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Supporting someone with HIV

Talking about HIV

You can support a loved one who just got diagnosed with HIV whether or not you're HIV positive yourself. Your relationship will change over time, but this can be a good thing.

How can I best support a loved one who is HIV positive?

MyHIV is aimed at people who are living with HIV but you might be here because you are HIV negative and have a partner, friend or relative who is HIV positive. It is great that you are helping your loved one, but did you know that you can also access support for yourself?

When someone is diagnosed with HIV it can be emotionally draining for them, but it can affect you as well. The information you find on this website will give you a good understanding of HIV, treatments and living well with HIV.

Depending on your relationship with the person you may be feeling sad, angry, confused or shocked. If your sexual partner has been diagnosed with HIV you may need to think about having a test yourself and finding out more about safer sex.

The balance between giving support and going too far can be tricky to manage, especially with someone you love.

If your partner is living with HIV it is easy to overdo it – even though you mean well – by becoming like a parent (or nanny) instead of a lover. Constantly asking about a partner’s health, questioning things they do from a health viewpoint or being too eager to give support instead of letting them do things themselves… all these are traps it’s easy to fall into, thinking it’s for the best.

By the same token, sometimes HIV positive partners can be too anxious about infecting their negative partner. Some caution is sensible but too much can be stifling and takes away the negative partner’s ability to make their own decisions about risks they are happy to take.


We are both HIV positive - how can we best support each other?

If you are living with HIV you might also be supporting someone else who is HIV positive. They could be newly diagnosed, or someone who has been living with HIV for a while.

Living with HIV after diagnosis is a journey and people progress at different rates. Some people find their diagnosis hard to cope with initially, while others feel very calm when they are told but become upset later on. No one knows how they will react when they are diagnosed. Being told you have HIV is life changing and it can make you re-evaluate your life.

If you are HIV positive yourself, the person you are supporting may react in a completely different way than you did. It can be difficult to know exactly what the other person is going through, but giving them time and space to talk through their feelings is a good starting point.

Your experiences could be invaluable to the person you are supporting, for example, you will probably be able to tell them what happens at hospital appointments, and about things like taking antiretroviral medicine.

You could also tell them about services which can help such as counselling, online advice and groups for people who are living with HIV.


How will our relationship change over time?

No relationship or the people in it stay the same. Even in new relationships people (and their needs) change. If you have been together a long time change is inevitable and potentially threatening. Managing change is a challenge many couples face.

When your partner has HIV (whatever your HIV status), their health might change over time. If your partner has had a period of ill health, you may find yourself in a caring role and when they get better your role might change. Some people find it difficult if they have been looking after their partner and they change when their health improves. They might start taking an interest in things they haven’t been able to before, like clubbing or exploring different types of sex. This can change the dynamic of your relationship which can be hard to manage.

Many of us decide to change something about ourselves, or to reinvent ourselves, especially when we realise we’re not getting any younger. Perhaps you can find ways to keep up with your partner’s changes by reaching a compromise. Can you both agree to do more of what the other finds fun? One of you may have to make changes in your own behaviour if you’re going to join your partner on their new journey.


What if I don't like how my partner has changed?

We can never turn back the clock. Taking a serious look at how things are developing will help. If one of you has traditionally taken a particular role (one does the looking after, the other gets cared for) maybe this should change. Although unsettling, the time might have come for more equal roles. Sometimes there’s no getting over the fact that two partners have changed so much it’s time to review the relationship and ask questions about the future.

Whatever your HIV status, having a partner around all the time can be a strain. If they are drinking and not working due to bad health that only makes the problem worse. Could they be depressed? Are they tearful, irritable or lethargic?

If they are depressed then they could see a doctor to discuss treatment options. These could include counselling or anti-depressants (the two together often work best) - even simple exercise can lift someone out of their depressed state. But don’t neglect yourself and your needs.


Support for HIV positive people and their loved ones:

 

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