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Honesty isn't always the best policy

WE all know that it is essential to be open and honest in a relationship, but this advice really should only apply to the here-and-now and the future. In my limited experience, the past should often be exempt from this age-old counsel.

One of the first questions that inevitably rears its awkward head in a new romance is the sexual partners gem. You may suspect that your husband was a bit of a player, or that your wife was a wild-child in college, but do you really need to know exact numbers (unless they all live on your street or involve your sister, in which case, it may be better to put this one down to experience).

Most women (and Tiger Woods) when pressed on this delicate subject by a new partner, will shave off a few numbers (or a zero in some cases), whereas men will often add a few in an attempt to seem more experienced. No one ever seems to point out how the figures for men and women vary so wildly. Either a very small number of women are responsible for all those men's notches, or someone is exaggerating.



needs

Honesty, and what your partner needs to know are two different things. When your wife asks outright if, before you met her, you ever slept with that slutty girl you used to work with, you have to give a truthful answer.

However, to offer the information without being asked is probably unnecessary; and may lead to it becoming one of those angry statements which will be trotted out during every row for the next 20 years.

Similarly, your new husband may consistently forget the date you met, your shoe size, or your friends' kids' names; but tell him how many sexual partners you have had and he will never, ever forget this number; so be careful how high you go.

This is in no way a recommendation to tell porkies about your past, but rather just to leave certain episodes out -- think of them as chapters unnecessary to the story, kind of like The Phantom Menace was to Star Wars.

After all, you wouldn't tell someone about every single Christmas you have ever celebrated, with details of every last present you received or mince pie you ate, but just a sort of round summing up of your experience of Christmas as a whole.

It's the same with the rest of your life, just mention a few of the memorable gifts you found in your stocking and leave out some of the unwanted surprises or pairs of cheap socks. Now there's an analogy . . .

It's fine to tell your partner that your long-term ex was a nice person, you had some fun times but, at the end of the day, you didn't want the same things. It's not obligatory to add that some of those fun times included making home videos with night-vision goggles, or the time you had sex in a restaurant toilet. There's just no need.

My rule of thumb would be that if your partner is likely to cross paths with someone you have history with, it might be wise to give them the heads up to avoid compromising or embarrassing the one you love in the event that somebody else mentions it.

This may seem unlikely, but, at a wedding last summer, some drunken idiot announced in front of a friend and her new husband "Do you remember at Dave's 21st when you got drunk and woke up with his brother?" (I have changed these names, so if you think you know these people, it's a coincidence).

The group fell silent and Rachel's new husband turned a shade that I have only ever seen in one of those yoghurts where you stir in the separate serving of fruit, and the whole thing goes bright red.

A note to men: at some stage in your relationship, your partner or spouse will ask you if you have ever paid for sex. It may be two weeks or 20 years in, but eventually, even jocularly, it will be posed. The answer to this question is always 'no', regardless of the truth; even if it was on a lads' weekend and everyone put pressure on you, or you were so drunk you weren't sure what was happening . . . it's always a no.



skeleton

Of course, it's not always about sex. There are plenty of things about your past that you should be able to share with your partner; if you've been in jail for example. No one wants that skeleton collapsing out of the closet with the suitcases when you're planning a holiday, and you suddenly have to explain why you won't be able to go to Orlando.

Or if you have a secret child somewhere, some dark family history, or if you're that man from Boston who has fathered upwards of 70 children as an 'anonymous' sperm donor -- these are things that make you the person you are and your partner will love you despite them. Having said that, if you're that sperm-donor guy, I'd quit whilst you're ahead, move to Tasmania and tell no one about your 'charitable donations'.

You can't change the past no matter how hard you try, how many emails you delete or photographs you tear up; but by revealing too much of it, you can royally mess up the future.