The decision to move in with your partner gets a lot of attention. Getting married and having children also hogs the spotlight. However, there's another relationship milestone that we tend to overlook: making someone your emergency contact.
Think about it: Your emergency contact is the person your doctor's office, insurance company, gym, or work will call if you get into an accident or something goes wrong during a medical procedure. That's a huge responsibility, so making a romantic partner your go-to on medical forms is not a decision you should take lightly. "This could be a matter of life and death," says Jessica Shepherd, MD, an Ob/Gyn at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We rely on emergency contacts, as during surgery it can be necessary to update a family member."
That's why it's best to stick with a close family member (like a sibling or parent) or a trusted friend until you're 100% sure your partner is ready to be your emergency contact, Dr. Shepherd says. Generally, a mother is the most common choice for millennials, says Shara Sand, PsyD, clinical psychologist. But as you get older and start dating more seriously (and perhaps move far away from home), there may come a time when a doctor hands you an emergency contact form and you wonder: Should I list my partner?
The first step to answering that question is deciding if you're ready, and that's relatively simple. When you trust your partner enough to want them by your side should you (heaven forbid) break a bone or have some other sort of emergency, then you're likely at a place where you're comfortable subbing in your S.O. for your mom on medical forms and the like.
But before you do that, the second — and most important — step is to ask your partner if they're ready. "Be wary, because they may say 'yes,' even though they want to say 'no,' because they don’t want to hurt your feelings," says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, clinical psychologist and relationship expert. In a perfect world, everyone would be honest about how they feel about becoming an emergency contact, but that's not always the case. If you sense hesitation, it's probably best to stick with your current emergency contact until your partner's ready, Dr. Greenberg says. (Take note: If a partner asks you to be their emergency contact and you don't feel comfortable, be honest.)
Be wary, because they may say 'yes,' even though they want to say 'no,' because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Barbara Greenberg, PhD
Unfortunately, there's no magic formula to help you figure out when to have this conversation with your partner, since every relationship is unique, Dr. Greenberg says. But she says that you should only use a romantic partner as your emergency contact if you're in a serious relationship and your commitment to one another has been established. The best way for your partner to prove this to you? Through action, Dr. Sand says. For example, one way to tell if someone is ready to be your emergency contact is when they go to the hospital with you for an outpatient procedure, and then pick you up after without you having to ask them, she says.
It's also a good sign if you're already having conversations with your partner about what medications you're taking and any medical conditions you're dealing with or have dealt with in the past. This is information that will be helpful to know if they do find themselves on the receiving end of a call from your doctor, Dr. Sand says. If you've just recently decided that someone will be your emergency contact, and they aren't aware of your medical history and/or medications, it's time to fill them in.
Like Dr. Shepherd said, your emergency contact is the person who is called in life-or-death situations, so jumping the gun and naming someone you're dating as your emergency contact too soon can end in disaster. If you put them down on your medical forms before they're ready or before discussing it with them, they may be put off by receiving an emergency call and/or won't be equipped to actually help you, Dr. Greenberg says. Sure, your partner may be flattered by the surprise, but that's probably not a chance you want to take.
One of the worst-case scenarios, according to Dr. Shepherd, is when you put down an S.O. as your emergency contact, but then forget to list someone new when you break up. Doctors need reliable emergency phone numbers should you be unable to respond to important questions, and your ex may not care enough to come to your side. "They may not be available, because they’re not going to think of themselves in that way," Dr. Greenberg says. So it's important to stay on top of these things (even during an awful breakup) if you decide to make your partner your emergency contact.
Moral of the story? Yes, listing someone as your emergency contact can be a major relationship milestone, but it's not something you should rush into — medical emergencies are serious. It's best to wait until you're in a committed relationship with a partner who has demonstrated they are capable of being your emergency contact before you scribble their name on a form. Until then, that's what parents, siblings, and best friends are for.