Talk to each other
Good communication is the key to success in any relationship.
Talking to your partner is very important in addressing any stresses and issues that you may experience.
It’s important that you feel able to talk about how HIV is affecting you both, and the tensions or changes it causes to the relationship.
Obviously, this can only happen if your partner knows that you have HIV and the following section considers some of the issues that this may involve.
Forming a sexual relationship - When to tell
Deciding at what point to tell somebody that you are forming a sexual relationship with that you have HIV can be tricky. One approach is to tell any potential partners, whereas other people only raise the subject when it’s clear there’s a real prospect of a relationship developing. Both approaches have their pro’s and con’s.
Telling people immediately means that you’ve been upfront about having HIV from the beginning, and that may make things easier should a relationship form.
But on the other hand, the more people you tell, the greater the risk that you’ll have a bad reaction one day, and it will mean that more people know that you have HIV. The person you disclose to may tell other people. Whether you are comfortable with this will depend on how you feel about people knowing you have HIV.
Only telling someone that you have HIV once a relationship has started to form can also have advantages. You’ll have a good idea if the relationship has longer-term prospects. It’s also likely that you’ll have some insights into your partner’s character, meaning that you may be able to better judge how he or she may react.
However, it may be difficult to explain why you didn’t tell your partner earlier in the relationship, especially if you’ve taken any kind of sexual risk.
Diagnosed with HIV when already in a relationship
You’ll probably be worried that you may have passed on HIV to your partner.
If you have a monogamous relationship (which means that you and your partner had agreed to be faithful to each other, or ‘exclusive’) and were infected with HIV by sexual activity outside of the relationship, then an additional concern may be having to talk to your partner about this.
It can be a very difficult situation for both you and your partner to deal with and it is likely to raise a lot of strong emotions in both of you.
So it makes good sense to think about how and when you tell your partner and anticipate his or her best or worst reaction. Counsellors and health advisers at your HIV clinic will be able to talk this over with you.
It’s likely to take some time for you and your partner to work through the issues that arise from your HIV diagnosis.
Many people have found that their partner is very supportive, understanding and loving. But this isn’t always the case, and other reactions can include shock, anger, and blame. Some relationships are strong enough to survive this, but some others are not.
For some people, it is particularly difficult to tell their partner that they have HIV. You may rely on your partner for money or, if you live together, you may have concerns about your partner wanting you to leave your home, or you may be fearful of violence.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support with these issues. Your HIV clinic will be able to help, and there might also be a local HIV organisation who can offer you advice and help. If you’re not sure what is available in your area, you could contact the Terrence Higgins Trust helpline, THT Direct, on 0845 12 21 200 for information and support.
If you have children, you may be concerned about the possibility that they have HIV. Or you may be worried that your relationship with your children will be damaged. And you’ll face another set of decisions about what, when and how to tell them. A good source of support and information is Body and Soul, which specialises in providing services to families, teenagers and children affected by HIV.
Finally, difficult as it may be to tell your partner, there are often many reasons why this makes good sense. It’s also important to know that if you don’t tell your partner and have unprotected sex with him or her and they become infected with HIV, you could be prosecuted.
Moving forward together
Talk honestly to your partner about what your HIV means to both you and him or her.
This will help you acknowledge and work through the emotional and practical issues that it will inevitably involve for both of you.
It can be painful and there may be times when one or both of you will find your emotions difficult to deal with. But it’s likely to be worth it and will help you move forward together in a way that’s best for both of you.
Some of the issues you may want to discuss are:
- Your health. Everyone with HIV has concerns about their health from time to time. Your partner is likely to share these. You’ll be better able to support each other if you are aware of what the other is thinking and feeling.
- The balance of your relationship. If one partner in a relationship has an illness, this can mean that from time to time it doesn’t feel like a relationship between equals, but that each partner adopts a distinct role – for example patient and caregiver.
- Your security. Long-term illnesses doesn’t just have health implications, they can also affect day-to-day concerns such as employment, finances and housing. The impact of illness on these issues can change over time, and it makes good sense to talk to your partner about how you can both respond.
- Your futures. Discuss how HIV affects both of your hopes and priorities for the future.
- Your family. If you have children, you are both likely to be concerned about how HIV will affect your ability to care for them, or the implications of the possibility of your early death. If you are a woman with HIV and there is a chance that you were HIV-positive during any of your pregnancies or when breastfeeding, it’s important that your children are tested for HIV.
- Your needs. The presence of HIV in a relationship will mean that you both have practical and emotional needs. It’s important that you both recognise the needs of your partner and work out ways of supporting one another.
- Intimacy. Illness is often accompanied by fear, confusion, and role changes. These can have an impact on your expressions and feelings of intimacy towards one another.
- Sex. One way or another HIV will have an impact on your sex life together, and some of the issues involved are explored in more detail in the next section.
This is a lot to deal with, meaning that you’ll have to work through these issues together and communicate your thoughts and feelings to one another. You’ll inevitably both experience a whole range of emotions, and sharing these should help you come closer together and find the best way to move forward together.