Facing our fears
Living with AIDS #196

KHOPOTSO: For months now, Annie Female (not her real name) has been struggling to get her partner who is taking anti-retrovirals and whom she suspects has HIV/AIDS to talk to her. Her efforts have so far drawn a blank. She says she wants to help her partner, but he has a habit of keeping things to himself.  

ANNIE FEMALE: By nature, my partner is secretive, which makes it difficult to communicate. I can see that there is something bothering him’€¦ I want to help him. I want to let him know that HIV or no HIV he is still my partner. I want to be there for him, but he’€™s cutting me out’€¦ He becomes very aggressive, but I’€™ve told myself that I am going to calm down. He thinks I’€™m going to dump him. There are a lot of issues around the situation.

KHOPOTSO: Gavin Robertson is a psychologist who specialises in couples’€™ counselling.  

GAVIN ROBERTSON: There’€™s a lot of fear involved in what’€™s happening now in the relationship. We can see that they’€™re both making fear-based choices in some ways. And so, there needs to be a lot more exploration of what these fears are. If they can’€™t do it together, at least she can be looking at it on her own ‘€“ what her fears are. Once she has looked very directly at what these fears are and come to terms with them, she can start making decisions that are not based on those fears. And decisions would probably be best if they involved both partners in the relationship.          

KHOPOTSO: You’€™re constantly talking about fears here ‘€“ fear from both partners’€¦ Can you describe what those fears could be, perhaps?

ROBERTSON: There clearly seems to be fear around the relationship and what may happen with the relationship; and that by her confronting him that she in some way may disrupt or destroy the relationship. There’€™s a fear, of course, around what may happen with him and what may happen with her if it is actually the situation that she also has HIV. She’€™s aware that he most likely does have. She also doesn’€™t know exactly what that involves at this point; and she doesn’€™t know what the situation is exactly for him because he’€™s not communicating that with her’€¦ And all of these unknowns and changes that are happening at the moment are causing a huge amount of anxiety and fear both of them. And he’€™s not acknowledging to her what that anxiety is doing to him or what those changes are.

KHOPOTSO: Robertson says that the problem between Female and her partner can happen in many relationships. And it boils down to one basic factor.

GAIN ROBERTSON: One of the issues we’€™re looking at here is around the question of intimacy. Now, generally intimacy is understood in terms of the sexual relationship and sexual actions. But intimacy is much more complicated and much more broad than that. And one of the conditions for intimacy is that each partner makes the other feel comfortable in a relationship. This needs to happen in order for this situation to be discussed. So, clearly one or both partners here are not feeling comfortable enough to be able to discuss this and the situation feels too threatening and too vulnerable to both of them. In order for intimacy to be achieved here a lot more comfortable-ness about discussing these things needs to be provided by each partner.

KHOPOTSO: Up to now it’€™s been one partner ‘€“ Annie Female ‘€“ who has tried to break the ice. But so far, no good result has come of it. But it’€™s not worth giving up yet, advises Robertson.

GAVIN ROBERTSON: Step number one would probably be to understand clearly her feelings about the situation so that when she approaches him she’€™s very clear about what and why she’€™s doing what she’€™s doing. She needs to be clear about her feelings for him; about her feelings for the relationship; about what she feels she’€™d like to achieve in the situation. And then, when she does approach him she can understand also what his reaction is; and why that is the way it; and what the reasons may be. Hopefully, that would lead to the third step of them together receiving counselling, which is clearly something that would benefit both of them in the situation.

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe


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