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RE HIV negative woman with positive man - how do I cope?

May 26, 1998

Dear Dr. Shernoff:

I am the person who wrote that memo last week. Thank you for your kind reply - it really meant a lot to me. I have spoken to my partner about my feelings and, although I had spoken to him about this before, your words gave me the necessary conviction to not feel guilty about it this time. My partner has encouraged me to bring up the issue as often as I like, even if he doesn't bring it up himself. I do have a therapist as well as a group, but not a group for partners and caretakers of people with HIV/AIDS. In my community, there are several groups for couples as well as partners, but they are mainly directed towards gay men. My partner's counsellor does know of a mixed-status group directed towards straight couples, but it may take some time before there is space available. I also have very close, supportive relationships with my friends, but I have found that HIV/AIDS is a very difficult thing to talk about in detail. All of my friends have suffered through painful relationships, death in the family, illness, job stress, and other "common" circumstances where friends usually offer emotional support for each other. However, none of them have experienced HIV/AIDS firsthand. They are sympathetic and try to understand but I feel as if I am speaking in another language. They are there for me 100% and want to listen, but I am the one who seems to have a problem with it. I think it's just a matter of time before I feel more open about this situation. In any case, I will encourage my partner to make some appointments with the couples counsellor at our local AIDS organization. We saw her a few times several months ago, but my partner was not ready to talk at that time. I think her services will be more useful now. Again, thank you for your time and your warmth. I am so sorry you lost your partner in this way and I am grateful that you are helping others by sharing your wisdom and experience. Perhaps, in this way, you keep his love alive in your heart.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I am very glad to hear that your partner was open to talking with you about this very important issue. I would urge you to talk to the leaders of the couples group in your city. Even though they are currently composed of just gay men there is no reason they can not be expanded to include you and your partner. I was in a couples group at GMHC with my partner that was originally just gay men. Eventually it included a lesbian couple were one woman had AIDS and one heterosexual couple where the woman had AIDS. We all learned a great deal about the dynamics of living in a loving relationship where one partner had AIDS. The gender and sexual orientation issues really became unimportant. It does require a skilled group leader, but if your partner and you are interested in such a group, it will be well worth your time and energy to discuss this with the leaders. Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff

You are wonderful
Being a Good Facilitator/Running a Support Group

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