friend to be a sounding board about the situation. To avoid fumbling through the conversation uncomfortably, practice giving your friend important facts about CF. You don’t want to overwhelm your new partner, so asking a friend to give you feedback on what sounds most intimidating may help you adjust your approach or even tweak the initial introduction of your diagnosis.
You don’t have to disclose on a first date. Revealing [too much] too soon may unfortunately define you before your date has gotten a chance to really get to know YOU. There are recommendations out there, which suggest sharing by the fourth date, merely to deter frustration longevity related to the deal-breaker. This means that waiting too long to disclose important facts can unfortunately create an unwanted/undesired experience where both people end up frustrated in a dead end. Of course, if your new dating partner asks you directly about any of your present CF symptoms, you don’t want to lie (or omit the truth about your diagnosis).
Each individual gets to decide which path they want to take in their dating and intimate partnership vision. A person’s acceptance or non-acceptance of the condition is not about judgment of you. It is simply a decision that the individual may have made even prior to being with you. If it is a deal-breaker, then you will be able to move on to find someone who has not identified this concept as such and ultimately will accept everything about you.
Be casual, yet confident. No need to blurt out information related to your diagnosis. You can ease into a conversation with, “I feel like we’re heading in a great direction, so I want to tell you something.” Don’t overdo it with over focus on all of the facts, and consider bridging the introduction into an already-developed conversation. Remember, each person will react differently, so display comfort and acceptance of your condition, as opposed to mirroring your new partner’s potential unwanted reaction. You can follow-up with something like, “I don’t see this as something that defines me, and if I need help, please leave it to me to ask.”
Know when to give your partner space. Even if you deliver a perfect speech about your condition, it is still possible to experience that ‘awkward moment’ following your disclosure. If this happens, you can respond with, “I can tell by your expression that this is a lot to digest and I completely understand, and I’ll give you time and space to do that.” You can give physical space, but maintain contact. Consider the etiquette of giving at least 24 hours, then reaching out for a response. You can leave a simple voicemail indicating that you have been thinking about them, and you are looking forward to seeing them again.
Don’t take rejection personally. A good person will listen and be kind and not judge, but if cystic fibrosis is something they can’t live with, that doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them a bad match. There can be multiple reasons for a rejection—many of which have nothing to do with you at all. Many people consciously or subconsciously create boundaries, based on previous experiences, such as having difficulty with the loss of a family member whom struggled with illness or their own fear of uncertainty for the potential future of the relationship.
I must emphasize that your ideal partner will accept you no matter what. If things were going well up until the time you told them, keep in mind that they rejected your health condition, not you. At the end of the day, it means that they were not the one.
As you read these tips, I would encourage you to consider applying the same options to any other dilemma you may be experiencing as it is related to when to disclose to your intimate partner. What are some additional recommendations you would consider when choosing to disclose information about your health diagnosis to a new partner?
Summer Katz, M.A. NNC, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Cystic Fibrosis Pharmacy Patient Advocate
*Disclaimer: This blog is provided for informational purposes only (including brief topic exploration or reflection) and should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health or medical treatment.
The biggest difference I’ve seen in my relationships than those my friends have is how I prioritize. I need balance in my life — juggling staying healthy, but also doing what makes me happy. I found out early on that I need someone who encourages balance. As important as it is for me to know when to slow down, I need someone who can help me make that call and support me through the times when my life isn’t exciting.
On the flip side, I need someone who can encourage me to go out and do things while I’m healthy. I have been in relationships where my boyfriend embraced the challenge of CF and would step up when I couldn’t. There also were those who couldn’t figure out how to support me through the tough times without resenting missing out on something in their life.