It is possible to keep the romance alive if you or your partner are HIV-positive, says relationship expert Teboho Monyamane
Nonetheless, after recovering from the initial shock and implementing a few practical adjustments, it is rather heartening to know the diagnosis in no way points to a less loving relationship and the end of a rich, fun-filled life.
Keeping it healthy
Without a doubt, relationships can survive the disclosure of either you or your partner’s HIV status. Even more so, you can continue having a normal relationship. But for this to happen, you have to communicate.
It is crucial that both partners are honest with each other. The partner with the virus might have feelings of guilt, fear of rejection and the fear of transmitting the virus. Then again, the other partner may be afraid of contracting the virus. Nevertheless, all of these issues can be successfully worked through if there is openness in communication.
Revealing your status
No matter how tempting it may be to withhold this important piece of information from your partner, you have to reveal your status. This has to happen well before you’re physically intimate.
But remember: it’s natural to struggle with this brave step, so don’t be too hard on yourself. You can seek support through counselling services, and even opt for couples counselling once your status is out in the open.
Intimacy and HIV
According to the AIDS Foundation of South Africa (AFSA), you can only get HIV through ‘infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid or mother’s milk’.
This means that you cannot contract HIV through touching someone or being touched by someone, or even by being exposed to their sweat or saliva. So rest assured: hugging, touching and kissing someone on the mouth are low-risk behaviours.
But, as AFSA says, you can get HIV by having oral sex with an HIV-positive partner – even when they are receiving treatment. If you or your partner has or suspects they have HIV, it’s critically important to practice safe sex. However, it’s best to speak to your doctor or healthcare practitioner if you are uncertain about what is safe and what is unsafe to do.
The impact on your relationship
After diagnosis, people tend to avoid physical intimacy with their partners, even after disclosure, because of fear of rejection and infection. These are natural reactions and a couple should allow themselves time to adjust. But getting information and support from a healthcare professional or trained HIV counsellor you trust could be an invaluable source of help in banishing unnecessary hindrances to a healthy, thriving relationship.
Coping with the news
Receiving the diagnosis of being HIV-positive yourself, or having a partner that is, can be met with a wide range of emotions: these usually range from shock and denial to anger and sadness or depression, before, in time, settling on acceptance and making peace.
That is why it’s a good idea to sign up for social support such as individual counselling, which will help you better process your feelings and adjust to you or your partner’s diagnosis. Or couples counselling, to help sort out any of the issues that may arise between you two because of the diagnosis.
If ever you feel the need to speak to someone, you can call the AIDS Helpline or LifeLine. You can also get a list of HIV–related services available in South Africa from HIV911.