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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 2

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Blog | 45 comments

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 2

By Kristin Kalbli

In the absence of a therapeutic environment willing to acknowledge a complex interplay between our spouses’ recently acknowledged homosexuality and our spouses’ narcissism (or otherwise disordered psyches), straight spouses are often left to their own devices to make sense of their experiences. To be in recovery from one of these marriages often means becoming a self-taught amateur sleuth and psychiatrist.

We are undoubtedly unqualified to diagnose anyone, perhaps most of all our own ex-spouses, with whom we have been in a tangled psyche-web of co-dependence, projection and transference from which we are working to heal. But it is also unlikely that we will ever receive the validation of a confirmed diagnosis of our spouses (narcissists aren’t known for their affinity for therapy of self-reflection).

Yet the need to understand what we have just endured, the need to make sense of the nonsensical, the need to process the incomprehensible, can drive us down intense rabbit holes of research into narcissism, passive aggression, sociopathy, sadism and Cluster B. We may need to stare the monster in the face, and in coming to know it, demystify it.

Understanding dawns as we recognize behavior patterns in our spouses, and symptomology in ourselves. Sometimes we discover exact behaviors that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists experiences: the types of denials, the kinds of degradations, the ways of gas-lighting. Sometimes we discover exact feelings and emotions that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists in recovery: the brand of depression, the nature of the sexual damage, the disorientation and loss of self.

We can become consumed by it sometimes. My own bookshelf is a library of modern personality psychology. And each book or article tackled only one particular slice of my particular marriage puzzle: one book on passive aggressive men, a YouTube channel on cerebral narcissism, an article on the signs of a gay husband, a blog post on emotional sadism.

None have managed to unite and discuss all these factors in one place: one book, one resource. And none have been able to robustly or satisfactorily elucidate the complication interaction between our spouses’ latent homosexuality and their narcissism or other disorder.

I have found a few snippets in books and on the internet that resonated with my experience of my ex husband.  This quote from Dr. Roberta Cone begins to address the thick tangle of psycho-sexual energies and complexes we unwittingly fall prey to in our marriages:

“The narcissist is threatened by a partner’s sexual and emotional needs and believes they are out to trap them and suck them dry.  This is the narcissist’s classic projection of their true inner self.  Because of this projection he or she tortures and abuses…Most narcissists prefer pornography and masturbation to emotionally attached, mature, adult sex… Their sexuality is not a connected and balanced part of life.  Sometimes they are latent homosexuals or secretly bisexual…Punishment by emotional withdrawing and abstaining from sex is inflicted on loving partners to maintain control.  The narcissist sadistically frustrates for pleasure and can become celibate within a relationship. Sex then is only performed to keep their partner from leaving or for the demonstration of physical and psychological domination.  They are incapable of true emotional intimacy and dread the needs of a lover…The life force is sucked out of the partner leaving them hollow.”

This was the most succinct characterization of my own marriage I could find. But “latent homosexual” is dangerous terminology in this context, because there is an implied connection here, albeit a fuzzy one, between the pathology of the narcissist and the suppressed psyche of the closeted homosexual. In this paragraph, the condition of narcissism and the circumstance of closeted homosexuality form an interlaced and interdependent complex. And while there is so little research into this, I know I lived it.

In denialI often want to ask people, when they immediately shut down a conversation if the words ‘gay’ and ‘narcissist’ appear next to each other, if they really think it is impossible for an LGBT person to have the same mental illnesses we see in the heterosexual population. The past linkage of homosexuality and psychiatric disorders has made us unwilling to open that conversation and look at the very real and unique ways that being gay or gay-in-denial influences our narcissist spouses to act.

For instance, when our spouses are in denial and making a great effort to throw us off the trail, the very air in the home is made of a deception we breathe every day, a deception about who our spouse is on a fundamental level. A deception that comes at tremendous cost to our sense of reality and emotional stability. Being married to a closeted gay person colors the kinds of sexual neglect or sexual abuse we may suffer at the hands of our narcissist spouses, and this neglect and abuse varies from that inflicted by a heterosexual narcissist. If you put clams in spaghetti and marinara, it’s still spaghetti, but it’s also a completely different dish. If you add closeted homosexuality to a marriage with a narcissist, it’s still a destructive, abusive marriage to a narcissist, but it’s also a totally different marriage than a marriage to a heterosexual narcissist.

I get that this is tricky terrain to navigate, but we must.  Straight spouses are often deeply suffering from PTSD, or “post narcissistic abuse syndrome.” They struggle to find experts capable of guiding their  healing through the nuances of recovery from being married to a narcissist who is also gay-in-denial.

The truth is, while we are not claiming that our husbands and wives were narcissists because they were gay, we are claiming, unequivocally, that when our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with the homosexuality in a way that leaves us particularly wounded. We need support and resources from professionals who  are capable of taking into account that our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, without silencing or shutting us down as we reveal our own stories and tell the truth of our own lives.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 1

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Blog | 28 comments

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 1

By Kristin Kalbli

Recently, a fellow straight spouse contacted me to express frustration over a response she’d received from a closed online support community for victims of narcissistic abuse. In a bid for more tailored support from this group, the straight spouse mentioned that her narcissistic abuser happened to be her closeted gay husband, and that there were nuances to that experience that differentiated it from that of typical heterosexual narcissistic abuse.

The moderators of the closed group told her “not to mention sexual orientation because there is no link between sexual orientation and narcissism.” She was immediately shut down, and she felt marginalized and invisible, condemned for and tainted by the faint whiff of having said something “wrong.” She was shushed, and shamed, and scolded by the admins; then she was ignored. She said she felt like she “could only tell one part” of her story. Only half her story was legitimized, the narcissistic abuse survivor part. The other part of her story, the gay husband part, was not welcome in the discussion.

And that’s a problem. Not all straight spouses were married to closeted LGBT people who were also narcissists, or sociopaths, or Cluster B types. But many of us were and are. And we face an uphill battle in getting support as women and men recovering from the narcissistic abuse of spouses who are simultaneously closeted or in-denial homosexuals.

When we try to tell our stories publicly, or build awareness around our uniquely traumatic marriages, we run into the circled wagons of the progressive LGBT ally community (I am one, by the way), and the therapeutic community who assiduously guard against any conflation of homosexuality with mental illness. It is a common experience for a straight spouse to be rebuked by a therapist with the refrain, “there is no link between homosexuality and mental illness.”

This rainbow wall of silence is extremely uncomfortable with any conversation that links the words “gay” and “narcissist”; it is bordering on offensive to utter the word “homosexual” in conjunction with any personality disorder listed in the DSM V, let alone the word “sociopathy”. And to do so is to risk raising the ugly specter of homophobia. It harkens back to the ugly days when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and homosexuals were persecuted (often tortured) in the name of treatment for their “conditions.”

Back in the day, gays were thrown in asylums, confined to psychiatric wards, and subjected to “aversion therapies” which included traumatic electro shock therapy. Today, in religious circles, the harmful practice of gay conversion therapy, which has no efficacy record whatsoever, is based on the premise that being gay or lesbian is inherently disordered (from a religious, if not psychological perspective). And in more repressive foreign countries like Russia and Uganda, where homophobic violence is state sanctioned, the discrimination and trauma those LGBT communities endure is more likely to be the understandable cause of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Given the history, this reticence to talk openly about people with severe psychiatric illnesses who are also homosexual or bisexual is largely understandable. Therapists are accurate when they point out that scientifically there is no causal link between narcissism (or any mental illness or disordered personality) and homosexuality (or any sexual orientation). And there is no equivalence between homosexuality and mental illness. One is not the other. Period. The American Psychiatric Association rightly disavowed that homosexuality was a mental illness in the 70’s. And some supporters of LGBT people (like my friend’s online support group) diligently police those associations and call out any hint of a connection in an extremity of caution.

So this dark and damaging history of the harmful linkage between homosexuality and mental illness lurks just behind any conversation about our specific kinds of mixed orientation marriages – marriages to closeted or in-denial LGBT people who also have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies or personalities. Our mental health culture is gun shy when it comes to talking about personalities in which narcissism and homosexuality exist simultaneously (even if causally unrelated), lest there be any whiff of conflating being LGBT with a psychiatric disorder.

This schism is exemplified by another straight spouse’s experience: she recently shared with me that in her search for appropriate therapy for her family during and after divorce, once she “said the ‘g’ word, the whole tone changed.” She was “lectured about homosexuality and mental illness.” She was told that being gay was not mental illness and that she should “heal herself by advocating for gay rights.” She was admonished to be more sympathetic to her gay husband, and when she tried to articulate the nuanced challenges of living with a deceptive gay spouse, she was told by one therapist, “it’s the narcissism, dear.”

We already know it’s the narcissism, not the gay, that precipitates these harmful behaviors. But there is also an alchemical reaction between the narcissism and the homosexuality that manifests in unique ways in these marriages that must be addressed, not dismissed.  Yet patronization and dismissal are present nonetheless in some therapeutic settings. It is as though therapists and allies forget that being LGBT does not inoculate a person from having a psychiatric disorder; that although homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder, some homosexuals have psychiatric disorders, just as some heterosexuals do.

Where does this leave the straight spouse who not only grapples with healing from the deception and betrayal of the closeted gay or lesbian spouse, but also the gas-lighting and script flipping, or sometimes even intentionally sadistic mental and sexual torture? The two cannot be teased apart. We cannot separate healing from a narcissist and healing from a gay spouse. These two dimensions of our spouses’ personalities do not exist in monolithic silos, as though column A is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were secretly gay and kept it from us, and column B is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were sadists or narcissists.

We cannot tease out the healing of these traumas either. Medically there may be no link, but behaviorally, they are intricately and intimately linked. And we need a therapeutic response from professionals who  have the courage to recognize that.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

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All 2 Million of Us and Counting – Because We Count Too!

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Blog | 6 comments

June is Pride month, a time when LGBTQ people tell their stories out loud. Once upon a time, they could not do that without fear of being arrested, beaten or killed. Now, it is a time for straight spouses to tell our stories as well, because we count too.

Pride month occurs in June to commemorate the Stonewall uprising.  On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a popular Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.  The reason given was that Stonewall was serving liquor without a license, but it was well known that police often targeted gay bars for raids at that time. However, this time was different. No one had ever fought back before.

As gay men and drag queens were being loaded into police vans, the crowd started throwing bottles.  The police called for backup, and rioting ensued on the neighboring streets.  In the following days, LGBTQ people demonstrated for their civil rights – the first time that demonstrations for their civil rights had ever taken place. Today, it remains important for people to live authentic lives, without fear or shame because of their sexual orientation.

And that includes us, the heterosexual current or former spouses and partners of LGBTQ people. There are millions of us – all around the world.

The long-held estimate of 2,000,000 straight spouses in the United States was always a conservative one.  Our founder, Amity Buxton, arrived at this figure when performing research for her book “The Other Side of the Closet” in the 1990s. She said:

“The 2,000,000 figure is derived from a conservative estimate of the incidence of more or less homosexual behavior (a mid-range figure of four accepted percentages of gay men who marry (twenty percent) and of lesbians who marry (eighteen to thirty-five percent), the percentage of bisexual men and women (at least twice as many as homosexuals) and the percentage of married bisexual persons (undetermined). 

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetObviously there is a greater likelihood that as more LGBTQ people tell their stories and live openly, the numbers change.  What was a conservative estimate of 2 million 20 years ago is now likely to be a very low estimate.  It remains difficult to calculate these numbers with certainty.  However, there is one thing we do know: the demand for assistance from the Straight Spouse Network has grown exponentially.

We used to get a few requests a week for help.  In April 2017, 188 new requests came in through our triage system. In addition, our website has seen a spike in hits.  We seem to attract a lot of hits from the Googled question “is my husband gay?” People seeking information on transgender spouses and lesbian wives also find us through Google. They comment on this blog, Straight Talk, on articles they find from these searches that we published years ago.  They message us on Facebook, thinking they are alone.

They join divorce support groups, only to find that there is much about their experience which is unique, and not understood. They join groups for spouses of recovering sex addicts, only to find that again, their experience is different. Some LGBTQ people are sex addicts.  But not all. They try talking to good friends and family, clergy and counselors, only to find that other people want to back off once issues pertaining to  having an LGBTQ spouse are raised.

Amity stated the problem for us clearly in the forward to “The Other Side of the Closet:

“Because the trauma is so profound, the process of recovery and transformation is long and arduous, requiring courage, patience, and persistence. It typically takes at least a year to resolve the pragmatic issues of damaged sexuality, changed relationship and conflicting parent-spouse roles. Two or more years are generally needed to resolve the more complex issues of fragmented identity, integrity, family configuration and belief system.  All told, it usually takes more than three years to construct a new life, and far longer to look dispassionately at the experience.”

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetIt’s an uncomfortable truth for many LGBTQ spouses, advocates, clergy and counselors to acknowledge – that the effect of living in a marriage or long term partnership with an LGBTQ spouse or partner is devastating to the heterosexual spouse, requiring, time for recovery, support, adjustment, and eventual healing. But it is true. This isn’t the same as any other infidelity.  It isn’t the same as any other lie.  It causes us to question our own sexual self worth, our ability to trust in relationships. And it takes TIME to work through it all.

Many of us do become advocates for LGBTQ rights.  Some of us are parents of LGBTQ children. And for some, being among advocates who seek positive changes in society while living honest authentic lives themselves is refreshing.

But for so many of us, it remains difficult to tell our stories, or have anyone truly listen without proposing a quick fix, or an admonition to “just get over it”.  And that is why the Straight Spouse Network is invaluable in the global support we provide. It often shocks many straight spouses to discover that they indeed are not alone – and that there are millions of us. 2 million in the USA and counting.  There are active chapters of the Straight Spouse Network in Canada, Australia, India, the UK, and there are contacts in Asia, Europe, and South America.

We don’t have a chapter or contact in China – not yet anyway. Scholars believe that 80% of the male homosexuals in China marry a woman, who is known as a tongqi. Approximately 31.2% of all tongqi marriages end in divorce.  Being married to a gay husband is not recognized as legal grounds for divorce in China, and many tongqi are financially dependent on their husbands.  Estimates of the number of tongqi in China range from 10 million to 20 million.

And that’s just wives of gay men. We haven’t found any statistics on men who marry lesbians in China.

When LGBTQ people cannot live authentic lives, that creates a greater likelihood of mixed orientation marriages. So during Pride month, as we support the rights of LGBTQ people, we remain dedicated to telling the stories from the other side of the closet. There is no need for a straight spouse to suffer in silence. We offer free, confidential peer-to-peer support, either in local face to face groups, or in secret online communities.

And we will continue to tell the stories of all straight spouses, male and female, married and divorced, whether there has been a “honey I’m gay” disclosure, or a denial resulting in questions that never seem to end.

2 million and counting in the USA.

 

Millions more across the planet.

 

We are not alone.

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News From Our Board

Posted by on May 27, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

ssn logoBy Laura Long, Board member, Straight Spouse Network
Most of us are familiar with and all are grateful to Amity Pierce Buxton, who founded the Straight Spouse Network in 1986 and continues to play an active role in the organization. Some may also be aware that as a non-profit 501 c(3),  SSN is governed by a Board of Directors. But most probably don’t know much about the Board.

Our current Board of Directors is comprised of nine volunteer straight spouse members, four men and five women. We meet at least once a month, connecting via conference call from coast to coast and into Canada, with board members from CA, MI, MD, PA, NY, MA and Ottawa. As a Board, we represent straight spouses everywhere, our varied journeys dating back to 2000, and beginning as recently as 2014.

Our mission of reaching out, healing, and building bridges among straight spouses and with the wider world is our common goal. The recent media coverage of Ellen DeGeneres publicly coming out in 1997, reminds us how far attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals have evolved. “The character on my show was clearly struggling. It was pretty clear it would be an easy transition for her to realize she was gay, which was why her relationships with men weren’t working out,” Ellen said in her interview with ABC news. Ellen’s subsequent personal and professional struggles and successes are well known and rightfully respected.

Our struggles, and those of our spouses, are mostly private. Societal recognition and media portrayals of LGBTQ challenges has grown exponentially over the past two decades, but recognition of the straight spouse journey remains limited.

As individuals and as an organization, our outreach extends not only to straight spouses, but to the wider communities we are all part of. As individuals, all of us on the Board are grateful for the peer support we received through SSN. And as an organization we remain committed to making sure that support is there for you and others we continue to connect with.

Laura Long 2016 BoardLaura Long grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In 1978 she went off to Boston College, where she majored in nursing and met her future husband. Married nearly twenty years with two preteens, Laura discovered quite by accident that her husband was gay and essentially leading a duplicitous life.

They endured a turbulent transition as a couple but kept their priorities focused on the needs of their sons, who have grown into terrific adults. The Straight Spouse Network was an invaluable cornerstone of insight and support via the local support group, and online, throughout the many stages of the Straight Spouse journey. The Unitarian Church, also a place of healing, was where Laura met her second husband. They have a son together. Over the years they’ve continued to share holiday and family celebrations with Laura’s ex and his various boyfriends; scaffolding together their own version of a modern family.

Laura has a PhD in health policy and works in home healthcare and hospice.

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Staying Married Instead

Posted by on Apr 27, 2017 in Blog | 14 comments

Despite the popular opinion that a mixed orientation marriage is doomed, some straight spouses do choose to remain married to their LGBT spouse.

sevret-staying-married-starting-businessThe marriage may last long term, or it may be that the couple remains married until one or both of them decide after a while that they want to no longer be married.  Some people remain married but lead separate lives, needing the legal designation for income, health insurance or career. Others decide to remain married because they have a family and do not want to decide to separate right away. Others decide to remain married, because they want to remain married to their life partner. These are  relationships that are sometimes monogamous, sometimes not, and sometimes celibate.

Several years ago, we conducted a a survey of those who are connected to the Straight Spouse Network for support of all types. In response to a question about remaining married, 55% of the respondents have already divorced or separated, and another 13% planned to divorce or separate.  8% didn’t know what they would do.  The remainder planned to stay in the marriage.

Approximately 2 out of every 3 people who contact us for support is female.  That means 1/3 are male; straight men who are married to lesbians or bisexual women.  You hear very little in the mainstream media about the experiences of men, yet their numbers among straight spouses are significant.

According to Straight Spouse Network Founder Dr. Amity Buxton, “About a third of couples break up within the first year of disclosure; another third stay together for about two years before separating; and a third commit to staying married, half of whom remain together for three or more years.”wedding-rings1

So, while a majority of mixed orientation marriages end in divorce, not all of them do – and some are sustained for several years, while the spouse is moving  “from shock and confusion to accept reality, heal, reconfigure their identity, moral compass, and belief system; and, finally, to transform their lives, whether or not they stay married,” says Dr. Buxton.

Sometimes straight spouses are asked by their LGBTQ spouse to consider an open marriage. Open marriages are not a free-for-all; they are structured by mutual agreement, and take ongoing effort by BOTH spouses. They can be totally open, with both spouses seeking outside partners; or “closed loop” arrangements, involving particular outside partners.

Marriage is still marriage, even in an open relationship.  It requires communication, mutual reciprocity, respect. “COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, as much as you can with your spouse,” advises one straight husband in a long term closed loop marriage.  “The more open honest communications you can have, the better.” He also advises those contemplating an open marriage to “Make sure you take care of yourself in getting plenty of rest, food, and sleep.  While you are doing this, begin thinking of what is best, and what YOU really need and want, for YOU.  YOUR needs and wants are the primary things you should be concerned about in the immediate future.”

If you don’t want an open relationship, that doesn’t mean that you are hostile, uncooperative, or to blame for failed efforts.  An open marriage takes a lot of work, and it is often not an option that a straight spouse will consider for a variety of reasons.  Primarily, they assumed at the start that the marriage was between two people of the opposite sex, not three or four. What YOU want matters too.

Sometimes straight wives are advised by clergy and counselors within religious organizations to save the marriage by being more feminine, losing weight, improving themselves, being more attractive. It’s a play on a quote by Honore de Balzac which became a slogan in a classic perfume ad “Want him to be more of a man? Try being more of a woman.” balzacThere is NOTHING – we repeat NOTHING – that you or anyone else can do to change someone’s sexual orientation.

Mixed orientation couples who choose to remain married can benefit from counseling that opens up communication between husband and wife.  They can also benefit from peer to peer support from others who make the choice to remain together, at least for the time being. Finding that support can be difficult, even among fellow straight spouses.  There are several resources we can suggest on our website, as well as specific contacts we can refer to those who contact us who have remained in a marriage.

It can take several years for a straight spouse to fully sort out their reactions and feelings. LGBT people have had a while to adjust to the knowledge that they are gay, even when they come out late in life.  The spouse has much less time to adjust to that reality. Trust, and  genuine affection and respect  between the couple is also very necessary.

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