HIV: Testing and Communication
Farrah Hughes, PhD
It’s important that we each feel empowered to take charge of our own health and well-being, and getting tested for HIV is a good first step.
However, even though we know it’s important to get tested, taking that step can lead to worry, anxiety and even fear. Don’t let fear keep you from caring for yourself.
Whether you are HIV positive or negative is worth knowing so you can live a healthy and fulfilling life. You are worth it, your romantic partner (current or future) is worth it and your family and friends are worth it.
When it comes to sensitive issues such as HIV testing, communication is essential. At some point, we have to talk about our HIV status, whether we are asking our partner to get tested or are sharing the results of our own test.
These aren’t the easiest conversations to have. There is much to consider:
- How do I ask my partner to get tested?
- How do I suggest that we both get tested?
- I found out that I’m HIV positive; I’m terrified, and don’t know how to tell anyone.
- I know that my partner got tested, and I want to know the results.
- I’m starting to date someone new, and I need to tell them that I’m HIV positive.
Some married or dating couples choose to get tested together. They go to the clinic together, and they are there for one another when they receive their results. Others choose to get tested on their own, and they might not choose to tell anyone that they are going to do it. For those people, the toughest part might come when they receive their results. They must decide what they will do with the information, including how they will share it with others.
National HIV Testing Day has been observed since 1995. This Wednesday, the testing day theme is “Doing It My Way, Testing for HIV.” Think about having that conversation and remind yourself the primary goal is to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Effective treatments for HIV exist. They significantly prolong life and help protect others from infection. So, testing is worth it. Bring it up. Have the conversation. You will be glad that you did.
Here are some tips to help you communicate more effectively:
- Timing is key. Make sure that neither of you is distracted by phones, television, crowds, etc.
- Remember that there are two kinds of conversations: (1) sharing thoughts and feelings and (2) decision-making, or problem-solving. If the other person starts trying to “fix” things when you simply want them to listen, let them know. Make sure that you are having the same kind of conversation.
- Talk briefly, and take turns. We can only absorb a little bit of information at a time, so taking turns helps ensure that each of you feels heard. To make sure that you understand, summarize what you heard the other person say, and then take turns sharing and summarizing.
- Talk about your own feelings about the topic. Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Instead, talk about your personal experience.
- Be specific about what you need or want. No one is a mind reader, so sometimes we have to be very clear about what we need from the other person, even if we’re simply asking them to listen.
- Remember to listen to the other person. Showing that you understand where the other person is coming from doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with them, but it does mean that you respect them and that you are trying to understand.
- If you begin to argue or shut down, take a break and agree to try again when you are both calm. Taking a timeout for an hour or two can be a great way to prevent arguments, as long as you both agree to come back together to finish the conversation.
Approaching HIV testing with confidence and open communication can increase the bond between you and your spouse or partner. Healthy communication about getting tested – while it might seem difficult at first – can create the foundation for more conversations in the future. If your spouse or partner is not willing to get tested, or to even discuss it with you, consider speaking with a trusted friend, family member, counselor, pastor or medical provider for guidance. Don’t just avoid the issue. Remember, you are taking care of yourself, and you should feel proud of yourself for doing so.