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Can I accept a lack of communication?
Dec 21, 1998

Dear Michael: Thank you for all your help in the past. My HIV+ partner and myself are doing fairly well and have grown accustomed to most of the aspects of living with HIV over the past year or so. However, sometimes I find myself feeling very nervous: I feel "stifled", as if I am not allowed to say how I really feel, or I'm not allowed to bring up the things that need discussing in our relationship (usually "regular" relationship issues regarding communication,etc.). This all arises out of sympathy for my partner - I always feel as if I have to cut him a lot of slack for what he's going through. Furthermore, he tends to be defensive and challenging at times. He does not volunteer information about himself or his moods, and he gets angry if I ask him for the information, no matter how politely I ask. In spite of trying to be loving and supportive, I think I lose my patience because I went through a major depression a few years ago and I'm finding it hard to accept my partner's silences and moodiness at this point in my life. I worked really hard to get my life together and I've achieved many things since, so I guess I just find it really difficult to be faced with someone else's depression, especially someone who is so close to me and who doesn't even want to "share" it with me. His moods and lack of communication bring me down at a time when I am feeling alive and energetic and productive. So, I become resentful, then impatient. I'm not sure what to do or how to approach this issue in a way that will be heard and/or accepted. It's very difficult to discuss such things with someone who won't even admit that he is being silent, closed, or moody, and who leaves me with the impression of "It's YOUR problem. YOU deal with it." I wish he would look deeper and perhaps see whether or not his attitude has to do with HIV. I wish he would see how much of a burden this lack of communication is for me. All of this makes me think that he is being selfish - I mean, I wish he would at least look beyond himself and remember that there is another partner in this relationship wondering whether or not she is 1) needed or 2) not needed at particular times. I have no problem accepting his moods and desire for time by himself to work them out, but it would be much better for me if he would let me know when this happens. Is there anything more I can do? At the moment, couples' counselling is not an option. Sincerely, S.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I am willing to venture that your partner's lack of communication and self involvement began long before his becoming HIV positive. It really sounds like you are being bullied by him into accepting the emotional terms he sets out, rather than a true dynamic partnership where there are mutually agreed upon ways of handling differences and conflicts.

I would urge you to be honest with him and if he is unable to hear you, then tell him that you want the two of you to see a couples counselor. There is no reason to allow the fact that he has HIV or AIDS to hold you hostage about not communicating and telling him how his lack of discussing important things makes you feel. He is shut down and that cna only make you feel lonely, resentful and unhappy as you become increasingly disconnected from him.

I hear how much pain you are in and this also needs to be communicated clearly to him.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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