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positive man - how to give support to negative partner
Jun 9, 1999

Hello Dr. Remien. I'm a hiv+ gay man and my partner is hiv neg. I tested positive 5 years ago. We've been together for a year now and though it's going well most of the times, some issues tend to come back. We practice the safest sex possible and it's very enjoyable. The last thing I want to happen is him getting infected. My question is: what is the best way to give support to my partner? He's sometimes very scared of becoming infected (and I truly understand that). I always try to calm him down the best way I can by telling him no to worry, especially when he gets sick. What should I tell him when he gets a sore throat or a cold? Is minimizing the situation the best thing to do? He's to scared to get tested again (he got tested last year in the first months of our relationship). We truly love each other and I want to do the best I can to prevent him from too much stress. At the same time I don't want to feel guilty all the time. Sorry for the quality of my english since I'm French-canadian. And thank you in advance for taking the time to look at my long email.

Response from Dr. Remien

First of all, you're English is just fine and your question is a good one. Your situation is very common and describes some of the challenges of being a couple of mixed HIV status. It is normal to have some fears and worries about transmission of the virus. Therefore you really can't tell him not to worry, just as you can't stop yourself from sometimes worrying. Ususally it is helpful for people to be able to express their worries. The question is where are the best places to express these worries. I always advocate for two people in an intimate relationship to try to express their worries to each other, because it contributes to increased intimacy. However, this may not be sufficient and often it is useful to have someone else (a neutral person) to talk with - this might be a friend or a professional counselor. Especially when the worry is excessive and gets in the way of normal living it can be helpful to talk to a professional. But simply telling someone not to worry rarely has much of an effect.

A good way to support him is to express your love and concern, allow him to express his concerns to you, and encourage him to talk to someone else about his worries. Also ASK him what he would like from you and how does he think you can help. It certainly is not necessary for you to feel "guilty." It may be natural to feel guilty, but it is not very healthy to hold on to such feelings. You have done nothing wrong and therefore are not to blame. You and your partner face these challenges because you happen to be of OPPOSITE HIV status. In that sense, he brings as much burden to the relationship by being HIV- as you do by being HIV+. But I'm sure you would agree that he shouldn't feel "guilty" because of his status. If you both knew of each other's HIV status and decided to continue with the relationship in spite of the difference between you, then you have chosen to confront the challenges involved. Talking about them, rather than trying to deny or minimize them is necessary. And again, when the worry is excessive and not appropriate to the risks you take, then outside help may be necessary.

Keep on communicating with each other and keep on loving each other. Be well!


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