It probably goes without saying that when you're in a committed relationship, openness and honesty are generally the best policies. That said, when you're worried that your partner might react poorly or judge you for something from your past — like an abortion — then you might be hesitant to share. If you're not sure how to tell your partner about your past abortion, fear not. Experts say that there's a way to make this convo more comfortable for everyone involved.
Abortions have been happening for more than 4,000 years — and according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45. So, just know that you're definitely not alone in your experience.
"Many, many cultures throughout history have considered it to be a routine part of medical care," explains Aimee Hartstein, a licensed psychotherapist and clinical social worker. "No one should ever be made to feel ashamed or guilty about other medical procedures or treatments that they have needed."
Certainly, the more people who acknowledge their abortions publicly, the easier it will become to bust the stigma — Nicki Minaj, Jameela Jamil, Busy Phillips, and Alia Shawkat are just a few of the celebrities who have shared their abortion stories in recent years. While choosing to open up about this topic can certainly be a relief for some, you definitely don't have to tell anyone about your abortion if you don't feel comfortable doing so.
"A relationship shouldn’t be based on forced confessions," says Hartstein. "People are allowed to have a reasonable amount of privacy. If you had an abortion in your past, you are under no obligation to confess it to anyone — not a friend or romantic partner."
However, there may come a time in your relationship where it feels too burdensome to keep that secret. Or your partner may ask you outright whether or not you've had one — in which case lying might cause further issues down the line.
"If the relationship is not very serious, then I don't think you need to tell them unless you want to," explains Dominique Samuels, the resident psychologist for relationship-health app Emi Couple. "In the long run, however, you need to consider how you feel about secrets in a relationship. For some, secrets feel fine. For others, they feel devastating. How would you feel if you found out that your partner had a secret? Use that as a guide to your thinking."
Then, Samuels suggests talking to a trusted friend about it. You can bounce some ideas off of them for how to bring it up, practice what you will say and how to say it, and hopefully get some helpful feedback and reassurance. If you feel particularly anxious about the convo, Samuels recommends talking to a therapist about it so you can work through your underlying fears.
"Abortion is an unbelievably sensitive topic, and it can lead to enormous feelings — running the gamut from sadness and shame to relief," she tells Elite Daily. "It is the most private thing, for many women, to let someone into."
While all experts agree that an abortion is nothing to feel ashamed about, they say it's normal to have some negative feelings come up when you're preparing to talk about it.
"If you find that you’re feeling really anxious about having the conversation, it might be worthwhile to look into how the experience affected you," says Hartstein. "How resolved do you feel about what you went through?"
The important thing to keep in mind here is that there is no perfect time or setting for bringing up your past abortion. According to Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist and relationship expert, the best way to approach the convo is to first think about your goals in discussing this with your partner. What are you hoping to accomplish by telling them about the abortion? If you still feel that sharing your story is the right thing to do, then Steinberg recommends choosing a time when you know that neither of you will be stressed — so, probably not right before your partner is heading off to their job, or after a long, tiring work day. Samuels adds that you probably don't want to mention it flippantly, or after you've both had a few drinks. The idea is to ensure so that you're both mentally and emotionally in a place where you can have a calm, respectful discussion.
If and when you do decide to bring this up, it's important to set the right tone. "Don’t go into it suggesting that you have a terrible, shameful secret to confess," says Hartstein. "That can set some sort of tone of guilt and shame. I would let your partner know in a direct, straightforward manner — and explain why you feel like it’s something that you want to share with them now."
If you're not sure where to begin, Samuels suggests saying something along the lines of, "I want to let you in on a part of me that I don't tell many people about. But I really need you to just listen, and not to judge, even if you disagree with my choices." If you know what you need from them, just ask for it. For example, Samuels says you can tell your partner, "I need you to just hug me/hold my hand/trust my judgment." This way, you're taking control of the conversation by letting them know what is and isn't helpful when you're most vulnerable.
Steinberg recommends focusing on the positives whenever possible —for example, by saying something like, "It was a difficult experience but I think it made me stronger," if that resonates with you. If you and your partner have talked about having children, Steinberg notes that you can emphasize how the fact that you've become pregnant before means you will likely be able to become pregnant again.
"Focus on the fact that part of being in a loving relationship means that you can talk to your partner about anything," she adds.
But what if your partner isn't pro-choice? According to Steinberg, it can be a good idea to acknowledge out loud that you recognize their stance on abortion, and that it's OK for them to have their own opinion. You'll also want to gently remind them that you can't change the past, and it's important you can respect each other's choices — especially when it comes to matters pertaining to physical health.
The question is, would you want to continue dating a person who doesn't have the ability to look past their feelings and opinions, and trust your judgment when it comes to your own body? According to Samuels, knowing how rigid or flexible your partner is in this belief may help you to figure out how compatible you truly are.
"Are they empathetic enough that they can understand your specific situation? Are they open-minded enough to be with someone who may hold different views? And if the answer is no to either of those questions, perhaps really think about whether this relationship has long-term potential," she explains. "Because we need to be able to love our partners even when we disagree."
Remember: just as it's your body, it's your story, too. And you get to choose with whom, when, where, and how you share it. When the time feels right to tell your partner about your abortion, you can let them know what you need from them before trusting them with such delicate information. And hopefully, your partner's response will provide the kind of support and understanding you deserve.
Dominique Samuels, psychologist
Aimee Hartstein, licensed psychotherapist and clinical social worker
Laurel Steinberg, clinical sexologist and relationship expert