Whose Fault is It Anyway?
Following just about any divorce or marital split, you’ll hear the common advice “It takes two.” Yes. It takes two to make a marriage, and often it takes two people to contribute to the breakup of a marriage or long term relationship.
But then there’s people like us – straight spouses who either are told by our mates that they are LGBTQ, or we discover it in other ways.
Maybe we knew already, but thought that the time of “exploration” was past. Maybe we thought the marriage could be open, without really understanding what that means.
Most people who contact the Straight Spouse Network for support did not know or understand beforehand that their spouse was not heterosexual. Some thought the marriage was just fine. Others thought that the difficulties could be addressed with marriage counseling, therapy, changing their appearance, changing their occupation, staying home with kids, going back to work, getting a different job, not working so much, cleaning more, not being such a clean freak.
But the core problem is that most of our spouses are not attracted to us in a way that allows them to be truly invested in a marriage for anything other than appearances.
Of course there are other problems. Some of us have addictions. Some of us have anger management issues. Some of us have problems with depression, personality disorders, health conditions. And all of those can really kill a marital relationship.
We have no way of knowing how much of what we have brought to a mixed orientation marriage could contribute to the breakup of that marriage – because at the core, many of our spouses are not capable of giving us the same level of intimacy as a same sex partner. Nothing we can do or be can change that.
Some of our spouses move forward, and marry their same sex partner. Moving forward for us is not so easy. This is for several reasons:
1. By the time our LGBTQ spouse discloses their sexual orientation to us, or we discover that they are attracted to same sex partners, they have had a lifetime to deal with acknowledging their orientation. We’ve had a much shorter time to deal with the reality.
2. We often are asked “How could you not know? How could you miss this?” We wonder if there is something wrong with us. We have difficulty trusting other people, and our perceptions of them. It takes a while for this to heal, to get our confidence back, to place our trust in others with whom we want to date or share sexual intimacy.
3. Our initial reactions are intense, and may remain unresolved. The deep anger that many straight spouses experience upon discovery or disclosure and the profound sense of betrayal is not pleasant to experience or to witness. We are often told by friends and family to deal with our anger, stop “dwelling on it” and “be happy he/she has discovered their true self.” The inability to express our feelings because they make others uncomfortable or because they will prompt a lecture delays our ability move forward. These feelings fester, along with a sense of isolation.
Our anger and isolation is compounded when our LGBTQ spouses are lauded as heroes for being their true, out of the closet selves (which they should be) but we are never affirmed. Our experiences are minimized, and sometimes even denied.
Somehow, some folks near and dear to us believe it is all our fault that we choose to be hurt. Or that we chose to marry an LGBTQ person in the first place. Or that we choose to be angry.
Because, you see, we have issues.
Why yes. We do have issues.
We have issues with betrayal – and not having our experiences, emotions, and reactions affirmed, validated, and acknowledged in a supportive way.
We have issues with society – and being forced into a closet of someone else’s construction once they emerge, or remaining closeted with them out of fear or loyalty.
We have issues with anger – and the consistent triggering of that anger over many years as we move forward into family adjustments that belittle our experiences or devalue us, or are made on false assumptions about us.
We have issues with being misrepresented to former in laws, friends, our own children, or people in our community as characters in a new script we have not written or seen.
We have issues with being angry, discarded, rejected, feeling that many years of our lives have been thrown away – and being ignored. We have issues with being told that we should just deal with it, because gay is ok, and we just have to deal with that. Anything else is intolerant.
We have issues with gaslighting. Big time. (Here’s a clip from the movie “Gaslight” which is the source of the term.)
We have issues with rejection from our families and friends when we are supportive of our LGBTQ spouses, maintaining our marriages or cordial relationships.
We have issues with our own lack of visibility. Straight spouses are a diverse group. No two experiences, marriages, or reactions are alike. There’s no convenient social box where all of us fit.
One of the primary needs of any straight spouse is affirmation. The affirmation from family and friends that says “What do you need? I’m here to listen” is extremely valuable.
Confirmation of our LGBTQ spouse’s sexuality is not always a given. Many of us never have the “Honey, I’m gay” moment, and may face recriminations when we discover our husband or wife’s true sexuality. Without that honest admission, upon discovery we face questioning, doubt, argument, and sometimes derision or false accusations of being delusional. Without disclosure and confirmation, our path to healing can take longer, and remain riddled with unresolved questions, feelings, and gutted family relationships.
We’re not perfect people – life gets complicated enough without living it in the shadow of someone else’s denial and deceit.
The Straight Spouse Network is here for all straight spouses, male or female, married or separated, whether they are absolutely sure about their spouse’s sexual orientation or are still figuring it out. Your experiences matter. Your healing matters. And the unacknowledged obstacles to your healing are shared by many of us.
We don’t know whose fault it is, but we do know these things – you are not to blame for your spouse’s sexual orientation. They are not to blame for your addictions or mental health issues. But, living without acknowledgement, affirmation, and honesty does not aid in recovery.
If the news of a divorce from a gay spouse is ever good, this would probably qualify as one of the best case scenarios we’ve ever seen.
Popular parenting blogger, Jill Smokler, of Scary Mommy announced her upcoming divorce from her husband on her website after careful consideration. Then, her husband submitted a guest article on his perspective.
“Once I came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I figured I had two options,” Jeff Smokler wrote. “I could die — either from my intentional neglect of my health and well-being, or perhaps from something even more tragic — leaving my children fatherless, or I could come out and hope that I remained surrounded by the love of my friends, family, wife and children.”
“For many years, I chose option one; letting myself slip into unhealthy habits and depression,” he continued. “So how then do Jill and I now find ourselves in this moment? What changed? The truth is, nothing changed. We were simply ready.”
The couple is committed to being honest, and to continuing to create a stable family for their children, and be supportive of their children.
The struggles of coming out, and of coping with the devastating realization for the straight spouse, are not easy. The Smoklers acknowledged that they experienced many years of tremendous stress and difficulty before arriving at the resolution: a divorce that is done as openly as possible.
Jill Smokler is among the luckiest group of straight wives. Her husband struggled with honesty and included her in his discovery and disclosure. They mutually share a partnership of family and personal connection. Letting go of the secret is freeing for both spouses when it is done together. For many of us, that is not an option. We are consigned to closets, experiencing ongoing denial, or threats or shaming by the gay spouse. We’re put off on the question of telling the kids, or we’re cast aside – as if the disclosure only belongs to the gay spouse.
The Smoklers have shown that coming out isn’t just a matter for the LGBTQ spouse. Coming out is a family matter which includes the straight spouse. Not everything is going to be easy, or smooth, or go according to one person’s desires and plans.
They aspire to show that divorce can come from a place of love – and there is no shortage of love in their relationship. We are all uplifted by this affirmation! Yet, a number of straight spouses are experiencing pain along with that sense of “Oh, OK, so it doesn’t always have to be terrible and terrifying for everyone.” It’s a relief that not ALL mixed orientations marriages that end in divorce end with abuse, gaslighting, deception, and shaming. It’s a relief to know that not all straight spouses go through the process of being discarded, or living down the writing of an untrue script.
What are some examples of untrue scripts?
1. This is no big deal. Other couples stay married. Other straight wives are SUPPORTIVE! (after all, look at Scary Mommy!)
It is a big deal, and the Smoklers have said so. And their support is for each other – and has developed throughout the 15 years of marriage. Many times, the feelings of the straight spouse are discarded, denied, ignored, or just plain unacknowledged. We discover that we don’t matter. The Smoklers matter to each other.
2. My wife chooses to be angry. She’s very bitter and hateful. No one can make you angry (unhappy, sad, distraught). Only YOU can make you angry.
Anger is a normal response, and it is a consequence of being hurt and deceived. It can take a while to work it through. And, it takes professional support, patience, and respect of boundaries and personhood. Also, wanting to have equitable distribution of marital assets, and adequate financial support or a fair decision on child custody and support is not about anger. It is about survival. It is about going forward as a family, in the best interests of everyone in that family, and it may not always be clear and easy to determine.
3. Everyone is gay. You are just repressed (judgmental, crazy, narrow-minded, etc)
No. There is a spectrum of sexual orientation, and many people are just plain heterosexual. They marry with the expectation that their spouse is heterosexual, or is willing to commit to a marriage.
4. My kids don’t accept me because my husband/wife’s family is religious.
While religion might inform some children’s beliefs, problems in relationship often have a lot to do with the relationships that have been formed throughout their lives.
We’re really encouraged by the honesty shown by Jeff and Jill ending a mixed orientation marriage with divorce in an honest, deliberate, and considerate way that affirms the entire family. For those of us who have not shared this kind of connection in our marriages, it is also affirming to know that it can be done, if the gay spouse is honest and loving, and the blame games are set aside.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support all straight spouses, male and female, of LGBTQ people. Whether or not your spouse has come out to you or is in denial, whether you found out by discovery or disclosure, we are a peer to peer network that can affirm your experience, offer connection, support, and confidentiality. Your experience may or may not be as ideal as Jill and Jeff, but we are here for you, around the world.
Straight Spouses – Fake News and the Real Story
It usually starts out like this:
A reporter or writer contacts the Straight Spouse Network. They want to tell the story of actual real straight spouses.
This makes us really excited! We want our experiences to be known and acknowledged. We want more people to know about the Straight Spouse Network, so they can know they are not alone when they find that their husband or wife is LGBTQ.
Sometimes it’s not all that exciting however. Sometimes it’s downright infuriating.
We never respond to the people who want to cast a reality show where the big secret will be divulged on camera, and the straight spouse will be “helped” by an “expert” to move beyond their pain – quickly.
Sometimes when we respond, we find that the story has already been written, and all that is needed is a few quotes to back up the story that has already been written. “Don’t you have any people who stay married? Can they tell us what that is like?” Well, yes we do, and yes they can, if they choose.
But sometimes they don’t choose to allow their names to be published. There are many reasons why a straight spouse or a mixed orientation couple might want to tell their story but still maintain some privacy. It’s not always life in a homophobic hating world. Sometimes they want to consider the effect on family members, children, their relationship, or their place in a community of having personal and intimate information out there in public.
Sometimes the straight spouse wants to tell their story and speak with a journalist – but wait, we need the permission of your ex spouse to write about it…..or confirm it…..For us, this is often a huge roadblock, along with having to divulge our own identity.
It’s also a deterrent to acknowledging the truth – the real truth – the real news is that our experiences are surprisingly common, and yet there is surprisingly little information available outside of what the Straight Spouse Network is able to supply. Unless of course, it comes with juicy details, or can be used as an affirmation of being out and proud.
Sometimes writers have specific criteria. They may want to speak with wives only, in a certain metro area. They may want wives who are friendly with their husband’s new partner. They may want only spouses of transgender people. They may only want to speak with people whose husbands or wives actually came out, and not those whose LGBTQ spouses remain in the closet of denial. They may want a happy ending.
We are always careful about guarding confidentiality and introducing straight spouses to writers. It can be very painful to tell the whole truth to a writer only to find it has been rewritten to minimize some of the pain. One freelance writer once said to us “Don’t you have anyone I can speak to who isn’t so…. so…angry? I really don’t want to write anything that might offend gay people.”
Truth must be told. Anger is part of the straight spouse experience. Grief is part of the straight spouse experience. Surviving for a long time with complicated emotions, financial, social, and family fallout is part of the experience.
Our experiences are diverse. They are painful to us, and may be painful to hear about. But truth is not offensive. Sometimes truth is painful.
Being forced into a closet is offensive, and many of us are forced there by our LGBTQ spouses and our families. Being forced into a closet because someone might be offended at your response to being a straight spouse – finding your story is “cleaned up” for publication – being silenced – now THAT is REALLY offensive!
We’ve had a few good mentions in the press, and were encouraged last year by this excellent article. Dear Abby mentions us in her column at least once a year. We are the go-to resource for global information on straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages.
And in this era of “fake news” and not being able to believe what you read, we will continue to tell the true story. That true story is yours. And you can share it with us!
If you’d like to contribute your experience to this blog in the form of an article, please see our guidelines here. Yes, you may use your real name, or an alias. The important thing to us is that straight spouses get to speak and have our say.
Straight spouse truth is shared every day on our public forum, in comments to our blog articles, and in our private online groups. It is peer to peer support like no other. We will continue to speak the truth of our lives.
We’ve started the year with a bang. More people than ever are contacting the Straight Spouse Network for support when they discover that their spouse is LGBTQ.
So what are their stories?
Some are spouses of transgender individuals. Some are married to people who deny being gay or lesbian. Some are struggling to understand bisexuality, and determine if this is the truth about their spouse, or another way to admit that their spouse is gay. Some have had a full disclosure from a newly out and proud spouse and are reeling from the shock and pain, while the rest of the world seems oblivious.
More than a third of the people who contact us are men.
Some of the people who contact us want to stay married. Some aren’t sure. Some were never married.
Each person who contacts us has a different story. Some are grieving the loss of a marriage. Some are in complete shock, not just about infidelity, but questioning the reality of the life they have led. Was anything ever true? Can they ever trust their own judgement again? Can they ever believe what their spouse tells them?
Some situations are more complicated. Some straight spouses are surviving abusive situations, and struggling to remain safe while emerging from an abusive spouse’s closet. They are often told that they cannot tell anyone what they know or the entire world will collapse and it will be their fault. Or they are ridiculed for knowing, told that it is all their imagination, or they are vicious liars.
They may find that they are further isolated from any source of help – because they are perceived as being troublesome, disturbed, and uncooperative. Or they are told that they just have to go along with their spouses demands – or else they are homophobic haters.
Others remain married, seeking help as individuals and as couples, dealing with the emerging changes in their marriages, and coping with family members’ reactions.
What do we do? We connect people. We either connect straight spouses online or in face to face support groups where they exist. We aren’t therapists. We don’t tell you what to do. We offer free, confidential peer to peer support from a network of volunteers.
We are also a point of contact for others who want to learn more about straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages. We have spokespersons who can speak up about the straight spouse experience on panels, in print, and to local groups. we also can serve as points of contact for local journalists, wishing to write about the effect on a family of coming out – or not coming out.
In some places, our volunteer force is thin. But we do help with online connections for support, and phone calls.
We also build connections. We are not a political organization. However, you will sometimes see our local chapters represented at gay pride events, being visible, being out, and being available to help the straight spouses of the people who are celebrating. Sometimes the LGBTQ people we meet at these events are out to everyone – except their heterosexual husband or wife.
Our founder, Amity Buxton, has worked with thousands of mixed orientation couples over her long career by her estimate. She has published research on counseling straight spouses, which is available through our website.
If you want more information, or would like to volunteer to help other straight spouses, please contact us here.
Holidays are wonderful times for families to get together and renew relationships, celebrate traditions, and share the latest news. For straight spouses undergoing the stresses of divorce, or the recent discovery that a spouse is gay, those same holidays can be awkward and painful. It can hurt to see traditions discarded, or to be excluded from family gatherings, or be told that the spouse has to be excluded or included.
Some new dilemmas for straight spouses include basic things, like “whose house are we going to for dinner and who will be there” to “telling the kids mom is gay” before or after the holiday, to a lack of money to keep up all the traditions. They can be as complicated as “will Daddy bring the boyfriend to Grandma’s this year” or taking the kids shopping to buy a present for Mom’s girlfriend. A straight spouse might feel a rush of anger at seeing an expensive present that was lavished on a boyfriend or girlfriend, that was never considered for them, or seeing the gay couple take the trip of a lifetime that the spouse had thought would be a special second honeymoon.
Then there are always the friends and relatives who have their own opinions about things – and express them loudly. That could mean saying negative things about the gay spouse in front of the children, or a tentative hint around the kitchen table that “you can still be married, just live together like brother and sister”. It can be the brother in law who keeps asking “ya want me to ‘fix’ his car?” or the cousin who just CANNOT believe that this is true, and YOU must be mistaken. Add to this family stew a gay spouse who is worried that nothing will be the same “because I’m gay and nobody accepts that”, and your happy holidays turn into an occasion of dread.
How about those friends who are determined to be fair and friendly and invite you both to a party? You venture out, and find your spouse there with a date – and the group of friends is affirming “coming out” but ignoring how devastating this is to you. Isn’t it funny how the rules for divorcing heterosexual couples don’t apply to us?
The best advice we have for the holidays is to view them as an opportunity for new traditions affirming you and your values. Accept that things will be different. The first year it is a discovery process, finding what works and what doesn’t. After that, it does get easier.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with friends and relatives, and establish what is appropriate and what is not. Tell the brother in law to fix YOUR car since you need help. Tell the cousin that believe it or not, it’s true and you’re not discussing it right now. Tell the person who wants you to stay married that you can’t. It really is not possible to ignore a gay spouse’s sexual activity, no matter how discreet. It is different. And if you are staying together, you are making your own rules. Just don’t totally alienate people who truly love you. Remember, they are struggling to understand what has happened, and want to know how to help you.
Holidays can be a bridge that we cross from an old life to a new one. Sometimes it is a painful bridge, but we do get there! The important thing is to keep going.