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Hi Evan,

I have an unusual situation. I am divorced after a 15-year marriage and dating someone about 5 months now. It is starting to get serious. This guy knows a lot about me including a 6-year marriage prior to the recent long one. What he doesn’t know is that briefly, as a teenager, I was married for 6 months. It ended in divorce and religious annulment. My therapist tells me I need not disclose this information, but I kinda feel like I am being dishonest. The relationship was so long ago and I never discuss it. But it happened. Should I wait until things get more serious or should I have already fessed up?

LJDear LJ,

Your situation isn’t all that unusual.  While the subject about which you’re lying happens to be a brief, distant marriage, it may as well be ANYTHING.

Really.

Just name your past skeleton and insert it into this sentence:

(                           ) was so long ago and I never discuss it, but it happened.

So the real question is… whether one has the right to keep ANYTHING to oneself in a relationship.

The felony…

The strip club gig…

The lithium…

The adoption…

The homosexual phase…

So the real question isn’t whether one should lie about past marriages, LJ. It’s really whether one has the right to keep ANYTHING to oneself in a relationship.

And I think you’ll find that this is a perfect case of different strokes for different folks.

If I’m going to play philosopher, however, I think we need to parse these old skeletons and come to some conclusion about what it’s fair to hide, and when, if ever, you should confess your past sins.

I’m just going to come out and say it: if it doesn’t directly impact your partner RIGHT NOW, you have every right to keep it a secret.

If you don’t know whether your secret would impact your partner, flip the whole situation over. Would you want to know…?

And no, your first marriage does NOT impact your relationship whatsoever.

But there ARE things that DO matter to a partner:

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Credit Card Debt

The aforementioned homosexual phase and drug/alcohol/depression issues.

And if you don’t know whether your secret would impact your partner, flip the whole situation over. Would you want to know if your future husband was an alcoholic, or has genital herpes, or has fought anxiety, on and off, for 10 years?

I think you would.

So if we’ve established that the criteria for telling a secret is the secret’s ability to impact a relationship in the future, the question remains: when do you say something?

That’s a little trickier.

If it’s a health thing, like STD’s, you have to come clean right away.

But if it’s something that is deep in your past, doesn’t impact you today, but is something you would want to know about your partner, I’d hold onto it until you’re sure that the confession would not impact the relationship.

If it’s something that is deep in your past… I’d hold onto it until you’re sure that the confession would not impact the relationship.

I told my wife about my past anxiety within the first 2 months. She didn’t tell me about her credit card debt until 9 months in. She thought I’d be judgmental, and she was right. But I also loved her, and wasn’t going to give up the relationship because of poor fiscal decision-making. It was just another challenge we’d have to tackle together.

Anyway, while I admire your conscience, LJ, I frankly think you’re making too big a deal out of this.

The guy already knows you’re twice-divorced and you think he’s going to flip out that there was a third time, back in the early 70’s?

Really?

If that ancient tidbit manages to break up your relationship, let’s face it: it wasn’t a very strong relationship to begin with.