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A "Negative" Outlook: Dr. Steve Natterstad Shares Secrets to a Successful Magnetic Relationship

August 10, 2010

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Regarding imagining a more "carefree" future as far as safer sex and HIV risk: After many, many years of having to think about being safe, have you ever experienced any kind of "safer-sex fatigue"? Do you ever sort of get tired of having to be concerned about safer sex?

I definitely have to admit that there has been some fatigue. I wouldn't say it's been overly taxing on the relationship. It really does take the form of dreaming or fantasizing -- as I think a lot of folks do about having to worry about safe sex in general.

"You could look at a relationship like Bob's and mine and think, 'You guys are going to be together until the very end. Maybe there is a place to throw caution to the wind.' It's a little different than being careless on a one-night stand, you might say."

There just seems to be something not right about having to be so prepared for sex. It seems like it should be something where you just throw caution to the wind -- this wild manifestation of who we are as human beings. It seems a little odd we have to be so careful. Still, having been in a relationship for so many years, and having our sexual relationship defined as it is, it would be odd, in some ways, to have it change so dramatically.

I certainly see it in my patient population, this fatigue. I think that can be borne out in some careless behavior, especially in the younger age group that perhaps hasn't seen the devastation of HIV/AIDS over several decades.

Interestingly, you could look at a relationship like Bob's and mine and think, "You guys are going to be together until the very end. Maybe there is a place to throw caution to the wind." It's a little different than being careless on a one-night stand, you might say. But I guess it just comes back to that negotiated risk, and what each of us is comfortable with.

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We've basically decided between ourselves that we're going to continue to be safe until we have more data. Now that's two doctors speaking, isn't it? Always waiting for data. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] It does make perfect sense considering you're both doctors, and that's how you came to be together, so it's a good way to close on that point.

In the earlier days of your relationship, when Bob may have been dealing with side effects or even illness: In being a supportive partner to Bob, how did you find support for yourself? Did you feel that your relationship was consumed more with caring for your partner as opposed to there being more of a balance?

I have to say that I've never been a support-group type of a person. I don't think there are as many opportunities as there should be for HIV-negative folks in terms of support groups, but that being said, it's never been something I felt that I needed. To be honest, I would say I got most of my support from Bob, and he probably would say the same thing in reverse. He's also not the kind that has belonged to support groups over the years.

"I don't think there are as many opportunities as there should be for HIV-negative folks [in magnetic relationships] in terms of support groups."

I've certainly gotten support through other friendships that I have. But to honest, most of those friends don't have as much knowledge about HIV disease as I do. I guess the short answer would be that outside support hasn't been something that I've felt a strong need for in our particular situation.

I hate to keep harking back to how wonderful and perfect our relationship is, but perhaps it is because of the healthiness of our relationship that I haven't felt the need for it. And if there have been issues, I have felt comfortable dealing with those with Bob.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your relationship that might have made any aspect of it proceed more smoothly, or just differently, than it has?

Taking our relationship as a whole, although I just said it was wonderful and fabulous, which it is, no relationship is perfect. We have certainly had our bumps along the way, although I would characterize them as minor. They really have dealt more with traditional issues of relationships than with HIV-related issues.

For instance, I was younger, not only chronologically but also in terms of life experiences, when Bob and I got together. I'm almost nine years younger than Bob, and as I mentioned earlier, I was in my early 30s when I came out of the closet. I was a "late bloomer" to some -- although certainly there are those who are later to the game than I have been.

I probably don't need to go into too much more detail about those bumps because they weren't HIV-related. As far as knowing something that would have helped make any of that smoother, I can't think of anything --maybe because it was fairly smooth.

As you've probably noticed, the kind of happy, fulfilling, wonderful long-term partnership that you and Bob have is rare in any community. Would you share some things you think have contributed to keeping your relationship strong over the years?

This is cliché, but I think what I've seen in our relationship, and what I've seen in other successful relationships, is that it all boils down to honesty and respect. I think if you can keep those two components in your relationship, the relationship is pretty much guaranteed to go far.

We've always been incredibly honest with each other, from the early disclosure throughout the nearly 17 years that we've been together. I notice in my medical practice that, when I see relationships falling apart, frequently there are honesty issues. Also, I think you have to respect each other to keep the relationship healthy. Once you've lost that, then it's hard for the relationship to survive.

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