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worried about the future of my mixed-status relationship
Oct 5, 1999

Dr. Remien,

My boyfriend of 8 months is HIV+ and I am not. He told me of his status on our first date, and, aside from our sexual practices, it hasn't really factored into the relationship very much. He rarely complains of any symptoms, he doesn't tell me what kind of medication he is on, and he has never told me how he contracted the virus. Our relationship is starting to get more serious now as he is starting to talk more about the future. The problem is, I am having a hard time thinking about him as a future partner without letting my feelings about HIV get in the way. In other words, how do you suggest I go about seperating my feelings for him from my fears about his illness?

Response from Dr. Remien

Your question goes directly to the heart of a challenge faced by many people in your situation. You are confronting the possibility of being a couple of OPPOSITE serostatus and everything that that implies. HIV IS a factor that effects the way we think about the future. However, that reality is constantly changing and outlook for the long-term future is uncertain, but constantly changing. Nevertheless, for any relationship to be viable, it must confront the reality of what exists in the present and what may occur in the future. In other words, the two of you must be able to talk about your thoughts, feelings, fears, wishes, fantasies, etc. if you are to evolve into a couple that shares and can be intimate with each other.

I don't think you can entirely "separate your feelings for him from your fears about the illness." Which is not to say that you cannot continue to love and care about this man. HIV is one of the MANY characteristics that define who he is. I would be more concerned about his resistance to "letting you in - allowing you to be close - sharing with you his history, and his current concerns and challenges," than the very fact that he is HIV+. This of course goes both ways. What do you, and don't you, share with him about your history, your concerns, the challenges that you face, etc. In other words, your difficulties in sharing with each other important meaningful things says something about your level of intimacy.

The reality is - the future is unknown. There is potential for illness because of his HIV status, but either one of you could be struck with an illness of some other kind. So, my message to you is deal with the reality that "there ain't no guarrantees," when it comes to health and the future. HIV infection IS a legitimate concern and MUST be talked about, and any good relationship demands open and honest communication about all thoughts, feelings, and concerns - including your concerns about transmission. If you are to be a couple, HIV serodiscordance will be one of the characteristics that make up your "couple identity." However, it will not be the only characteristic that defines you as a couple.

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