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What 2 Experts Want You To Know About Coming Out To A Partner For The First Time

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Firsts are freaky, but they don’t have to be. In Her Campus’ series My First Time, we’re answering the burning questions you might be uncomfortable asking about IRL. In this article, we tackle coming out to a partner for the first time.

There are two times in my life when I felt like I was on the verge of having a heart attack: The time I accidentally deleted my entire term paper (sans autosave), and the minutes leading up to the first time I came out as bisexual to a partner.

Despite years of being in a straight, monogamous, and happy relationship, there was a pit in my stomach that just wouldn’t go away — I didn’t know how it got there, or what it even was, but I knew I had to suppress it. If I didn’t, I feared the words I was most afraid of (“I’m bisexual”) would spill out of my mouth before I even admitted them to myself.

During a break in my dating life, I experimented with my sexuality for the first time. Honestly? Despite being terrifying, it was extremely liberating — for once, I felt like I could be completely and wholly myself… no stomach pit included. But once I got back into a straight, monogamous, and extremely happy relationship with a partner who is an angel personified, the pit returned: Things were so good and I didn’t want to mess them up again by saying those two terrifying words. I didn’t want them to think I didn’t want to be with them — I did, I just wanted to be my entire self with them.

I mustered up the courage to come out to my partner at the time, and after the words “I’m bisexual” left my mouth, I was surprised I wasn’t flailing on the ground due to cardiac arrest. Luckily, my partner was (and still is) extremely supportive, and assured me that nothing would change. And it didn’t.

While I’m aware my story may be different (and more optimistic) than many, coming out to a partner is not a unique experience. Whether you’re still attracted to your partner, but want to be honest about your sexuality, want to explore your attractions away from your current partner, or are even questioning your gender identity, coming out in a relationship is wildly intimidating. So, I chatted with licensed LGBTQ+ psychologist Dr. Jenna Brownfield and clinical psychologist and relationships expert Lisa Lawless, Ph.D, about what you need to know about coming out to your partner for the first time.

Confront that pit in your stomach.

If you’ve ever questioned your sexuality or gender identity within a relationship, then you’re definitely familiar with that feeling of, oh sh*t… what now? Especially if you’re in a happy relationship, there’s an overarching fear that coming out will ruin, well, everything. And while these feelings are something you may want to suppress and run away from, this will only make coming out harder in the long run. 

“Allow yourself to embrace the fact that you are questioning [your sexuality],” Brownfield tells Her Campus. “The thoughts and feelings you have are not something you have to shy away from.”

If you’re questioning your sexuality or gender identity, Lawless recommends taking a bit of time to educate yourself before jumping to any conclusions. And, no, you don’t need to have it all figured out — but having a baseline understanding may help you articulate your feelings to a partner.

“One of the best things that one can do for themselves is to become more educated about sexual orientation and gender by reading literature, exploring online communities, or contacting local LGBTQ+ organizations for information and support,” Lawless tells Her Campus. “It may also help to meet with a therapist specializing in LGBTQ+ issues to navigate one’s feelings and their effects throughout one’s life.”

Once you’re armed with information, and feeling more confident and validated in your emotions, you may find it easier, and less intimidating, to open the conversation up to a partner.

Have a support system in place.

For many folks, their partner is their support system. However, it’s important to have a community around you before having this conversation with your partner. Whether things go according to plan, or your partner doesn’t react in the way you had hoped, having a support system of friends, family, LGBTQ+ folks, or even online forums can help you through this complex time.

“Creating a support system before you come out is essential, as it will help you think through how to say these things as well as provide the emotional support that may be beneficial during and after,” Lawless says. 

No, there’s no “right” way to come out to a partner.

There’s no “formula” when it comes to this particularly complex conversation. Relationships are different for everyone, and one way to start a conversation may not work for someone else. However, honesty is universal — and if you find yourself wanting to come out to your partner, simply come to them with an open heart.

“When communicating about your sexual orientation or gender, be transparent about what has become more apparent to you and what you hope will happen regarding your relationship,” Lawless says. “Being open and honest is always best unless you feel you are unsafe.”

Additionally, Brownfield recommends putting things into the perspective of your partner when sharing your feelings. This way, it will help you understand what they may be feeling, or questions they may have. Intention is key with this one.

“When you decide to share with your partner it can help to add on what you imagine your sexuality means for the relationship going forward,”  Brownfield says. “For example, are you sharing this news with them because it means you need to end the relationship, or are you sharing this news because you want them to know you more fully as you continue the relationship and don’t want to lose them? Adding in a statement about your intention behind sharing the news can help ease any worries or questions your partner has in response to it.”

Lawless also emphasizes the importance of perspective and intention. “Emphasize that this change has been part of a process of self-discovery, which doesn’t negate your love and respect for them,” she adds. “Frame it as a part of your growth and be prepared for various reactions, including confusion, anger, grief, or shock. Allow your partner to fully grasp what you’re sharing and time to process it just as you have had time to process it for yourself.”

Think about your relationship going forward.

As I mentioned before, intention is key. And this is the hard part: After coming out to a partner, think about the future of your relationship — do you still want to be with them, or would you rather take this time to figure out your sexuality or gender identity alone? These are questions only you can answer.

“Questioning your sexuality doesn’t always mean that your relationship must end — instead, that depends on the conclusions you reach for yourself and your partner’s reaction,” Lawless says. “The most important thing [to consider] is doing what is healthy for you both: This means honoring your true self and allowing yourselves to live authentically with or without one another as romantic partners.”

Brownfield echoes this point. “It is up to you and your partner to decide what ways you can embrace your sexuality while continuing the relationship,” she says. “For example, some couples where one partner is cishet and the other person isn’t (often referred to as mixed-orientation relationships), agree to a more open relationship structure when they had previously been monogamous. For some, there may be little changes to the relationship because the couple doesn’t see this development as incongruent with their existing relationship.”

Come into this conversation with an idea of what you want this relationship to look like post-coming out. Whether this is something you want to work on together or separately, being transparent is what’s best for you, and your partner, in the long run.

Take their reaction to heart, and protect yours.

When coming out, we don’t always get the reaction we had hoped for — and that sucks. However, it is the reality. So, it’s essential to notice how your partner reacts, but recognize that coming out can be a big deal, and it’s totally normal for your partner to need room to process.

“It is common for a partner to react emotionally to a partner questioning their sexuality, as it can feel hurtful, surprising, and challenging,” Lawless says. “Allow them time to process it and encourage them to seek support, education, or even meet with a therapist who specializes positively in LGBTQ+ issues.”

Anna Schultz-Girl Exploring Sand Dune
Anna Schultz / Her Campus

However, if your partner reacts in a way that makes you feel unloved — or more importantly, unsafe — seek comfort in your community, and get out of the situation immediately. This is your heart, and if they are offended or disgusted by it, maybe they never deserved to have it in the first place.

“If your partner isn’t receptive, you are left to decide whether you want to continue the relationship or not,” Brownfield says. “Reflect on whether you think you can be happy or content with your sexuality and your relationship regardless of your partner’s support.”

No matter what, remember that you are valid.

Coming out to a partner for the first time can be scary. And, depending on how they take it, it can either be extremely validating, or invalidating. However, it’s important to realize that you are deserving of love no matter what, and there will always be people out there who will love, support, and validate you no matter who you love, or what you identify as.

“Remember that no matter what, you are worthy of being loved and seen for exactly who you are,” Lawless says. “Love can only flourish in an environment where you can be your true self.”

And for my fellow queer folks in a straight-presenting relationship, know that who we are is valued, seen, and validated.

“Queer people in straight-presenting relationships are just as valid as any other queer person,” Brownfield says. “If you are questioning your sexuality, or if you are a queer person in a relationship with someone cishet, this does not automatically mean you are still in a ‘heterosexual relationship.’ Your relationship with a cishet person can be queer, because your queerness is valid and is not erased when you have a straight partner.”

If you or someone you know is seeking help for LGBTQ+ mental health or safety concerns, call The Trevor Project‘s 24/7 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). You can also reach out for instant message or text message support via TrevorChat and TrevorText, respectively. For additional resources for trans people, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.

julianna (she/her) is an associate editor at her campus where she oversees the wellness vertical and all things sex and relationships, wellness, mental health, astrology, and gen-z. during her undergraduate career at chapman university, julianna's work appeared in as if magazine and taylor magazine. additionally, her work as a screenwriter has been recognized and awarded at film festivals worldwide. when she's not writing burning hot takes and spilling way too much about her personal life online, you can find julianna anywhere books, beers, and bands are.