HIV Disclosure to a New Relationship Partner (and In-Laws)?

HIV Disclosure to a New Relationship Partner (and In-Laws)?

By Grace Gachanja, PhD, MPH RN:


The number of persons a HIV-positive person may have to disclose his or her illness to can seem endless. The need for disclosure causes stress, worry, and sleepless nights in HIV-positive persons. When a HIV-positive person starts a new relationship, the question usually is, should he or she disclose to the relationship partner immediately or wait to see if the relationship works out before disclosing?

Some HIV-positive persons choose to disclose right away and deal with potential immediate rejection without investing too much time and effort into the new relationship. They might also be pleasantly surprised to find a person who accepts them and decides to continue pursuing the relationship. Other HIV-positive persons may choose to avoid immediate rejection by delaying disclosure until they have known the partner better. However, it is highly hoped that if the relationship moves into a sexual phase, that the HIV-positive person takes the necessary steps to protect his or her partner from infection. If the relationship does not work out, then the decision of the HIV-positive person to have not disclosed works out in his or her favor. Waiting to know a person better does not guarantee that the relationship partner will be accepting when disclosure finally occurs, a bitter rejection might still ensue due to the delayed disclosure and potential exposure to infection.

As you can see, HIV disclosure to a new relationship partner is a difficult decision to grapple with. But say the relationship works and continues after disclosure, what’s next if there is a marriage proposal and plans for a future life together? Will the new family members need to be disclosed to? Will they be as accepting of the HIV-positive person as the relationship partner? Please watch this video of a real life situation where disclosure to the in-laws is being planned by a couple:

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Even when one is not HIV-positive, it is the ideal situation that one finds a loving supportive partner. For a HIV-positive person in a serodiscordant relationship, finding a partner who is willing to stand with him or her is key to a healthy relationship. If the partner is willing to assist in disclosure to the new in-laws, this might ease the disclosure burden to a certain degree. However, as seen in the video, it is still a very tough decision. While the hope is that the new family will also be accepting, chances are that they might reject both the HIV-positive person and their family member making the introduction. It is an uncertain situation that needs to be approached with careful consideration and deliberation on the pros and cons.

Therefore, it is wise for a serodiscordant couple to seek counseling so they know how best to approach disclosure to in-laws and all other family members, and how to support these in-laws and family members following disclosure because it is highly likely the news will come as a big surprise to them. What are your thoughts on HIV disclosure to the in-laws and what have you seen occur in your community, healthcare setting, or personal life?

What are your thoughts on HIV disclosure to the in-laws and what have you seen occur in your community, healthcare setting, or personal life?

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This post was first made on my blog on HIV Disclosure to Children.