[Two Pronged] My partner is HIV+
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Good day. I'm writing you this to ask for help or advice regarding my present relationship.
My name is Art, 47, based in the US, and I'm a member of the third sex. I've been in a long distance relationship for more than 3 years now. I met Dean on a gay dating site. He's a nice, good looking, hard working guy. We are both nurses.
Before our first year together, he got sick and was admitted to the hospital in Manila where he was working. Unfortunately and sadly, he was diagnosed with HIV. I was devastated when I heard the news from him. When he told me, a lot of things came into my mind. I still accepted him and we continued the relationship until today.
But things are bothering me. He wants to come to the US, but how can he work as a nurse if he's HIV+? I went on vacation in October 2016 and we saw each other but we never had sex, only kissed. I was thinking, and it bothered me a lot that when we live together, we only kiss – how can I be happy if every time we kiss I think about his sickness and that I might get sick? How can I enjoy love-making with him? Lately, we're always having arguments. And my love for him is less than before.
Please help me. Should I continue this relationship? I'm so confused. I want to be happy living together with someone. I'm afraid if I leave him, he might hurt himself, because he is not getting any support from his family.
Thanks a lot,
Thank you for your message.
You raise a number of wide-ranging issues, some of which – those dealing with US immigration and labor laws as well as the medical details surrounding HIV, for example – fall outside the ambit of this column. However, what is striking is that your concerns regarding your relationship are not limited to Dean's illness but also touch on a cooling off of your love for him, your desire to live together with someone, and the guilt that often infuses a relationship with a partner who is ill.
Let's deal first with the matter of a person living with HIV (PLHIV). Briefly, a PLHIV can often lead a full and satisfying life if they manage their illness correctly and a person living with a PLHIV can establish a fulfilling relationship with the right medication and appropriate precautions. Dr Holmes may address this further.
It is possible that this good news will be sufficient to allay your fears and restore your relationship with Dean to its earlier intensity. Indeed, given the medical realities, there is every reason for you and Dean to be able to reduce the emotionally charged issue of HIV within your relationship and treat it as no more than any other serious and irreversible illness.
However, if that does not turn out to be the case, either because Dean cannot join you in the US or because your love for him has simply waned, then the fact that Dean can live a full life as a PLHIV should go a long way, if not all the way, to assuaging the guilt that you might feel if you decide to terminate the relationship. This sort of guilt when contemplating ending things with a partner, especially one who is seriously ill, is quite common. However, staying in a moribund relationship is unlikely to be any better and could be considerably worse as it may prevent both parties from moving on. This is particularly so in your case since Dean will be able to have further relationships if he manages his situation properly.
Please write again if you have further concerns.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. I find it difficult to answer you because there are so many issues involved. So I have decided to make it easier on you, our other readers, and myself, by writing about how the physical implications of having sex when at least one partner is HIV positive in a later Clinical Notes (CN) column.
Right now I want to focus on the hesitation I think you feel about your entire relationship.
Actually, my opinion is that what you truly feel about your relationship is a lot more definite than hesitation. My feeling is that you are ready to break up with him but feel tremendously guilty about doing so.
If I am wrong, then please read my future CN which will discuss the many ways you can still be sexy with each other despite one partner’s being HIV positive, A-N-D, more importantly, not in a pampalubag loob (consolation prize) way, but in a truly joyous, this-is-as-good-as-it-gets way.
Right now, I want to explore the possibility that what you really want to do is to break up with Dean but cannot bring yourself to do so out of guilt of abandoning him when he needs you most, fear of being judged by others, etc.
Because you are a nurse, you either already know the many ways you can enjoy sex with an HIV positive partner or have easy access to finding out.
I feel you have not really explored this possibility because of some of the statements/phrases in your letter, such as "(we) never had sex, only kissing," and "how can I be happy if every time we kiss I think about his sickness and that I might get sick?”
I cannot help feeling that you would have found ways to protect not only yourself, but him, if you were interested in continuing with your relationship.
I cannot help thinking also that, if you really loved your current boyfriend, you would not be asking the questions you asked us: "How can I be happy if every time we kiss I think about his sickness and that I might get sick? How can I enjoy love making with him?”
Kung gustong gawin, maraming paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan. (If you really want something, you will find many ways to achieve it; if you don’t, you will find many excuses not to).
Because if you did, the bigger the obstacles, the more ready and stoked you would be to face these challenges together. When you are in love, the "you-and-me-against-the-world" feeling is a thrill and just another foe to vanquish in the name of true love.
You also mentioned that your love for Dean is “less than before. In my clinical experience, this is another clear-as-a-bell sign that you don’t want to continue this relationship over the long run. You care for Dean; wish the best for him; don’t want to hurt him, even love him still; but he is not the man you want to be with you first thing in the morning, last thing at night. He is not the great love of your life.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is good that you found out before making promises you couldn’t keep or committing to doing things you realized were too onerous.
And what would be better is to break it to him gently, so that he will know he can still count on you as a friend and that your love was real and true when it was.
And break it to him soon, please, Art? That way, he can recover more quickly (if indeed he needs to) and find another love without any guilt or regret.
…as I hope you do too.
All my very best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.