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Husband HIV+ - battling morality
May 27, 1999

Hello, Michael. What a relief to read about the gentlemen who was battling the inner struggle with his partner who he described as "self absorbed" or something of the like.

I apologize in advance if this is to sound a bit like a sounding board, but I do have a question which I think you will discover at the end.

My husband & I met 2 years ago. Recently discovered HIV+, he was brutally honest in revealing his status with me before we became involved. Unfortunately, he was not diagnosed until probably over 10 years after being infected hence he was in pretty pitiful shape. I don't know what came over than me other than love, but I felt it didn't matter because he seemed a pretty incredible person & my heart was moved beyond words.

In a nutshell, we married a year ago despite an obvious lack of physical intimacy spured by his lack of wherewithal and, quite honestly, my lack of interest. A year into our marriage, I found myself frustrated not only sexually but also emotionally. While I love my husband, I am seeing his true pessimistic and rather racist side which I guess I overlooked for so long due to the immediacy of his problems.

In the last 4 months, I have developed a relationship originally intended by me as a sexual release yet I believe I have fallen in love. I will never leave my husband and my "boyfriend/lover" is well aware of the situation.

My question is (finally!), do I tell my husband & be totally honest or continue on? I feel in a quandry. My husband loves me so much yet admittedly my love for him is probably more brotherly.

I know I sound like a dingbat, but believe it or not, I am a rather intelligent and successful business woman.

Thanks for your time. My heart aches for all those who suffer. I wish I didn't feel so guilty so that I could be a better person to those who hurt.

Thank you,

Struggling in the Virgin Islands

Response from Mr. Shernoff

My heart goes out to you since you are such a caring and open person, and are in the midst of such a profound conflict. You raise such an interesting and good point, that many couples, both heterosexual as well as gay, need to address at some point in their relationship whether they are living with HIV or not. Before you decide whether or not to disclose your affair to your husband I would suggest that you spend alot of time considering the following:

Try to differentiate between your obvious conflict between a desire to be honest with your husband, and your own understandable and appropriate need for some privacy in your life. There is a great difference between secrecy and privacy that many people have trouble distinguishing between.

What do you think the impact will be on your husband, on your marriage and on you of disclosing to him that you are having an intimate and sexual relationship with another man? I obviously do not know your husband, but I have some concerns. All too often we hear of stories where a woman is beaten, seriously hurt or even killed because a jealous husband learns of her involvement with another man. This is such an emotionally charged area that directly affects a man's ego that I would caution you to consider all the negative possibilities of disclosing before you do something because you are feeling guilty or conflicted. Additionally, you live in the Virgin Islands, which is a very small community. What would the impact be on your standing and reputation in your community if it became public knowledge that you were being "unfaithful " to your ill husband? You need to remain cautious in terms of being self-protective.

If you and your husband have actually discussed the idea of NOT having a sexually exclusive relationship, and this is something that he has told you very explicitly that he does not have strong feelings about, or that he would understand if you felt a need to have your needs for sexual intimacy met by another man since he is unable to be sexual with you, then it might, and I repeat, JUST MIGHT be fine to honestly discuss this with him. But then again, it might not be a good idea to tell him.

I think that your conflict is that your relationship with the man who is not your husband has grown beyond just being sexual. Since you are in love with your boyfriend, there is an understandable desire to be able to proclaim your love and celebrate your relationship publicly. At the same time you are clear that you feel a strong pull not to hurt your husband, not to leave him and remain committed to taking care of him.

I have worked with several long term couples where one or the other has realized that as the health of the person living with AIDS improved as a result of taking the new combination therapies, that one or the other could not remain in a relationship that was going to be long term. I have heard the noninfected partner say that when his partner was sick and he thought that he would not be alive for long that he never thought that he would leave him. But once it became clear that the relationship was not going to be ended soon by the death of the PWA, that the well partner could not live out his life in a relationship that was not satisfying for him.

I have also worked with couples where the PWA stayed in the relationship when he was acutely ill out of a desire to insure that he was taken care of. But once his health improved he realized that he did not want to stay with this person since he did not feel strongly enough or that he wanted more from a relationship than he was currently getting.

Thank you so much for writing and sharing your situation with me and with the people who visit this forum. I hope that the issues I have raised in response to your question will be helpful to you in deciding what will be the prudent and correct thing for you to do.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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