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 Couples coping with a chronic std  

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The discovery of a chronic, sexually-transmitted disease like herpes or HPV invokes fear about the end of relationships and sexual intimacy. However, rest assured. There is love after STDs.

When one partner in a relationship is diagnosed with a chronic STD, the couple's world is immediately thrown into turmoil. But with commitment and communication, issues like telling a partner, restoring trust, and making love again are not insurmountable.

Many couples find it hard enough to share an apartment, the bathroom, or even Internet access. Just dealing with small, unimportant, day-to-day issues can cause squabbles. So imagine the serious compromises that arise when one partner in a romantic relationship is diagnosed with a chronic STD, and the other partner must�"emotionally and perhaps physically�""share" it. The person diagnosed wonders, "How am I going to tell my partner?," while both partners may ask themselves "Who gave this to whom?" and "How is this going to change our sex life?"

While the discovery of herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV) prompts difficult questions, a couple can endure. Psychologist and marriage and family therapist Joy Davidson, Ph.D. from affirms, "If the relationship is strong enough and you choose to go forward, you can weather it. It's not a pretty picture, but it's reality." Like any crisis that a couple struggles to survive, one key to pulling through a diagnosis of STD is the "C" word�"communication.

Telling your partner

Some people choose not to confess their newly diagnosed STD status to their partners. But they may be missing out on the best support available. At least one study has shown that lovers�"compared with friends and counselors�"can be the best sources of emotional support for people who have herpes.

Psychologist and sex therapist Jill W. Bly, Ph.D. observes that people who feel compelled to tell "are generally better partners overall because they have a better sense of the ethics that you need to have in order to have an intimate relationship�"truthfulness, willingness to be open, and sharing."

For those who wisely choose to communicate, the experts give great advice on how to share this sensitive information as gracefully as possible.

  • Have the facts on hand, in order to allay myths and fears about the disease. Certified sex educator Jan Swanson, RN says that in the herpes studies she conducted, "Some people took a real interest in educating their partners, and that's important."
  • Realize that an anxious delivery may make the condition sound worse than it is. In his book Managing Herpes, American Social Health Association affiliate Charles Ebel cautions, "Try to be calm and confident."
  • Don't blurt it out in the midst of passion. Swanson says that confessions should take place "in an emotionally neutral environment, like around the kitchen table."

Be sure a new partner is ready to listen. Bly says that "the best thing for people to do is to get to know the new partner first." When telling a new partner, Davidson warns, "You have to be prepared that a partner will say "I don't want to get involved." That can be painful. It's a form of rejection that is personal, yet impersonal. People make choices about who they want to get involved with for a zillion reasons, and every one of those choices is valid."

The trust issue

For a couple in a long-term relationship, a diagnosis of STD poses other problems, one of which is mistrust. Either partner may suspect the other of contracting the STD while having sex outside the relationship. However, it's important to keep in mind that both HPV and herpes can lay dormant for years, producing no symptoms at all. Both conditions may be the remnants of long-past relationships.

Davidson advises that the most important questions one partner should ask the other about the STD is "who, where, how and when? If that question is answered satisfactorily, then I think there's a period of initial shock and adjustment. That's normal, along with some anger." Couples then choose their own routes to dealing with the diagnosis, including talking about it "ad nauseum," if necessary, and listening to each other's feelings. "If they don't know how to do that on their own," she adds, "then I absolutely suggest counseling."

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