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Relationship Declining Because I'm Positive
Jun 11, 1998

Mr.Shernoff,

I am asking you because I have noone in the area where I live to discuss this. I am currently with my lover going on 1 year and he is negative. I have been positive for about 6 years. I did not disclose my status to him when we first met feeling the right time never came up. I became ill and was hospitilized and he found out. We now have a stressed relationship as of late. He says he wants to stick by me whatever, but I carry alot of guilt. We argue and I find it's usually over stupid, petty things. What can I do to make both of our lives better? I am going to start therapy this month. Are there any other suggestions you can give me?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I am very concerned that you never told him about your HIV status until you became ill. That is unfortunately not a very good foundation to build trust on. He may now very well feel trapped and guilty about possibly not really wanting to stay with you, but does not feel that he can leave now though he says he wants to stay with you. No relationship can progress in healthy ways unless there is a foundation of honesty and trust to build upon. Your relationship was begun under false pretenses of his assuming that you were healthy. I can imagine that he is quite angry at you, but not comfortable sharing those feelings with you since you are ill. I am glad that you are beginning your own therapy, so you can examine how come you did not care enough about your new lover's feelings to trust him with this crucial information that he deserved to know from the early days of your dating. I would suggest that you also consider couples counseling so that there is a neutral place where a skilled third person can help both of you explore all of your feelings and reactions to the current situation.

Having a lover become seriously ill is a very stressful situation for any couple, even when the person's health status was known about from the get go. When one partner did not disclose that he or she has a serious and potential life threatening illness very early on so the well partner could decide if his feelings were strong enough to continue in the relationship, then the well partner is dealing with several potent dynamics. First is shock and possibly a sense of having been betrayed by not having been told this information so he could have prepared himself for this possibility. Next is concern for the well being of his beloved and fear that he may lose his lover. For the ill person he is wrestling with feelings about fear of being well enough taken care and being dependent upon his lover.

I have no other specific suggestions other than the two of you continue to talk honestly with each other. I do think you need to elicit from him how he feels about your never having told him that you were positive before now. You need to be prepared to listen to what ever his answer will be. Good luck as this is going to continue to be a difficult time for awhile.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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