"Serodiscordant couples raise the thorniest set of issues, because they must face major concerns about both transmission and care-giving."
What Is a Serodiscordant Relationship?
A serodiscordant couple is made up of one person who is HIV negative and one who is HIV positive.
The term serodiscordant originates from the word "seroconversion", which is the medical term for becoming HIV positive, and the word "discordant", which means "at odds".
Some people don't like the term serodiscordant and may use other terms to describe their relationship. Some of these terms are:
The challenges that you may experience while in a serodiscordant relationship may not have much to do with how you or your partner got infected with HIV. The challenges are based on the fact that HIV is present in your relationship.
"Accept the reality that your serostatus is 'opposite' and talk about what a positive and negative identity mean to you. Neither experience is more legitimate. Both deserve respect."
Things You or Your Partner May Be Worried About ...
Communication Is the Key ...
Relationships of any kind need good communication strategies in order to stay healthy.
All couples face conflict and compromise -- issues about sex, household chores, financial matters, and family dynamics are common. Because of HIV, serodiscordant couples face added fears and anxieties. For example, worries about transmitting the infection to the HIV-negative partner can lead to sexual problems and emotional withdrawal. And body changes like lipodystrophy (fat redistribution, which is a side effect of medication) can result in depression and cause the HIV-positive partner to feel less attractive.
Communication is the key to resolving conflict, reducing stress and keeping your relationship strong.
Try to be open about your feelings with your partner. Talk about:
Ask questions about anything you don't understand.
Just like other couples, those who are dealing with HIV need to respect each other's decisions, and validate each other's feelings.
You may find it helpful to seek professional support for the issues that you and your partner have the most difficulty working out.
"Many members of mixed-status couples avoid discussing their mutual HIV-related concerns in order to 'protect' their partner from these potentially troubling thoughts and feelings."
Points of Discussion for Serodiscordant Couples ...
Silence and secrecy in any relationship can be disastrous. In serodiscordant relationships, not discussing things can lead to risky behaviours and greater anxiety. As difficult as it may be, it is important to discuss very personal issues. By exploring difficult and painful topics, you take away their power to interfere in your relationship.
Emotional health. Talk about your fears of illness and loss. Discuss the feelings you have about grief and death, and explore your ideas about "survivor guilt" (the guilt one may feel about being the HIV-negative partner). Identify areas where you feel the need for more support or information.
"If either person does not want to engage in an activity, that person has the final say."
Negotiating Safer Sex in Serodiscordant Relationships ...
Together, you can work out strategies by staying away from blame, shame, anger, and guilt.
Try these strategies for negotiating safer sex:
Getting on With Living ...
Serodiscordant couples, like all couples with special challenges, need to look for ways to live as normal a life as possible. Of course, what is "normal" for one couple might not feel right for another. Remember that you are a unique couple, and that you love each other. Together, you can use your love and attraction to your advantage and enjoy a healthy relationship.
Some community health or AIDS service organizations provide services for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and may offer support for serodiscordant couples.
This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.