The Magnetic Relationship: When Positive & Negative Meet and Mate
Gay relationships come in all varieties and combinations...that's what makes our community so diverse and eclectic! One such couple pairing has been coined "magnetic relationships", which is defined as an HIV-positive and an HIV-negative man in a committed partnership together. Perhaps it stems from fear, ignorance, or other sociopolitical factors, but surprisingly very little has been written on this subject.
One of the most important components of any single gay man's dating plan is a clear vision of the type of partner and relationship he seeks. Knowledge of his negotiable and non-negotiable needs is then used to form a template that he refers to when screening potential dating partners. Such criteria might include looks, professional status, age, race, certain emotional characteristics, etc. When meeting new men, singles intent on searching for Mr. Right will then take special note of the potential goodness-of-fit that exists with his relational vision and values with every dating encounter to avoid investing energy (and their hearts) into mismatched connections. One such criteria that every man must contemplate are his feelings about whether to date within or outside his particular HIV status. They must decide how important or not it is to them in the scheme of their visions for a long-term relationship. In response to a recent poll on my website's "Question of the Month" voting poll regarding whether gay men would date others opposite of their own HIV status, 34% replied "yes" and 66% said "no."
This article addresses those men who have discordant HIV statuses and have decided that other partner traits and relational characteristics hold more importance and priority to them than HIV/AIDS and have invested into committed partnerships. With such minimal literature available on this relationship style, it is hoped that this article will offer some useful tips and support for that segment of the gay population who has been unrepresented.
For any couple, regardless of sexual orientation or health status, relationship sustenance requires time, energy, and devotion and it's not always easy. Men in positive/negative relationships go through all the trials and tribulations as anyone else: conflicts over money, sex, household management, quality time, etc. However, there are some additional challenges that they must face as a result of their mixed-status situation; these unique hurdles are just that...challenges that can be overcome with effective communication, negotiation, and the motivation and drive to work together as a team to make the best of difficult problems and preserver.
Possible Concerns & Pitfalls:
· John is HIV+ and he is afraid of infecting his HIV- partner Mark; as such, his anxiety leads to sexual dysfunctions that interfere with their intimate life. Additionally, side effects of his medications compromise his sexual desire at times leading to discrepant sexual drives between the couple and mounting frustrations for both partners. Sometimes Mark worries about possible transmission of the virus during their lovemaking and feels inhibited sexually.
· Steve suffers from low self-esteem and body image issues resulting from his AIDS status. He's lost a lot of weight, struggles with chronic skin problems, and his body composition has changed from the medication he's taking. He doesn't feel attractive and thinks he's lost his "sexiness." He feels plagued by feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and blame about his health status and these emotional issues sometimes get played out in his relationship with Bob in the form of frequent arguments or distance. Knowing that Steve struggles with his diagnosis, Bob at times feels a sense of "survivor guilt" that he's negative.
· Adam and Frank struggle with deciding when, if, and how to disclose to their families about their mixed statuses.
· Craig finds himself withholding information about his feelings about his HIV+ status with Byron and some of the symptoms he experiences at times because he doesn't want their relationship to be dominated by the disease and is afraid of being a "drag." He wants to buffer Byron from the negative impact of what he's going through.
· Because Pete has been asymptomatic since the beginning of their relationship four years ago, he and Chris have become more lax with their safer sex practices.
· Because Jermaine's health fluctuates, social opportunities that he and Devon could partake in are sometimes thwarted and their eating schedules and activities must often times become regimented around Jermaine's medication treatments.
· Martin and Ed have become overwhelmed lately by the rising HIV medical costs and are starting to take a hit financially. They've also found themselves facing discrimination in hospital settings and Ed was prohibited from visiting Martin during a recent hospitalization because he wasn't considered a family member.
· After Louis got sick recently, Greg began to recognize the possible realities of living with HIV/AIDS that he hadn't really considered before. He has begun to question issues of mortality and fears growing old alone if Louis' health ever took a turn for the worse someday. He has fleeting thoughts of whether he can handle the pressures of this relationship and worries about the future.
These are just a small handful of all the different types of scenarios and challenges that positive/negative relationships, and the partners within them, can experience. With minimal visible role models of this relationship type in the gay community, these challenges can seem overwhelming and couples can feel somewhat isolated with their unique issues. But these potential problems are not insurmountable and successful management of the difficulties can actually heighten a couple's connection and intimacy and skyrocket their relationship satisfaction.
There are no easy answers or cookbook-recipe solutions to the above situations; each couple must creatively and collaboratively find the formulas that work best for them in coping with the unique demands of sharing an HIV/AIDS-discordant relationship. Below are some tips that might help make navigating through these transitions smoother:
· Communication is of the utmost importance. Each partner should feel free to openly share and discuss any and all thoughts and feelings about their experiences and perspectives and to be acknowledged and validated. Keeping thoughts and feelings concealed, even if it's done with the intention of trying to protect your partner, will only serve to backfire later and have severe consequences individually and for the relationship. It might be very helpful for each partner to seek individual counseling for support and skills in dealing with the unique HIV+ or HIV- perspectives and also pursue couples counseling for assistance with relationship enrichment and communication/conflict management skills training.
· While your sexual relationship may experience its ebbs and flows, recognize that this is normal of any partnership and that it's important to communicate your needs, feelings, and fantasies regularly. Creatively explore different ways to make your bedroom adventures more interesting and look at nonsexual methods of play as another source of pleasure. Some couples have discussed having an "open relationship" as an option of dealing with bedroom difficulties and this can be a viable approach if both partners are agreeable, if it doesn't oppose either partners' values, and that specific boundaries and limits are placed on it so as to protect the relationship. Safer sex with your partner and others, of course, is the only way to reduce the risk of transmission of the HIV virus no matter how "healthy" sex partners may be (and this is still not a guarantee).
· Approach the ups and downs as a team and it's best if both are actively involved in the healthcare planning and management process. Consult a financial planner who can best help you structure a financial plan and budget in dealing with medical and basic life costs, and it's also extremely important in this day and age to obtain the necessary legal documents to protect your gay relationship during potential health crises (living wills, insurance beneficiary designations, financial and medical powers of attorney, etc.)
· Build your support network and access community resources. While discordant HIV relationships don't seem to get much exposure at this time, many gay community health centers and clinics offer self-help groups, programs, counseling, or social events that might help meet an unmet need you may have as a couple. Or you can be proactive and start your own group, either online or community-based, to help foster more support and connection with other like-minded couples that share your mixed status. One resource that you might find helpful that caters specifically to positive/negative relationships is a website called "The Body". This is a great resource on information pertaining to HIV/AIDS as a whole and they have a forum specifically for mixed HIV-status couples at http://www.thebody.com/Forums/AIDS/Couples/index.html .
· There are going to be hard times, no doubt. This is the case in any relationship. The important thing here is to avoid defining your relationship solely around the HIV/AIDS aspect and instead view it as a part of a greater whole that constitutes your partnership. There are many other aspects of your being a couple that require your attentiveness and it's important to bring everything into balance as much as possible. Nurture you relationship, give it lots of TLC (tender-loving-care), and demonstrate for your partner how important and special he is to you. Capitalize on the strengths in your relationship and why you love each other during those trying times to help bolster your resiliency.
Being a mixed HIV-status couple can be a rewarding experience, but both partners must accept the responsibilities inherent to this relationship style in overcoming its challenges, just like in any relationship. The quality of your relationship and the extent to which you practice open communication and collaborative problem-solving is the primary predictor of relationship success for positive/negative couples. Make the challenges you experience an asset in your favor! You can reach greater depths of intimacy and fulfillment by conquering your issues as co-pilots on the journey. This relationship type actually has another bonus attached in that these couples typically, because of their situation, focus more on what's important in life, have a good grasp on priorities, and live for the moment rather than getting caught up in petty, superficial squabbles. Because of this, and as long as the potentially harsh realities are accepted and approached with flexibility and commitment as partners-for-life, HIV-positive/HIV-negative couple pairings really can be assets for relationship success-hence, they really are magnetic!
* The characters/names in this article are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.
Disclaimer: The Gay Love Coach does not represent or endorse the quality of any products, information, or materials displayed, purchased, or obtained by you as a result of its mention in this newsletter. It's common sense to do your own due diligence before purchasing a product.
Brian Rzepczynski, Certified Personal Life Coach, is The Gay Love Coach: "I work with gay men who are ready to create a roadmap that will lead them to find and build a lasting partnership with Mr. Right." To sign up for the FREE Gay Love Coach Newsletter filled with dating and relationship tips and skills for gay singles and couples, as well as to check out current coaching groups, programs, teleclasses, and the self-help book he co-authored, "A Guide to Getting It: Purpose & Passion," please visit http://www.TheGayLoveCoach.com Thank you!