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Coming apart....
Feb 9, 2000

Hi Dr. Shernoff, I wrote last may asking for perspective on my partner with HIV dementia. At that time, we were having a great deal of difficulty in terms of his expectations for a "normal" relationship with me in spite of all my misgivings and horrible feelings about the situation and our recent history.

Finally, after much searching and counseling, it is coming apart. It's tough for me to see our 17-year relationship dissolve, but we're seeing a counselor who is telling us that we are being destructive to one another and who is telling me that my partner likely needs to move somewhere where others can care for him as it is overwhelming for me at this time (after 3 years of hell).

It's very difficult for both of us (as you can imagine), but we both have hopes for the future. He hopes for another lover who will meet his needs better than I; I hope for some peace & quiet with space to figure out what to do with my life now without having to worry about taking care of someone who is declining.

Breaks my heart to stay and also to go. If I stay, I lose him piece by piece and we fight; if I go, I feel guilty a bit for walking away.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Your feelings are completely understandable. Are you getting therapy to support you during this very difficult period of transition? If not, I urge you to find a good professional to work with at least for the short term.

It sounds like for your own well being and for him to get the best quality care a life shared a full time partners is no longer tenable. But with this reality in mind, and with the history that that the two of you shared, there is not any reason why you can not still call and visit him and remain a friend who can be supportive without assuming all the responsibilities of being his spouse. Your guilt is at least partly due to the fact that you are a caring and feeling person and none of us can just turn off the intense feelings we have for someone we have loved profoundly once it is clear that the relationship is no longer meeting our or our partner's needs.

Best of luck during this terribly difficult period. I feel for you.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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