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May 16, 2001

Mr. Shernoff, My partner was recently diagnosed positive, and I was diagnosed negative twice once with p 24 antigen, and once with Elisa. I have degrees in advanced psychology, however, I am not able to deal with his emotions. I understand he is taking the typical denial initially, but what is troubling me is that he is trying very hard to test my commitment. Basically he shows little emotion toward my feelings, and refuses to even address the topic. Also, there are definite suicidal tendencies present. I have no idea how to approach him, and at this point I am even feeling guilty about being negative. I understand it is not acceptable to feel this way but changing my feelings seems virtually impossible. I don't know how to approach the topic, what could stunt his actions, etc. I would greatly appreciate your opinion on the situation. Thank you

Response from Mr. Shernoff

You have a right as his partner to give him an ultimatum that clearly states that unless he is willing to talk with you about his diagnosis he is at risk of causing the relationship to end, since his shutting down is having a serious emotional impact on himself, upon you and upon the relationship. You can not say this unless you are serious. I urge you to do two things. First get into your own therapy or counseling as well as a support group for partners of people with HIV. You have to deal with your own feelings including your rage and hurt at being shut out during this difficult time, as well as your own guilty feelings. The second thing is to urge him to get into a support group and/or therapy as well as insist that the two of you begin to see a couples counselor who is skilled in working with male couples and with mixed HIV antibody status couples. This is not a time to tip toe around his distancing from you. You need to tell him that you love him and care about him very much and this is why you feel it is so urgent for the two of you to have a forum where each of you can begin to learn how to address the multiple complex and emotionally taxing issues that you must begin to deal with if you are going to come through this crisis as an intact couple. Best of luck negotiating this very difficult terrain. Michael Shernoff, MSW

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