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Mixed status couples-when to disclose
Jul 23, 2001

Last year my husband died from AIDS. He was infected when we were married but did not know. He infected me. We have two daughters who, thankfully, are not infected. We found out about our infections after our daughters were born.

He failed all drug therapies. I, however, am doing very well. My immune system is completely intact and there is no detectable virus in my system. I am on combination therapy. My doctor tells me I have decades to live and am more likely to die with HIV than from HIV.

I have met the most wonderful man and am madly in love. He is divorced with one son and a daughter He professes to love me also. While we have engaged in "heavy petting" we have not had intercourse. I could never do that without disclosing my secret to him.

We live in a very very small town. No one (not even my daughters) knows the truth about how my husband died (he was in the hospital in the city). No one knows about me. I am so scared to tell my new love. While I hope and pray that he will be understanding and want to continue our relationship, I fear that he will drop me like a brick. I must say that he is the type of honest man who I do not believe would betray my secret even if he did leave the relationship but you never ever know.

Of course I am willing to have a sex life within his parameters. I would never have unprotected intercourse even though my chances of passing the virus are next to none.

Please tell me what to do to protect myself, my daughters and my new love. I am so depressed to think I will never again be able to have a loving relationship.

Signed, Do I have a chance at love

Response from Dr. Remien

Yes, you most certainly do have a chance of love. However, you are facing a significant challenge. While you may find it very difficult to disclose your HIV status to this man, it is something you will have to do sooner or later. It sounds like this man is loving and kind and if he truly cares about you he will most likely learn to cope with the news no matter how it feels to him at the outset. Most people like yourself end up being quite surprised at how well others do accept the news. Of course I can offer you no such guarantee, but again, it is something you must face at some time. And "if" this man is someone who is unable to handle the news and flees the relationship - as devastating as you feel that may be, isn't it better to find that out now rather than much later?

I understand your concern for protecting yourself, your daughters and your new love. And even though there still exists negative attitudes towards people with HIV, in small towns as well as in big cities, you need to know and believe in your own heart and mind that you are equally as worthy a person as if you did not have HIV. And that you are deserving of being in a loving and committed relationship. The more you believe and feel this the greater the likelihood that people close to you will feel the same way.

Sharing this information is an act of intimacy and you are correct in wanting to maintain a certain amount of "control" over this information. Choose a quiet and intimate time when you can share this news, making sure there will be time to process it a bit. Let this man know that you want to share something very personal with him because indeed you love and trust him and want him to know. Help him understand that it is personal and you are sharing it with him "in confidence." Also be prepared for him to have whatever emotional reaction he may have. He also deserves a little space and freedom to have his reaction. He may need a little time to process the information. Recall how it was for you when you first found out. Loved ones typically go through similar emotions. Let him know that you want to keep the door open for both of you to be able to talk about this, as time goes on. If he is uninformed about HIV, the way it is transmitted, availability of treatments, etc. you may need to direct him to some of this information. Again, it may take time - don't try to rush it all.

Good luck with this - take care, and know that you are worthy and deserving of a loving and intimate relationship. There are many mixed status couples out there living happy and healthy lives.


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