When you think of healthy relationships, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of the people in your life or your relationship with you. “Healthy” might suggest to you clear communication, making decisions and solving problems in relationships in a way that considers everyone’s needs, or handling stress productively. Healthy Relationships, a five-session education and discussion group for HIV+ people, covers all of these topics. There are two groups, one for gay men (“HR+M”) and one for heterosexual women (“The Hummingbird Circle,” ), those affected by HIV in the largest numbers.
My role as one of the facilitators of the men’s groups is to be the professional who puts structure to the conversations, keeps things moving along, and makes sure we hit all the points. That alone, bringing this fun and meaningful experience to gay men living with HIV, would be plenty satisfying for me. But I get the icing on the cake, because the “personal me” is there, too, quietly admiring and taking strength from the stories I’m hearing and the humanity I’m witnessing.
When we ask participants what they liked most and how they benefited from Healthy Relationships, they often have very similar answers:
- I’m able to talk freely.
- I learned how to be a better listener.
- I liked talking and being very open with talking about sex.
- I realized communication is absolutely necessary.
- I learned different views.
- I learned better coping skills.
Living with HIV can be stressful for a variety of reasons: fear of rejection, deciding who to tell and when, taking meds, feeling isolated, and so on. Living with HIV can also bring out strength and compassion. Healthy Relationships meetings make room for all of this.
Participants get to learn and practice together some ways to fulfill that most basic human need: connection with others. They listen to each other actively, hearing the words being spoken while taking in the whole person who is speaking to them. They practice speaking up for themselves in a way that respects them and the other person. They problem-solve together around real-life situations that people with HIV face involving family, friends, dating, and sex.
And above all they laugh together, agree and disagree with each other, support each other, and enjoy conversation (not to mention food) with each other before and after the meetings.
While the topics can sometimes be weighty, the camaraderie lightens the load. Through HR+M, I’ve gotten to meet some terrific people, and I always learn as much as I teach. I thank everyone who has already shown up, and I can’t wait to meet the rest of you who will show up.
In order to join HR+M or the Hummingbird Circle, or to get more information, please call the ASA Prevention Department at 512-458-8378.
Look for a blog post about the women’s group Hummingbird Circle coming soon!