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Partner and non-disclosure
Jul 16, 2002

Hi,

I have been with my partner for over 4 years. I just found out he has been positive the whole time and never disclosed it to me. The reason I found out was that I was cleaning the upstairs and found HIV medicine bottles dated May 1997 that were under his name. I care for this person a lot and feel bad that he is so afraid that he could not even tell me. Should I confront him or just let it go. We have always practiced safe sex so exposure is not an issue. Right now I feel that this( HIV ) is such an insignificant part of who he is as a person that it is a moot and irrelevant issue. Am I wrong to feel this way? There are things in my life I have not told my partner so why should he be held to a different standard? Is it abnormal for me to think this way?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

The issue here is trust. I believe that it is important that you tell your partner about your discovery and that it does not make a difference to you in terms of staying with him. I really do not understand how someone who is in a committed relationship could not have told his partner about something as important as this. You say that there are things that you have not told him, so why shold there be a double standard? First of all there are big differences between secrecy and privacy. Each person who is in a relationship has things that are private that they may or may not share with a partner. But if one person is living with a life threatening illness, this is a crucial bit of information that shapes how he is living his everyday life. There is an old saying that "we are only as sick as our secrets." Maintaining a secret reenforces shame aobut whatever is being kept secret. This is terribly destructive for a person's self esteem and for the relationship.

So in a very loving and nonjudgemental way, share with him that you know this information and still love him very much and want to talk about how the two of you move on in your relationship as a couple now that this information has come out. If he left the bottles in a place where you could find them, then unconsciously he must have wanted you to discover this. I suppose that with your being so accepting and loving it will be an enormous relief for him to not have to hide this information any longer.

Now the big question is how does he handle your disclosure of his secret? If he gets defensive or even denies that he is positive then the relationship may be in big trouble. Hopefully this will just bring the two of you closer together.

Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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