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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 2

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.

45 Comments

  1. I get what Kristin is saying but Gunther pointed out a clear heterosexual bias in the way she stated it. That bias is undeniable. It’s not immediately obvious, but it’s there, hiding in plain sight. That’s the stuff that gets folks riled up. It would be a telling experiment to swap “heterosexual” and “homosexual” throughout and see how that reads. But as written now it defines the gay person’s internal conflict in purely heterosexual terms; that’s why it doesn’t work. If we want to understand his conflict, we have to see it through his eyes, not ours; just the same way we want people to understand our conflict through our eyes.

    Compare:

    “…when our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with the homosexuality in a way that leaves us particularly wounded”

    and

    “…when our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with his internalized homophobia in a way that leaves us particularly wounded.”

    One describes the gay person’s internal conflict, the other describes how a heterosexual partner interprets it. This isn’t splitting hairs; they are not the same thing. If we don’t grasp the ramifications, our recovery takes that much longer, because the difference between the two sentences is crucial to understanding why it happened. And this doesn’t minimize or take anything away from our experience; that remains unchanged. I hope it expands and adds to our understanding of our experiences.

    • This has been one of the better discussions I’ve followed and it really is making me start to think differently about what I thought I understood in some places.

      There is a heterosexual bias in those statements for sure, I hadn’t noticed it before, but there they are. It would sound strange, even a little crazy, if we talked about other straight people that way. And I get that the closet is a hiding place, not a stage. That makes sense.

      Does this mean we’ve been mistaking his internalized homophobia for narcissism because they look similar to us from our point of view, when he acts on it? The point about seeing his disorder through our eyes instead of his is so true, it’s right there where Kristin says it’s mental illness mixed with homosexuality, that’s what we interpret from the way he acts. Like someone else said, being gay is not a mental illness, so why would we say it gets mixed with a real mental illness and makes it worse? We don’t say being straight gets mixed with mental illness and makes it worse.

      Someone had posted “cure the homophobia, that’s the disorder,” and I thought it was referring to us. He was saying cure your gay spouse’s homophobia, because it’s not narcissism, it’s homophobia – his.

      I wonder if it’s a relief for him if we call him a narcissist, because in his mind, at least we aren’t calling him gay. Better to be called sociopath or narcissist; he can laugh or shrug that off and ignore it, because – whew! – at least we didn’t call him gay, Does that make sense, it makes the puzzle pieces fit better?

  2. Coco, those are excellent and frequently asked questions, which raise issues of trust. It sounds like you want more information to decide whether or not to trust me, and that’s fair. But whatever I reveal about myself, won’t change a single word I’ve said so far, although it might color your interpretation of it. What would change if I tell you:

    I’m a psychologist
    I’m a gay man
    I’m a straight spouse
    I’m married, single, divorced
    I’m a psychologist and I’m gay
    I’m a psychologist and I’m straight
    and so on.

    No matter what I say about myself, you won’t know if I was honest. I can say whatever I think you want to hear, and I could make up any story I choose. What difference does it make who I say I am? That won’t tell you if what I said is sound psychological practice. You’re trying to decide whether I can be trusted based on whatever I decide to tell you about myself.

    Isn’t that EXACTLY how you ended up in a marriage based on deception?

    I have no dog in this fight, other than defending the mental health profession from scurrilous and irresponsible attacks by persons who presume to know more about it than those who practice it, for whatever reason soothes them. Going down a rabbit hole is an apt description, but they go there on their own: The gay spouse was evil, therapists are indifferent, society doesn’t care, there is no more hope. Listen to that narrative and ask: could that be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    At 2,000 characters, this isn’t an appropriate forum to discuss all the nuances of diagnosing mental or emotional disorders. It’s too complex to be done from a blog or a google search or word of mouth. All I will say is that your doctor doesn’t have to have had your illness to recognize and treat it. Given the choice, I’d opt for the professional opinion, not that of a fellow sufferer who hasn’t healed because she rejected a professional’s advice and took herself down a rabbit hole instead.

    • “Isn’t that EXACTLY how you ended up in a marriage based on deception?”

      That’s quite cruel Gunther. I ended up in a marriage based on deception because I married a gay man that does not want to be gay. It is much more that what he decided to tell me about himself. He lived a secret life of very high risk sex and still will not acknowledge his sexuality. Please show some respect by not being so glib.

      • Coco, take a step back for a moment. How can it be cruel if it is true? Your second sentence was “I ended up in a marriage because on deception because… “. I’m not sure why you’re taking offense at an observation that’s true?

        I think the point is, if we were deceived into marrying someone because we believed lies we were told… then no one, especially those of us who were deceived into marriage by lies.. none of us should believe a word anyone tells us about themselves in an online forum.

        But, it doesn’t matter if they’re a President or a pauper. A friend or a foe. Went to Harvard or never went to school ever.. A valid idea will be valid no matter who offers it. An invalid idea will be invalid no matter who offers it. Deciding whether or not an idea is good based on who tells it to you is how people get played. If the idea is good.. its good. If it’s not, it’s not.

    • Oh but it does matter what your perspective is. It does matter that we know the source of your opinions, your treatises, your expertise.

      We have all said who we are – straight spouses, gay spouses, new partners of straight spouses.

      But not you.

      We all get questioned about our “expertise.” The subject of these articles is about how we are shut down for dairing to explore the issue of who is the person behind the mask.

      By refusing to answer Coco’s question is such a cutting way, you are wearing a mask. Like a lot of people we know. Further, you deflect by blaming her – a common trick of – guess who – closeted gay husbands!

      So – politely – are you a gay husband? A counseling professional? A straight spouse? The husband of a gay man?

      Please – like so many straight spouses are asked every day – justify who you are and why you hold the ideas that you do.

      And you just proved Kristin’s point.

      • Who a person is. Their religion, gender, orientation, race, IQ, wealth, career, nationality, lineage, health, marital status, parental status, ethnicity, age, ability.. none of these matter. Not one of these categories serves to validate a bad idea or undermine a good idea.

        Whoever the person is posting their comment, it holds up on its own or it doesn’t.

        Rosa, I appreciate your clarification that you don’t believe being gay is a mental illness. You must have typed that accidentally. Accidents happen.

        But I, and everyone else reading it, didn’t have to know anything about you… in fact, I know nothing about you. I have no idea if whatever you might tell me about you is true or not. But guess what. It doesn’t matter. When you accidentally typed “Do not tell us that gay is not a mental illness.” Everyone knew that sentence was poppycock as soon as they read it. No one needed to know anything about you to determine that. Similarly, solid ideas also hold up on their own without knowing anything about who wrote it.

        We can all still debate the ideas, one way or the other. But evaluating ideas based on whether someone fits a set of criteria or characteristics serves no purpose.

        The comments on this article are very stimulating. Let’s keep it going, and I hope everyone will keep this in mind.

        • The poiint Iwas making is that I was being lectured about gay not being a mental illness – and not allowed to discuss how my former husbands closeted sexuality impacted me.

          So by saying “dont tell me gay is not a mental illness” – I didnt mean that it is. I meant that I want people to stop listening to reply, and stop wagging their progressive know it all fingers at me and acknowledge my experience and actually LISTEN – instead of deciding they know it all and telling me off and “educating” me.

          15 years of marriage to a closeted gay man was education enough.

          But I appreciate the opportunity to clarify this – it shows how important it is to be absolutely clear, lest others assume things about me that are not true.

    • So my identity determines the validity of the psychological principles I’ve laid out? The ideas don’t stand on their own? That is what you’re saying: knowing (for example) whether I’m a straight spouse or a gay man is how you decide if the ideas are accurate and true.

      I spelled out why I withheld my identity, asking what that had to do with the ideas. The answer should have been that it doesn’t matter; truth is truth, no matter who says it.

      In the absence of information about me, you assumed that I must be a reincarnation of the monster from your past, rather than test my ideas on their own merits. I agree, you’ve been harmed, just as you say. But rather than consider a different interpretation of what happened, you assumed the messenger’s motives were malignant, just as Kristin did. She went down the rabbit hole, and then blamed him for it.

      Therapists are bound by legal and ethical duties, along with therapeutic best practices. Nowhere in Kristin’s article are those issues discussed in any depth. Instead she leaps to the worst possible conclusions about the mental health industry, rather than learn how the therapist follows a protocol he is mandated to follow by professional ethics, licensure and requirements of law.

      All of this is to say, the article assumes reasons for the client’s experience without testing whether those reasons are complete or correct or biased. That led to an indictment of the entire profession, based on a client’s presumptions. Most telling is her assertion that “being gay is not an illness” yet when mixed with a mental disorder, homosexuality somehow exacerbates it in mysterious ways. What is a therapist supposed to do, after observing that the client is confused and unaware of how she is contradicting herself, and she refuses to consider that?

      And Kristin proved my point: her conclusions are built on incomplete information and biased language, just as you came to wrong conclusions about me in the absence of…

      • My experience was that of being crushed by ideas without any opportunity to affirm the truth. By a highly intellectual gay ex husband who would go on and on with perfectly crafted arguments….all about the IDEAS….but never about the truth.

        Look, we all maintain a degree of anonymity here. But others, including myself, share the source of our perspectives. You seem like an expert but you will not be honest about your personal position and experience in all this, which others have shared.

        We are all experts in our own lives. My personal experience was that proclamations of expertise – while denying the validity of my experiences – were used to oppress me and my children in court, and endanger one of my sons.

        So I have a high level of mistrust of anyone who proclaims that they are all about the ideas, but shares no personal perspective, when others in the conversation are more open.

      • You are very quick to tell me how my perspective has been warped by my experience. Our perceptions are impacted by experience.

  3. “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.”

    Is this equally valid then:

    “We are claiming, unequivocally, that when our spouses are both straight and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with the heterosexuality in a way that leaves us particularly wounded.”

    Coco: I have not said your spouses did not have a mental disorder. In fact, I have stated several times that mental disorders do exist within the gay population. The issue is about making the correct assessment, and what is involved in that. It’s fair and necessary for you to describe the behavior you witnessed, and your experience, and anybody who tried to shut down your description of it, was wrong to do so. It’s also fair to offer your best guess of what it means. But there is a big difference between saying “I think he might have a personality disorder but I’m snot sure,” and saying “I know for a fact that he has narcissistic personality disorder, and I know better than you because I lived with it.”

    If you already know the answer and you aren’t willing to listen to an expert’s alternatives, then why are you wasting your time and money on the expert?

    If your therapist doesn’t listen to you or allow you tell your story, yes, that is a problem with the therapist. Look for another one. The flip side is that if you insist you know better than he, and you aren’t willing to consider his expertise, you are the problem.

    Look at the trap you are setting for yourself now. You were devalued in your marriage. You want to understand why, but you refuse to consider other opinions, or that you might misunderstand something. The entire industry is stacked against you, and nobody is helping and it’s everybody’s fault. So you’ve defined your situation as hopeless and convinced yourself of it.

    • Are you speaking to me specifically Gunther? My situation is difficult but not hopeless. It has nothing to do with me convincing myself of anything rather being left to deal with two small sad children and my own complex grief. I think a closeted man’s situation is hopeless. He has convinced himself of his own lies. Curious-what was your experience wth this? A straight spouse? A gay husband? Are you a psychologist?

    • No, it is not a trap. It is truth.

      We want truth.

      We want to be able to state truth.

      Marriage to a gay man deeply damages many women, especially over the long term. It is not just the deception. It is the degradation of our own sexuality.

      Being able to state whether the narcissist spouse is homosexual or heterosexual – or at least explore that question – is essential to our healing from the damage caused by being married to someone who is not heterosexual.

      But we get brushed off a lot by proclamations that “it doesnt matter, it is all the same.”

      It is not.

    • Gunther, you wrote “If you already know the answer and you aren’t willing to listen to an expert’s alternatives, then why are you wasting your time and money on the expert?”

      I get what you’re trying to say, but, if I do know something for a fact about my husband.. should I have to fight that hard for my therapist to believe me?

      I suppose if it’s on a matter that involves expertise.. like a diagnosis, then perhaps you’re right. They are the expert and I have to trust their expertise. But if it’s on a matter about my experience in my marriage or perhaps something I know about my husband factually from his past or something he’s said or done… the therapist should accept my expertise on that.

      Does that make sense?

  4. Joyce, I had a similar experience. I was actually kicked out of my straight wife support group for some unknown reason I couldn’t find out. At first I was hurt and felt more disconnected than ever. I was given no notice at all, no reason. I couldn’t even tell my friends in the group it happened and didn’t have their personal emails to contact them.

    I was so miserable that that happened. But, believe it or not, that turned out to be the best thing that happened to me in terms of my recovery! I went to a good therapist who had no experience with gay husbands. She had worked with sexual orientation issues but not marriage problems like ours. You know what she said first? After listening to my story she said, “I understand what you’re going through and I can help you. If you trust me and stay this open and honest with me, I can help you work through this.”

    I have made more progress in my healing and recover in one month than I did in a year in that support group. Thanks for kicking me out!! I recommend that to everyone!

    During my first full session with her she asked me a lot of questions and let me respond each time for as long as I wanted. At the end of the session she gave me one piece of feedback that became the springboard for my healing and I’ll share it here for free (sorry Doc, I’m giving away your secret.. but I don’t think she’ll mind).

    She said to me.. “Are you aware that almost all your responses to my questions were focused on your husband?” She said “This is your therapy, your sessions, your money. We’re going to talk about what YOU think is important for your understanding and healing. But I’ll give you something to think about that any competent therapist should tell you.. The more we talk about your husband, the longer it’s going to take you to recover and heal.” THAT has been the key to a much speedier recovery and optimistic outlook for me. That kept going through my mind with each sentence of Kristin’s article.

    • EJ, I must admit, that is some of the most sound advice I think I’ve heard in years. And I’ve been around a lot of years! 🙂

  5. About a year ago I sent my XGH several emails, making comments and asking questions. You see, I had new information from SSN. I had read many testimonials from straights in mixed orientation marriages or divorced from such relationships. Some of my emails and questions were calmly written, others were nasty. My GXH shared my emails with my adult children who decided I had gone mad. They called the police to pick me up, they used handcuffs even though I gave no resistance. The intake person at the Crisis Center completed her inventory and then told me that I was recalcitrant. ??? She told me that I should forgive my GXH and all would be fine. I had obviously triggered something in her and she subjected me to reverse discrimination. She locked me up for the night. I had no recourse that I could conjure up at the time. A psychiatrist released me the next day saying that my committal had been a “mistake.” Political correctness has gone too far. Empathy and common sense apply to all in these odd situations. I’m allowed to ask questions, even in anger. I’m not angry because he’s gay. I’m angry about the deceit of my marriage, the separate property that allowed him to escape his charade in comfort and the continuing Gaslighting now even by my children. No one is crazy here. It’s just that I’m the only one who can deal with the truth, even if they send the police.

    • I hear and understand. No one arrested me or tried to have me committed, but it was threatened.

      The kids are adults now, and the gaslighting continues.

  6. My former husband (closeted gay man) and I saw a psychologist for marital counselling years before I uncovered his high risk gay hook up lifestyle of most of our ten year marriage. We quit going – it wasn’t helpful as he refused to say anything other than “things are fine. I just don’t show affection that way.” “That way” being sex or any kind of intimacy. I saw this psychologist after I uncovered his secret life and she confirmed he has narcissist personality traits. I am sure someone on here will argue with me about this. All I know is I was unknowingly married to a man that had anonymous sex with dozens of men, continues to lie when faced with evidence, shows no remorse or empathy, no responsibility for his actions, a need to present an image of perfection to his family and community. We can debate about whether he meets the diagnostic criteria (pointing at you Gunther) but all I know is he has destroyed my life and family because he is ashamed he is gay. He’s got some kind of personality disorder or mental illness to do what he did.

  7. If I were bitten by a snake, I’d run to the nearest snake bite specialist, and listen to him and do whatever he advised. I’d answer whatever question he asked, I’d give him as much detail as he asked for, because I’d assume he’s better equipped than I am. I wouldn’t try to figure it out on my own, and I wouldn’t tell him how to do his job, or that he was doing it wrong, or that I know better than he does. Why would I be there at all if I knew more than he does? If my doctor has run his tests and tells me I have hepatitis, I’m not going to insist it’s kidney stones. My doctor doesn’t have to have had hepatitis himself, he just needs to know how to recognize it and treat it, because I don’t know. That’s his job and I’d trust him even if I didn’t like the test results or his diagnosis. But if I ignore him and decide to do my own treatment, and I end up going down a rabbit hole, I can’t blame that on him. I can’t diagnose mental health, I’m not trained in it, and I doubt many of us can either – we wouldn’t be here if we could.

  8. I have just one more issue to bring up. And I believe it’s a serious one that deserves some attention by a qualified professional, which I am not. Some straight spouses are very insistent that we have this conversation about our husband’s behavior around his sexual orientation and his behavior related to what they believe is their husband’s mental illness. Okay, we’re having that conversation which has included some respectful disagreement… so we are doing that.

    I’m wondering when we’re going to also have the conversation about the impact on this whole experience of straight spouses with mental illness. I can say from my own personal experience that I have dealt with two very vocal straight spouses who like to drive conversation for our community. One has a diagnosed mental illness and believes it has nothing to do with any of this issue, which she claims everyone else agrees with. The other I have no idea if she has a mental illness, but she is very manipulative and hurtful to others and doesn’t seem to be concerned when given that feedback.

    Surely their behavior and/or illness has to be having an impact on how their husband’s struggle is going on. And it certainly had an impact on me when I tried t interact with them. I think there is a collective denial among us that we don’t have issues, mental illness, or things that we do that contribute.

    I’m curious to hear others thoughts on this.

  9. So what this is saying to me is she didn’t like what her therapist had to say, she gave up on her therapist, tried to do her own analysis, and ended up going down a rabbit hole. Don’t you see it? The therapist didn’t push her down the rabbit hole, she took herself there instead of giving therapy a chance. That’s how this reads to me.

    The therapist is there to work with you, not somebody who isn’t there. And being bit by a snake doesn’t make anyone a snake expert. Just describe for the doctor what happened and answer the doctor’s questions, so he can decide the best plan based on his diagnosis. Don’t tell him how to do his job; he knows his job better than you do. If you don’t trust him, tell him so, and tell him why, so he can address that, but don’t just walk away, you’re only hurting yourself. Give him a chance; he’s been trained, you haven’t.

    I’m sorry your experience with a therapist didn’t satisfy you, but I suspect if I didn’t stick with mine and trust her, I probably would have gone down the rabbit hole with you. My therapist prevented it, I can’t thank her enough.

  10. I concur that seeing a therapist is what helped the most. Before that I was trying to figure out what was “wrong” with my ex. The therapist helped me figure out what was “wrong” with me, and that was when things started to get better. I don’t like using the word “wrong” but I hope you get what I mean. I have no idea if my ex had a mental illness or not, and in the end, it didn’t really matter for my healing. His issues were his, and mine were mine. They were an unhealthy mix, and they had to be separated. Have you read any of Bonnie Kaye’s books? She says almost all of us go into these marriages already broken, desperate and needy, many of us even had suspicions but we ignored them and did it anyway, because we were already dysfunctional going into it. I think she’s absolutely right, that was her own story, and it was mine, too. But now I know what part I played in it and I hope I learned enough so I don’t ever do it again. My therapist made me look at my own issues so I could take care of myself instead of trying to fix him. That what’s did the trick, learning about my own dysfunction was the way out of the fog. For all I know, he’s still in the fog, but I can’t do anything about that. I loved him, I feel sad for him, but if I had kept on following him around and trying to understand him, I’d have gone down the rabbit hole too, or still be in the fog with him.

    • I think my girlfriend is still lost in the fog from being married to a gay man 30 years ago, and she’s still not over it. I’ve suggested she see a counselor but she says they don’t understand, and the few times she tried, she gave up after just two or three sessions. I don’t know what to think or how to help her, or even if I can help her, so this was interesting. Is it possible for three different therapists to be the problem each time? That’s hard for me to believe, but I don’t know enough about itm or how much of it is her or how much of it was him or a bad therapist. I’ve met her ex a few times, he’s always been polite and courteous to me, but I can feel the tension / attraction between them. I wish I knew how to help her let it go, I’d like to marry her, but she doesn’t want that. Sometimes I think she’s still stuck on her ex. What can I tell her to convince her to try therapy again and stick with it? Or should I cut my losses and leave? It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone else’s shadow in the room. Is it normal for people to hang onto these kinds of relationships like this?

      • She may have an issue with trust. And with knowing herself.

        It takes us many years to recover. Cannot tell you what to do, but if you want to stay in the relationship, trust and safety are usually key

      • Richard, if you’re asking me, I’m probably not the most appropriate person to tell you what to do, but if she’s not putting you first in her priorities, and she’s focusing so much on the past, I’d wonder what you’re getting out of it, and why you want to stay with someone who isn’t there for you, heart, body and soul? You might think she’s your soulmate, but does she think that about you? It is very hard for most of us to move past this, just read through some of the posts in the forums. Are you truly happy, or are you simply putting up with it because you’ve got nobody else to go to? 30 years seems like a long time to me. If you do decide to break it off, be honest and tell her the truth. Don’t let her past ruin your future, if she isn’t willing to let it go, that isn’t fair to you. You have as much right to a happy life as anyone else.

    • Thanks Sallyann this is very helpful.

      • Well, if I helped, I’m glad I could contribute. I do think many of us go into these relationships already broken or needy or desperate, damaged somehow, like Bonnie says we are. And even more broken when we get out. I’m not sure that makes us the most reliable to know how it happened, or how much of it was him. We might be the worst at figuring it out. I don’t think we’re the blind leading the blind, it’s more like we’re in the Valley of Lepers and re-infecting each other.

  11. One aspect that’s been left out of this is our own emotional issues. I don’t mean from being in a bad marriage, I mean before going into it. Let’s be bluntly honest with ourselves, there’s something masochistic about staying in a relationship that hurts, however we excuse it. We all do things at times for reasons we aren’t aware of. Are we pre-disposed to staying in a bad relationship?

    The pop psych culture tells us that narcissists and codependents are magnets. “Codependent” used to mean “enabler,” the person who let the alcoholic drink for fear of losing him. Likewise a codependent turns a blind eye and allows the narcissist to get away with it, for fear of losing him. Nobody can make us do anything unless we give them permission, but if we want to stop it, we have to understand the ways we give them permission.

    What if we stopped calling ourselves codependent, and started calling ourselves enablers? How did “enabler” become “codependent” anyway? I think it’s because “enabler” implies complicity, but “codependent” implies innocence. It takes away any guilty feelings, but it doesn’t stop the narcissist or the alcoholic. Think about it; it lets the narcissist go on, and we can’t do anything. That locks us in place, not helpful. The word doesn’t matter, what matters is changing the behavior. Call yourself an enabler instead of codependent, and see if that changes the way you think about it. When you’re codependent, you’re a victim, but if you’re enabling him, you can stop doing that.

    I hesitate to post this because I don’t want anyone to think I’m blaming us for our own problems. I’m not, but maybe we both had emotional issues from the start. The narcissist can’t survive in a vacuum, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But I don’t think a narcissist makes us “become” codependent or enablers, I think we were already predisposed to it, and then we found each other. But we can change even if he can’t.

    • Carol, you are like the 2nd or 3rd person in this comment thread to bring up that point. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a conversation that talks about whether or not we were emotionally healthy or mentally well when we got married. There certainly have to be cases where a mentally ill gay/bi husband is married to a mentally ill straight spouse, right? I don’t think the conversation has to go that far, but here certainly must be groups of us with our own emotional issues that we bring to the table right? I wonder how certain ones of those make a difference in these marriages and how others might not. I think that’s a fascinating area to explore at some point. Thanks for raising that.

  12. This is such a good article so well written. I completely relate to what you are saying. Thank you for your courage in speaking out about this topic.

    • Did you write this??? Omg what a gift you have. And here I already admitted my diagnosed excessive narcissism to you. Open mouth, insert foot.

  13. Thank you for putting it into words. Handling the new sexual identity of a bi/gay spouse is difficult for a straight spouse. It is just one layer of marital dysfunction from which a straight spouse has to acknowledge and heal. The second layer of dysfunction that may be an issue is the narcissistic behavior displayed by a closeted spouse. (Narcissism is a disorder that opens the door to mental abuse in a marriage.) Then the third layer of dysfunction often comes in the form of infidelity and what may be termed as “sexual addiction” which a bi/gay spouse may claim. (The sheer number of extra-marital partners some bi/gay spouses have is devastating, even to the bi/gay spouse.) For most of us, the true situation of the marriage is revealed in a matter of seconds. We are not given a period of adjustment. We are dumped on in an instant and expected to continue functioning as “normal.” A straight spouse has to address so many mental and physical health issues during a time when their marriage and life-style is disintegrating. We need recognition and help.

  14. You’ve stated the conundrum when you say you plunge into “rabbit holes of research into narcissism, passive aggression, sociopathy, sadism and Cluster B.” Don’t do it anymore. I have two observations about Dr Cone’s blog: she assumes narcissism without question or explanation, and she makes only one reference to homosexuality – the one you quoted. Her speciality is domestic violence, not sexual orientation. Are you sure you are seeking an accurate diagnosis, or one that confirms what you already believe? Are you open to the possibility that it might be something other than narcissism?

    This is not a matter of semantics. Consider four women with similar symptoms: fever, chills, night sweats, intestinal upset, dehydration, inability to keep food down. One of them decides it’s the flu, and the rest agree with her. But within a few days, one has died from undiagnosed food poisoning, and another is comatose in ICU with cholera. A third is awaiting the results of liver tests. Only one of them had the flu. Similar symptoms, different causes. All are treatable and curable if they had been diagnosed correctly. This is the danger of self-diagnosis.

    I’ll repeat, the ‘sine qua non’ for narcissism is grandiosity, a need to be seen as perfect, to be applauded and adored. If that is not present, it’s not narcissism – by definition. It’s something else, but what? Look at Donna Anderson’s “Love Fraud” blog. The behaviors you insist are narcissism, she calls antisocial disorder. Similar symptoms, different diagnoses, with different approaches to treatment. How are you going to decide which is correct? By what “feels right” to you, or what your neighbor says?

    Nobody denies the existence of mental illness in the gay population, but narcissism is not de facto the one. And a therapist can’t diagnose someone who isn’t present, only you. They are there to help you do the hard work on yourself, not your ex. Focus on how you are diagnosed, if you want to heal.

    • “Focus on how you are diagnosed, if you want to heal.”

      Well. The diagnosis is “depression”. Or “Anxiety.” or even “PTSD”.

      But the incident that triggers this is not allowed to be discussed. Because “you’re not an expert.” “You can’t diagnose.” “Oh I’ve never known a patient who experienced what you are experiencing.” “”YOU DO KNOW THAT GAY IS NOT A MENTAL ILLNESS, RIGHT? MOVE ON! ”

      Big difference between a dog bite and a snake bite. No one ever says “here, bandage this up, you got bit, just watch for infection.” No. They want to know if the dog was rabid, or the snake was venomous. Naming the beast that bit you matters, because then the course of treatment is determined. It matters if it is a wild animal, or a domesticated one. It matters if it is a venomous breed or not. And sometimes it matters how big or little the snake is, or what antitoxin needs to be administered. So you have to name the beast when it is possible, or you may not receive the appropriate treatment which will THEN allow you to “focus on your own healing.”

      Naming the beast that maimed us matters – whether it is the closeted behavior and deception of a gay spouse or their narcissism or other mental illness. Or both. Or a combination of beasts.

      Yes. Maimed.

      Name the cause of our injury. An LGBTQ spouse who lied and deceived – and was mentally ill. Name it. Name it. Name it. Sounds like narcissism. Sounds like the spouse has a mood disorder. And yes – the spouse is gay and deceptive.

      But we should be all quiet about that. Cuz it might hurt someone’s feelings. Might make someone uncomfortable.

      Do not dismiss us. When we are speaking of the effect of having a homosexual spouse in our lives, do not just wave that off. Do not just tell us that the sole cause is the spouses mental illness. Do not tell us that gay is not a mental illness. Do not tell us that we cannot talk about the impact of our spouses homosexuality while we are figuring out if we need to be in support for recovery from narcissistic abuse.

      NAME IT.

      We will not be quiet. We will find the answer to that question. And we will proclaim it.

      • Rosa wrote: “Do not tell us that gay is not a mental illness”.

        And there you go Kristin. A number of these comments, most especially Rosa’s demonstrates why this stream of conversation is so counter-productive, at least for me as a straight spouse. You led the readers down the rabbit hole insisting that there is an intersection between our spouse’s homosexuality and mental illness.

        And then Rosa let’s out her stream of consciousness and declares “Do not tell us that gay is not a mental illness.”

        Kristin, I know you are going to say that your intention wasn’t to validate Rosa’s statement that no one should tell her that gay is not a mental illness. And I’m willing to bet that Rosa will say that she didn’t intend to say that.

        And there you have it. Amateur sleuth-psychologist, disconnected concepts, and when you take those disconnected concepts down a rabbit hole.. you reach the wrong conclusion.

        And that’s what happened with those of you who feel like you have a good grip on the issue of your husband’s mental illness.. just imagine how easy it will be for the rest of us who have no clue about diagnosing mental illness to reach Rosa’s conclusion that much quicker and easier.

      • Rosa, I’d like to tackle your dog versus snake bite analogy, but honestly, here’s the short answer to that. Nine times out of 10, the doctor doesn’t know what kind of snake bit you.. or if it was a spider or a snake or a tic or whatever it was. You tell the doctor your not feeling well, they assess the symptoms, you provide them the information you have and they make a determination based on their professional expertise and treat you. And then you follow the course of treatment they instruct you to follow and you TRUST that the professionals know what they are talking about. Because they do. Therapists are poo-pooing the mental illness conversation because they don’t know if he has a mental illness and likely never will know if he has a mental illness. The specific diagnosis of your abuser is not necessary for a proper course of treatment. You simply need to trust the expert and stop playing doctor. If you can.

      • It’s not a question of naming it or not, it’s a question of naming it CORRECTLY. The dog bite / snake bite is the wrong comparison. Even a five year old knows the difference between a dog and a snake; nobody would question that it’s a snake bite. The question is, what kind of snake was it, and was it venomous or not, and if it is venomous, what is the antidote? If you’re not a snake expert, all you can do is describe what happened, answer the expert’s questions, and trust his expertise. If he tells you cobras don’t live around here, and everything you described sounds like a rattlesnake, are you going to argue that it was a cobra, because… well… you just knowt…? That’s how you went down the rabbit hole.

        And gay is not a mental illness.

        What I can see in this thread is that those who stuck with their therapist through thick and thin and toughed it out, say it helped a lot. The ones who don’t stick it out in therapy seem to be the ones who stay stuck where they are. That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation from reading these threads. Therapy is a process of learning to be aware of the way you think and react, it’s not a confirmation of what you already believe, especially f what you believe is inaccurate or a faulty understanding of something.

        We all admit that we have a hard time trusting again, and I wonder if the reluctance to trust a trained expert isn’t another manifestation of our difficulty in learning to trust again. I resisted at first, but I stayed with it, and it was the best thing I ever did for myself.

        • Just want to make one thing clear. I do not believe that being gay is a mental illness.

          But in my own therapy I was repeatedly denied the ability to speak of the effect of my ex husbands gayness on me. How it destroyed me throughout our marriage, and then how it fueled his vindictive rage against me in divorce.

          This was a gay person who had a mental illness. But I was not allowed to say gay. Nah. That didnt matter. Except it did.

          And the snake analogy – what if you are bitten by a venomous snake but no one believes you? You describe it as best you can. But hey, never saw anything like THAT around here. Of course, snake bites are not treated that way….but what if they were?

          What if you couldnt be treated for rabies until everyone was really really sure that you had been bitten by a rabid animal?

          Oh but wait, you’re not an expert. You cant tell if the animal was rabid. Or if the snake was a coral snake or a water moccasin.

          That is the type of disaffirmation I endured year after year after year. I attempted to explain the truth of our lives to therapists, court mandated counselors, clergy, friends, attorneys.

          But I said gay. And he said oh no, she is making that up. And the counseling and court professionals said “OH WELL ITS A DIVORCE WHADDAYA GONNA DO.” Shrug Shrug.

          I left after the youngest graduated high school and moved many miles away to a different region. And guess what? I tell friends and current pastor about my story, and they believe me. They listen. They don’t presume to correct me about my own life or lecture me. It has made all the difference. I can finally piece together who I really am again.

          Part of the recovery for a straight spouse is to have the effect of being married to an LGBTQ person affirmed and acknowledged. Not questioned and corrected. Then we can go forward.

    • I agree in part. Although the victim (not a dirty word) of abuse in a mixed orientation marriage cannot fully understand the health issues of her abuser, I think it is theraputically helpful to acknowledge the profile of the abuser. I have benefit of a wise psychologist who has validated my life experience with a very troubled homosexual man who lived a double life while married to me. Somehow identifying my former spous’es potential patholgies has helped me diffuse my lingering anger and frustration. For me, cognitive understanding has exposed the character of my wounds. Perhaps my therapist and I are using the profile of my former husband as a diagnositic tool and ultimately a cure for what ails me, if that makes any sense?

      • Joan, that makes more sense to me because you phrased things very very differently than its framed in the article. The article is focused on our husband, diagnosing him in order for us to heal. That makes no sense to me. Of course we want to understand what happened to us but we don’t need to do a forensic analysis of his mental health and how it caused him to behave the way he did.

        Your comment focuses on you. You said “I have benefit of a wise psychologist who has validated my life experience with a very troubled homosexual man who lived a double life while married to me.” That’s exactly what should be happening, the therapist validates your experience and understands the nature of his “behavior” that has traumatized you. The therapist doesn’t need to know anything about what’s troubling him about his sexuality or the details of how he lived a double life, and she certainly doesn’t need to diagnose him. Our therapy is about us and how we move forward; it’s not about deconstructing his mind and figuring out what he did on purpose, what was accidental, or what was driven by illness that will likely never be diagnosed. That’s a waste of time and a rabbit hole with no exit.

        Kristin said “we need to understand what we have just endured”.. exactly. What we endured is about his “behavior” and our feelings. Each of us has a very different experience. Some may have mental illness, most don’t. Those who do, it might be mild or severe. It may have bearing on how they behaved toward us, it might not. Even if our therapist had an exact diagnosis for him, it doesn’t change how he behaved or how it impacted us. They just need to know “the nature” of how they acted toward us, not the nitty gritty details.

    • Not all bi/gay are closeted, nor, married to straight spouses. Those that are have unhealthy issues. One issue MAY BE shown in narcissistic behavior. They may not want society/family/friends to see them as flawed and will do anything to be seen as “normal.” In many cases, they do not see themselves as bi or gay in order to maintain their inflated ego. The need to be in the closet and married to a straight spouse could be due to the fact they want to be seen as perfect. Also, with a narcissist, one person cannot satisfy the constant craving to be adored and wanted. If that closeted bi/gay has repeated sexual encounters outside the marriage, it may be due to the need for adoration. Moreover, the bi/gay’s behavior shows a classic lack of empathy for the straight spouse. It may be considered that it smacks of a sense of entitlement. If it’s a narcissist, call it a narcissist.

  15. Mine is a little bit like this but in a different way, I wasn’t “shushed” but I was formally “invited to leave” the online support group I was in, because I, and a few others, were questioning the idea that our husbands were all narcissists, all of them painted the same way and no questions asked. Nobody in our group wanted to discuss our issues, like codependency and what do about that, or how could we have handled our marriages better, or why didn’t we get out sooner, why did we keep hitting our heads against the wall? Was it honest to blame it all on our husbands or were we trying to avoid hard questions about ourselves?

    Well, that line of conversation was squelched instantly. I was told I wasn’t acting like a “real” straight wife, that I didn’t fit “the profile of straight wife,” and if I didn’t like it, I could leave. All that for asking a question! Before I could even respond to that, my login had been blocked.

    It was just as well. I found a great therapist, it’s been good, hard, painful, tough at times, but healing. She helped me see the part I played, helped me think differently about what happened, my ex and I are on friendlier terms now, we take turns with the kids and I’ve started dating. I couldn’t have done any of that on my own.

    Kristin, this is my bottom line: my therapist helped me learn to heal myself. I couldn’t do it on my own, and I didn’t know I was being led down the wrong path until I met her. Don’t give up on the mental health profession, we may be the experts on our own lives, true, but they are trained to help us repair ourselves and get it right. But be willing to listen and learn and possibly face some painful truths. Don’t let the wounds fester on their own, a therapist can help you heal them. Our experiences are unique, don’t try to fit them all into the same mold. You do yourself a disservice that way.

  16. Kristen, we have walked a similar path. My ex-husband is gay and a narcissist. I am in therapy and learning to figure out who I am, as I hope you are. If you would like to reach out, please do.

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