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Being HIV+ with an HIV- Partner Comes With Some Challenges

January 10, 2013

This article was cross-posted from

Jeannie Wraight

Jeannie Wraight

When it comes to relationships, some HIV positive people have a clear cut policy on the serostatus of potential partners. Some will only be with another HIV positive person, some will only be with an HIV negative partner and for some it's not even a part of the 'should I get involved with this person' decision. Of the four relationships I've had since the person I became positive from, only one was HIV positive. I'm one of the 'it has no bearing on my decision' people.

Nonetheless, being HIV positive with an HIV negative partner does come with some challenges. But what relationship doesn't? For me, the positive partner, it's rare that my HIV status is an issue in our life together, though there have been a few times. For my husband, he's been amazing and has had few concerns with me being positive right from the beginning.

In fact, his reaction to me telling him I had HIV made me fall in love with him immediately. (This is my favorite part of the 'how we met' story). The first night we met, after it became obvious that something was on my mind and several inquiries on his behalf as to what was wrong, I told him that there was something that I had to tell him. He said 'okay' as I saw him almost physically brace himself for what I was about to say. I blurted out 'I'm HIV positive'. He let out a big sigh as if he was holding his breath and with a look of relief said 'Is that it? I thought you were going to tell me that you didn't like me and you're leaving.' I mean really, how could I not love this man?

Over the course of our almost 3 year relationship and year and a half marriage, I can think of only two issues that have evolved from our HIV sero-discordant relationship.

In the beginning I was concerned how his family would react to me being positive. We discussed it and decided, mostly on my urging, to wait awhile to tell them. Being British and with England having such a low rate of HIV, I figured they probably didn't know much about HIV. It was likely, with only 120,000 cases in the UK, that they had never known anyone that was HIV positive, at least not to their knowledge. I wanted my future mother and father in law to get to know me first before we told them. I thought if they knew my status first that HIV would be all they saw when they looked at me. I'd be their son's fiancé with HIV, not their son's fiancé Jeannie, an American writer who loves animals, has a good sense of humor and is crazy about their son.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Someone told them before I could get to know them very well. They weren't upset that I was HIV positive but they were upset that we didn't tell them. Although it probably marred our relationship early on, I still feel it was the right decision.

It took me several months to get past the anger I felt towards the person who we believed told them. The last year Martyn was in England, waiting for his U.S. Visa to be issued, we'd stay at his parents' house when I'd come to visit. This was the justification given for this person needing to tell his parents I had HIV. As if they were in some kind of danger from being around me and needed to be protected by having the knowledge that I was HIV positive. It's one of the few times that I ever really felt stigmatized. I felt as if I were being looked at as a lesser woman, diseased, judged and as if I was trying to hide my status because I was ashamed of it. I've never been ashamed that I was HIV positive. If I don't disclose to someone it's either because I have a reason not to or it's just none of their business.

The only other issue I have with him being negative is the fear that I might transmit HIV to him. This comes up mainly when he gets tested. I know the likelihood is extremely small due to my very low viral load. I try to keep it in perspective but when he gets tested for HIV it's hard not to think about it and the possibility scares the hell out of me.

What if? What if he tests HIV positive? Of course my first concern is for him, his health and helping him deal with it but after that, even if he's okay with it, how would I live with it? My rational mind tells me the same things he tells me. It is both of our decisions. He wants to be with me and with that comes some level of risk. He agreed to and accepts that risk and so do I. My head knows these things but my heart wonders if I could forgive myself.

As I'm sure it is for many poz halves of a poz/negative couple, there's always that fear in the back of my mind. That guilt that it's never 100% safe. However, I plan to spend the rest of my life with this person. We'll deal with anything and everything that comes up throughout the course of our life together. If a little bit of stigma and fear is what we have to face to be together, then so be it.

Every HIV positive and HIV negative person has to decide if even the most minute risk of transmission is worth it for them. We made our decision and live with it. Sure there are the now-and-then worries I spoke of. But in the end, the worry is a small price to pay for having such a wonderful person in my life. And for him, I guess being with me outweighs the risk of HIV infection. For us, if me being HIV positive is the worst thing that we have to deal with in our marriage, then we know we're in for a very happy and fulfilling life together.

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Reader Comments:

Comment by: M (Atlanta) Tue., Feb. 26, 2013 at 8:45 am UTC
Well I guess I am lucky as I have found a wonderful man who loves me very much. I have been HIV+ since 2006 and never thought I would find anyone. I count my blessing every day for this special person.
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Comment by: martin (mombasa) Sat., Jan. 26, 2013 at 3:28 am UTC
very educative, I have this lady who was confirmed positive six months ago, have been on rv's todate. I love her so much, but she is relactant to have our relationship continue, fearing she may transmit the virus to me. I wonder how soon it can be safe for us to take our relationship to another level?
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Comment by: S (Florida) Wed., Jan. 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm UTC
Thank you for sharing. I am also the + partner in a serodiscordant relationship with a man from the UK.

My story differs from yours in two respects... first, I was already dating my current partner when I learned my status, and second, most of his family members were not at all understanding when they learned of my status. The timing of my diagnosis and HIS reaction to his family's responses have added a new dimension of worry to those you've listed above.

I constantly second guess whether he has stayed out of a feeling of responsibility for me (he's one of those type of guys and has all but admitted that he felt guilty about being scared at first) and I constantly second guess whether I love him so much because he didn't bail when I told him... in other words, would we still be together if it WEREN'T for this damnable disease, or would the relationship that started out as a simple fling have run its natural course by now?

When added to the pangs of terror I go through every three months when he gets tested, my guilt about what happens in the future if he does have to take care of me if/when I do get sick, and my feelings of responsibility about him having to make lifestyle changes based on my disease (we can't move out of country to his original planned destination because I am barred from relocating there,) the additional pressures create a very stressful undercurrent which I'm not sure I'll ever be able to sort through.

I love my - boyfriend very, very much... but there are definitely days that I think it would be easier to only date + people.
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 5:09 am UTC
I can relate from a past relationship to your wondering if part of the reason you're still together is because of HIV. He sounds like a really sweet guy who really cares about you and wouldn't want to hurt you for the world. It also can be hard to distinguish your feelings like you said, when someone stands by you. But as time goes by other issues, feelings and factors of a relationship help answer the 'should we be together' question. It sounds like it's putting a lot of stress on you. It was hard to read your words as I could FEEL your distress with this situation.

I doubt the worry of them testing positive will ever go away. Hopefully it will start getting just a little easier each time (hopefully).

I hope you find the answers your looking for quickly. Good luck to you.

Comment by: Erin Gingrich (Phoenix, AZ) Tue., Jan. 22, 2013 at 11:59 am UTC
Thank you for sharing your story!! I can definitely relate. I have only dated negative status people since I was diagnosed 3 years ago. I too am in a sero-discordant relationship, and since I am very out about my status already, he already knew, but after we discussed the risks and I answered any questions he had, he told me that it made him love me even more and he would have it no other way. It always makes my heart smile when I hear other stories like this, so thank you again for sharing!!!!!
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight. (Bronx) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 3:52 am UTC
Aw, he sounds like such a great guy. Best of everything to you both Erin.

Comment by: Marlis Wallace (anchorage,ak) Mon., Jan. 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm UTC
I just found out last Thursday im HIV poz, having just moved here this past august, and meeting a wonderful guy ( im gay) he says nothing wil change between us, hes helped so much, im so blessed to have met him
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 3:51 am UTC
I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis but am so glad you have such a supportive partner. If you have questions about HIV there's so much great information on this site and always please feel free to reach out to me as well. Good luck to you Marlis.

Comment by: Lee (Uk) Mon., Jan. 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm UTC
It's easy when you are told and get to make the decision whether or not you want to be involved but my is the sad one got in way too deep before I got to know and he never admitted to having it even though his wife's death certificate stated she died from it
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 4:36 am UTC
I'm sorry you've had to go through that. I understand the reasons some people don't disclose but I wish every person would overcome their fears as it's just so wrong not to tell someone.

Comment by: Julia (Canada) Sun., Jan. 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm UTC
That is a very inspirational story! Its great that you guys can work out something like that! I wish you both the best of luck in your future together :)
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 3:57 am UTC
Thanks so much and thanks for reading!

Comment by: Rebecca (South africa) Sun., Jan. 20, 2013 at 2:48 pm UTC
I sleep with someone who has hiv positive nd i sleep with him five time so im hiv positive did i get infection
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Tue., Jan. 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm UTC
The only way to know, Rebecca, is if you get tested. If it's been 3 months since the last time you slept with him go get tested now. If not, AS SOON AS it's been 3 months get tested.

Having sex with someone who is HIV positive doesn't always mean that you are positive too. It depends on a lot of things. If you used a condom every time, it is very, very, very doubtful you got infected. If his viral load is low (if he doesn't have a lot of HIV in his blood) because he is on HIV medication, it is also unlikely but a small possibility of you getting infected. Either way you need to go get tested. I know it's scary but this is something that you have to do for you, your future and the people who care about you. They need you around.

Scientists know now that for some people, if you start HIV medicine within 4 months of getting HIV, that their immune system remains very strong. This is why it is so important for you to go right away and if you do test positive to go see a doctor right away and start HIV medication.

If you do become HIV positive just remember - IT IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. So many HIV positive people lead happy, healthy lives and so will you!

My email is up above under my blog. If you have questions or want to talk, email me any time. Good luck!

Comment by: Lisbeth (New Orleans, LA) Sat., Jan. 19, 2013 at 10:31 pm UTC
Thank you for this! It is so rare to read my story!

Have experienced everything you discuss, including the horror of having someone else decide to break the news, and the awful feelings that engenders. I've been with more than two men who decided the time to tell friends and family was after we broke up! (The mark of a true cad, I believe.)

I'm now in my second marriage, this time to a genuinely caring man who is unafraid of emotional intimacy. As with all others, I told him before our first kiss. Not easy, but it never is, so I've treated others as I would wish to be treated.

This year, at my urging, we told both of his grown children and their spouses. It was scary for me, for the usual reasons. All responded with love and grace.

Such responses from loved ones far outweigh the pain felt at the hands of boors. My best to you. I treasure kinship.
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 4:49 am UTC
I love to hear stories like mine as well! That must have been scary telling his kids but I'm sure a huge relief that they had no issues with it. Thank-you for sharing your story with me!

Comment by: Alfredo (New York, NY) Sat., Jan. 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm UTC
Dear, Mrs. Wraight, i'm in a dating situation where i'm mortified about my next course of action. I am positive, and I am one of those positive people who have a clear cut policy: my partner must be HIV positive too. Ever since finding out about my status i've had sexual interactions and relationships with positive men only, but in the past months I've met someone who is negative, and i am falling in love with him.

He is the one i wanna be with, and though i've made it clear i only want to be his friend so he can be in my life for the long run, and he understands it, it's clear that there are feelings too strong to ignore. One of the reasons Why I admire and respect him is because he doesnt think like the others, but just because that is the case it doesnt necessarily mean it applies to all the subjects. I've been contemplating telling him about my status, but If i do I fear I will have to cut him off from my life because i've never told anyone who was not in the same position that i am.

I cherish privacy a lot and i'm not ready to let my immediate family and close friends know about my status, yet. I dont think that telling him would would cause a breach of information, but i'm pretty sure it will change the way he sees me, and if that happens i'm gonna be severely injured, emotionally speaking. And if he accepts my condition I will always have the fear of infecting him at the end of the day. We have a beautiful romantic relationship, but i dont wanna add sex to it for my fears previously stated.

He's the best thing, romantically speaking, that has happen to me in a long time. Everything with him was is so organic, starting with how we met (I usually meet guys online), and it's flowing so beautifully. I need another perspective, and after reading your story, i think yours is the one I need to hear.

I'm not asking for an advice, but a logical/rational point of view. How do you see the situation through your eyes? (feelings are clouding my judgement)
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 4:29 am UTC
It can be really difficult telling someone you have HIV, especially if you're used to being with people who are positive. Has the issue of HIV ever come up in any other way like in general (not pertaining to you)? Hearing his feelings about HIV or people with HIV might make your decision much easier. Maybe find a way to start a conversation about it without revealing your status if you're not ready to do so. That way you can gauge how he feels and if you'd be setting yourself up to be hurt by telling him with the hopes of moving forward in your relationship.

You seem to care for him a great deal. But as you're more comfortable being with a positive person, would he be the right one for you? Would you be worried all the time about transmitting the virus if the relationship takes it's natural course which you say you don't want. But being sexually intimate is for most people an important part of a partnership. On the one hand it sounds like you have some very deep, passionate feelings for him but at the same time you're denying yourself, right of the bat, the prospect of intimacy. I just don't know how realistic that is if you have these feelings. Would either of you be satisfied with not having that intimacy? Would you be too worried to enjoy your time and relationship with him if it did progress to that?

Give yourself the time to think it through. Good luck with whichever decision you make.

Comment by: Deb (Edmonton, Ab) Thu., Jan. 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm UTC
Thank you for sharing this. I have a very similar story. My boyfriend's reaction when I told him, also on our first date "I don't feel any different about you now than I did before." And then he kissed me...4 years later, I still tear up when I think about it. If anyone thinks they will never find love as a PHA, think again. There are a lot of good people out there!
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Comment by: Jeannie Wraight (Bronx, New York) Mon., Jan. 28, 2013 at 4:33 am UTC
That's so sweet! We both found great guys. I think a lot of people, especially when they first test positive, think no one will ever want to be with them because they have HIV. We know that's so not true. I hope hearing stories like yours and mine helps them to see that's not the case.

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