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HIV positive, gay, and feeling trapped in a marriage
Oct 17, 2012

Dr. Fawcett,

I have read many of your posts and answers to questions concerning mental health and other issues. I hope you can help me. I am 53 years old. In 2003, I came out to my wife and two daughters. In 2010, I was diagnosed HIV+. After I came out I remained in the marriage for probably all the wrong reasons. Ten years after coming out I am still married and very unhappy. I am depressed all the time, watching my life pass me by. I am lonely and see no hope of getting out of the marriage and being happy. I have been told countless times that my desire to live as a gay man is selfish since it will affect my wife and three children. My daughters know I am gay and poz but my son doesn't know yet (at least I don't think he knows but we've never openly told him). I feel trapped.

My wife was diagnosed with kidney cancer last year and while she is doing very well physically, she is still in that "I have cancer" mindset and often gets scared about it. She refuses to join a support group. I forced her to participate in a recent Relay for Life event held in our town. She was a little better after that but still won't reach out to other cancer survivors for support. I, on the other hand, really need support for my situation but every time I mention going to a group she gets angry about it. I just don't know what to do anymore. Should I walk out and live my life authentically? Should I stay in this marriage and just try to get by? I have no real friends. I am a classically trained pianist and find I have no interest in playing the piano any more. I am living my life in a fog, throwing myself into work and doing things for everyone else just to keep my mind off how unhappy I am.

Could you give me some insight here? I'd really appreciate it.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. I am sorry about the emotional pain you are experiencing in your current situation. It is true that coming out does impact those around us and this is especially painful when, as in the case of your wife, they are having their own serious health concerns. Many LGBT men and women conclude that, although making a change will hurt their loved ones, separating is ultimately better than living in an unhappy situation that can adversely affect the emotional and physical health of everyone involved.

You have many factors that make your particular situation complex. I highly recommend seeing a couples counselor to help you come to the best possible decision. It sounds as if everyone feels trapped and stuck and this can further result in depression. Every member of a family can play roles (such as victim, rescuer, etc). that perpetuates a system that resists change. Counseling can help you overcome these patterns. I suspect it will be up to you to break this deadlock by at least consulting with a counselor. If your wife doesn't want to go with you, go by yourself. I would also suggest that you attend a support group even if it upsets your wife. Suggest to her that counseling would help her with her angry feelings. By getting the support you need, you can break the isolation and connect with others who share your story and who can offer you support.

Wishing the best for you and your family,

-David



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