HIV/AIDS and Relationships
I have to admit I promised blogging about HIV/AIDS but I keep on getting requests from some of my readers to blog about it, so I have no choice. Living with HIV every day can make you feel differently about yourself and about your relationships. Sorting out your feelings can take time after you’ve been diagnosed.
This will be true for your partner too. You will both have strong feelings about how you’re affected as individuals and as a couple. This is true whether your partner is HIV positive or not.
Who to tell
Because of stigma, many people with HIV think quite carefully about whether to tell people that they have HIV or not. One way that some people avoid experiences of stigma and discrimination is by not telling others that they have HIV.
In a great many situations, HIV simply isn’t relevant and is unlikely to come up in conversation. Many people with HIV decide that the majority of people they come into contact with have no need to know about their health status.
On the other hand, disclosing their HIV status may be the single most powerful thing that a person with HIV can do to fight stigma.
Deciding who to talk to about HIV is a very personal decision, and what is right for one person won’t necessarily be right for another person.
There can sometimes be advantages to telling people you trust or people who will be able to help in some way. If they understand what you are going through, they may be able to give you the love and support you need. Sharing a confidence can sometimes make a relationship stronger and you won’t have the effort of hiding your HIV status.
Here are some questions to ponder about?
Why do you want to tell them?
It’s easier to be sure that telling someone is a good idea if you have a clear idea about what telling them could achieve – what benefits are you hoping for? You might think that if they knew, they could give you some help or support. Think about whether these expectations are realistic.
There may be some people you are very close to who you feel‘should’ know. But think through the following questions, and check that it still seems a good idea.
How will they react?
Try thinking about how this person will feel on hearing the news. Imagine the best way they could react – and the worst.
You might find yourself needing to reassure someone who is upset. You could be asked how you got HIV, and the news could tap into someone’s prejudices about sexuality, morality or illness. You might find it helpful to have factual leaflets about how HIV is – and is not – transmitted at hand to provide reassurance.
Or you may want to tell this person because you are confident that they will be calm, supportive and trustworthy.
What are your options if they react badly?
In some situations, while it would be very disappointing if a person reacted badly, it wouldn’t have serious consequences. For example, you might want to stop seeing the person, but this may be okay if there are other people you can turn to.
But in other cases, you might be considering telling someone that you are financially or emotionally dependent on, or who is important to you in some other way. The consequences of the person reacting badly would be more serious.
For example, if you are thinking about telling someone you live with, what would your options be if they reacted badly and you couldn’t go on living with them?
Can they keep it to themselves?
When you tell people, it may be worth telling them clearly who they can and cannot talk to about your HIV status.
Is this a trustworthy person who understands the importance of confidentiality? Although you can ask someone not to tell others, once you’ve told them, you won’t have much control over what they do with the information.
People you are close to might find the news worrying or upsetting. They may want to get support for themselves. But if they’re not meant to talk about it with anyone at all, this will be hard for them.
How will you tell them?
You might want to think about how you’ll bring the subject up, as well as the best moment to do so. Choose a time and a place where you’ll be as comfortable as possible.
Dealing with reactions
The reactions of partners or sexual contacts can vary from acceptance to rejection, and can either bring you closer or create a distance. It’s important to work out how and when to talk to your partner, and to have an idea of how to deal with their reactions.
- Many people with HIV are in a strong and loving relationship
- Relationships grow and change for all of us, including for people with HIV
- It’s OK not to be in a relationship, but at some point you might meet someone who's right for you
If you have children, their interests will be close to your heart. Think about how much they should and need to know to help them understand what’s happening. Other family and friends can help too.
You may feel anxious about having sex and worry about the risk to your partner or other sexual contacts. There is no reason why having HIV should prevent you from enjoying a full and safe sex life. If your anxieties do put you off sex, talk it through with your partner. Anxieties don’t just arise when first diagnosed, and can occur later or in a different form.
- If your partner’s last test was negative or they have never been tested, do they want to go for a test?
- Does your partner want you to go with them for the test and for the results?
- Does this change what we like doing together, sexually or otherwise?
- How does this affect others in our family or circle of friends, and what should we do about it?
With a new relationship, some of the same feelings and discussions will emerge.
If you’re finding it difficult to have sex, or to use condoms while having sex, talk about it. Support for both partners is available at your clinic. If you need specialist support and help, ask at your clinic which can provide this for you or refer you to an appropriate service..