When individuals are diagnosed with a chronic illness, their lives instantly change. Daily routines are interrupted and attendance to the symptoms and side effects of illness and medication becomes a daily chore. However, the patient is not the only one that feels the disruptive effects of illness and the partner of the chronically ill patient must also contend with the daily effects of an illness that they themselves do not have. In the case of HIV, the infectious nature of the disease, along with the stigma associated with the disease, serve to be additional sources of stress in an already-stressful situation for the HIV patient and their romantic partners.
Because of the infectious and stigmatized nature of HIV, the present study was designed to explore the issues of uncertainty, management of uncertainty, and the related identity implications faced by HIV-negative partners of HIV-positive individuals. Because relatively little research has been done on the health issues faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) population, this study recruited gay male romantic partners with a serodiscordant HIV status. Focusing on the experience of the HIV-negative partner, the findings in the present study represent the data collected during nine intensive, semi-structured interviews. Data collection efforts resulted in 193 pages of interview transcriptions, and these data were analyzed inductively using techniques associated with grounded theory.
Findings indicate the study’s participants experience intimacy-related uncertainties that disrupt the role intimacy plays in the overall development and progression of the relationship. To manage these intimacy uncertainties, the participants engage in a variety of identity-reinforcing behaviors designed to deny HIV any influence over the relationship or the individual partners. As a result, these men redefine the meaning of what it means to engage in safe-sex and the role of preventative tactics designed to stem the spread of the disease. Theoretical and practical implications for relational communication and public health are also discussed.