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Staying Married Instead

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.


  1. I am fascinated by your organization and would love to help in any way I can. I feel I may not be welcome here. My story is complex even for me. I’ve been living ina MOM for 34 years, having been monogamous for 4 years, having affairs with women for 4 years after that, having affairs with women and having anonymous sex with men at the same time for 14 years after that and now having anonymous sex with men only for the past 10 years. I admit to being the worst kind of sexual profligate and morally debased individual. Yet I have always loved my wife deeply. For the past ten years we have lived a “don’t’ task, don’t tell” celibate relationship. This began when she discovered my homosexuality. We have a wonderful marriage though neither one of us talks about how we fulfill our sexual needs. I have never been in love with any other person, male or female. The ” don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was her choice. I would have been perfectly willing to have everything out in the open. But this seems to work for us. If there is any interest I’m willing to share my full story. My life before getting married, and after. We have 2 wonderful loving successful grown children.

    I find your site very informative. I wish I had discovered it earlier. I’m leaving it open on our computer so my wife has the opportunity to find out about it.

  2. I am new to this group. I am working my way through finding out my husband wants to transition, and I am heterosexual. We were already in counseling, because he had had an affair with an old girl friend. I thought we were working on not having to get help anymore, when he sprung this new bit on me.
    This is my second marriage. I was single for 20 years after my first marriage, because I didn’t want to get married unless the man was serious about working at being partners and being married. This hasn’t been easy, because I am serious about my marriage vows, and still love my husband, but wasn’t planning on being celibate at 65. Also, my husband talked me into retiring from teaching and collecting my social security at 62, instead of 66, so I have a lot less retirement money now, and feel like I have to choose between staying married or living in poverty. He is in the same boat, even though his retirement would be better. Of course, he knows if we get divorced, I will likely get part of his retirement anyway.
    But he claims to love me. We are getting ready to fix up separate bedrooms, and he will have to come out to our family. I’m worried about a guy his age taking female hormones at an age when women are not producing as many of these hormones.
    Then I am torn. I’ve always been supportive of the LGBT community. And I’m trying to be supportive now. But the last part of my life isn’t going to be what I thought it would be, and I can’t help feeling deceived. And am I selling out, not wanting to live in poverty. I wouldn’t even date if we got divorced anyway, because I’ve had it with men and their promises, so I guess this wouldn’t be any different, except I told him I wasn’t going to be doing all the housework any more.

    • I am 53 and my husband just “discovered” he wants to be female, in counseling. We have been married for 21 years…only marriage for both. We have 3 kids (19, 16, 13). He has never shown any indication of this, in entire marriage, and believes he has “been repressing” it, his whole life. I have no interest in being married to a woman. I am also concerned about the financial side of things, as well as the effect on our children. This is not how I was planning on spending the rest of my life. He always claimed he was happy, and suddenly, he says he is not. He says he loves me, but that he needs to to do this. I believe he has the ability to make a choice, to what degree. I feel lost.

  3. Thanks for this.

    We tried to keep our marriage together for the kids, but after 2.5 years we admitted it wasn’t working. I could see that he was miserable, and he could see that I was miserable. We were trying to keep our happy faces on, but we were both miserable and we knew we had to separate. The funny thing is both of us had come to the same conclusion a few months before, but neither of us wanted to be the one to bring it up! It was painful but it was the right thing for us. In the end, we all came out of it fine, but going through it was rough. It was like having surgery, it’s scary, it hurts like hell, especially right after, but in the long run you heal and are healthier for it.

    I was impressed by the Smokler story, that they put their children’s needs ahead of their own, that is admirable even if it doesn’t always work out. Attitude accounts for more than we realize. It’s encouraging to see the effort to raise children who are accepting and curious, not angry and judgmental.

    One issue we had was religion. The 8 year old asked if their Dad was going to hell when he died, and I didn’t have a prepared answer for that. I told him what I thought was the truth: I don’t know what happens when we die, and neither does anyone else, and so I don’t know. That didn’t satisfy him, because he wanted yes or no, and I had to say sometimes the answer is, “I don’t know” and that’s the best we can do. I did say that I think God would be fair, and wouldn’t punish a person who was good at heart, and their Dad was certainly a good peson at heart. That was the best I could come up with. How do others deal with that?

    • Oops,my bad.

      “their Dad was certainly a good peson at heart.”
      = “their Dad was certainly a good person at heart.”

  4. Thank you for this. TGT, the gay thing, is traumatic and lonely at the best of times, and as you note, straight men seem to be much in the minority. And even rarer trying to stay with their lesbian partners.

    For us, age is a pretty important factor. At the start of our 70s, neither of us feels we have the ‘juice’ to create new lives. And separation is no guarantee for finding new partners. Then there’s finance. We couldn’t possibly afford two homes.

    Have we definitively ruled out an ‘open marriage’? No. But our marriage vows have explicitly changed to: ‘until death do us part or until one or the other meets a new love of their lives, but neither of us is looking’. For me, at least, this tiny window of possible future change for the better is and remains really important. But I’m handicapped by being deeply monogamous. Despite our sexual mis-match, I’ve never been seriously attracted to another woman…

    • brassyhub, your last sentence is so similar to a book I’ve been reading, called “Playing It Straight.” It’s by a PhD in psychology and human sexuality, and he’s a gay man who was married to a straight woman. One of the questions we have a hard time understanding is why a gay or lesbian person would want to marry us in the first place. Sometimes we chalk it up to pressure or homophobia or cowardice or nefarious reasons, and so on. But after interviewing 60 gay men who had been married, one of his observations (at least for these men) was that even though they eventually realized their true sexual orientation, they also say that we were one of the few, if not the only straight person, they found themselves truly attracted to, similar to how you say you’ve never been seriously attracted to another woman. I’m not saying you’re gay, of course, but that there is more to being attracted to a person than just a sexual aspect. It’s none of my business, but I wonder if your wife might have felt that you were the only man she was ever attracted to and I wonder if my husband would say I was the only woman he had ever been attracted to. I hadn’t heard that explanation before but it makes some sense, especially for those of us where we thought the relationship was fine all along. I think that would have to be an element in a MoM that both spouses want to keep and work at it.

      • Are All M-O-M’s Doomed? I guess If One wants to stay and the other wants to go, there is no going back? Anyone have any ANY SUCCESS??

  5. My husband and I were glad to see this article, and we’d like to share some of our thoughts. We’ve worked out an open marriage, and it is possible. It’s hard work at first, but gets easier in time. The article describes what can make it work, but doesn’t say what will make it fail. We can offer some. Both partners must WANT it to work and then work at it; let go of blame to accept what is; be honest with themselves first and always; own their mistakes, clear up misunderstandings; be willing to learn; know your boundaries and consequences for breaking them; recognize that we have our biases (and we all do!) and admit them; distinguish fairy tales from real life; don’t permit melodramatic language. Both partners must work at this or it will fail.

    How many ever notice that fairy tales don’t say what happens after the “happily ever after” part? Nobody talks about Cinderella’s weight gain or Charming’s workaholic tendency. The middle child’s truancy and the kingdon’s poor economy are not mentioned. Nobody hears about Rapunzel’s head lice, or what caused Hansel’s diabetes or Gretel’s eating disorders, or that Pinocchio developed bone cancer. Even Glinda the Good Witch couldn’t wave a magic wand to make it all better: she said Dorothy had to learn her lessons for herself first, no magic could help her. Is it surprising that nobody guessed at Charming’s sexuality when more visible realities weren’t talked about either?

    We know members here talk to and support each other, but some obvious misinformation gets repeated at times. We saw comments about lack of support from the LGBTQ community, yet among the SSN staff and board, there is nobody who represents “that side” of the issues. That suggests its own solution. We can’t expect people to come to a party if they haven’t been sought out and invited. Would a psychologist or therapist be welcome on the board, and an LGBTQ person, or a PFLAG member? It seems a no-brainer.

  6. I’m sorry but an open marriage is not a real marriage.

    • I will assume that what you meant is that an open marriage wouldn’t work for you personally, is that correct? You have not presumed to decide for everybody else whether their marriage is “real” or not, have you?

      If indeed you have taken on that task, you would be well-advised to avoid publicly insisting on it in any countries or cultures where multiple marriages are accepted as the norm.

    • I’m inclined to agree, but there are others who have different ideas. It’s legal, and its important for them to share their ideas.

  7. I’m glad to see SSN put this possibility out there as a viable response, even though it would not have worked for me and my ex. It reminds that I can speak from my reality without imposing it on anyone else, and that holds true for many other situations besides MoMs.

    I was interested in the survey you described. That must have been before my time, at least, I didn’t take part in it. Are the results of it available anywhere, even anonymized, raw or summary data? I am curious about any cross-tabs that can be derived from it beyond gender, and the outcome of the marriages. For example, age of respondents, race, education, geography, family size, hh income, religious affiliations, or other data points. Have there been follow-up surveys or longitudinal tracking studies?

    It’s the historian in me, I am and always will be a data wonk. I can’t help it, it’s the way I was born! 🙂 🙂

    Honestly, having lived through it, there’s no end to learning something from it. My mantra comes from this scene in “The Once and Future King:”

    “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

    -T.H. White

    • Hi Bryan – the survey was in 2011. I will see if I can find the archives of it – we lost some content when the site migrated to a new server. I pulled what we reported from notes at that time.

      It’s a good idea for us to do something like that again, since many things have changed since 2011. I will make that suggestion.


      Janet McMonagle
      Communications Director

    • Thanks, Janet. I don’t know what SSN’s budget is, but with such scant information as it is, a recurring survey could be the start of building that knowledge base. Quantifiable info might help establish cred with media where anecdotal info doesn’t. I’m assuming that between the website and online survey tools the cost wouldn’t be prohibitive.

      I saw a BBC America program some years ago that talked about the history of social change. The big take-away was that each era of social change happens faster than the one before it and this bewilders those living through it because the time to adjust is shorter.

      Religious changes took place over millenia, from paganism to mono-theism, leading to the spread of Christianity, over several thousand years, from BC to AD.

      Socio-political change began with the Magna Carta, leading to the end of feudalism and the rise of monarchies and finally self-governing democracy. That took less than a thousand years.

      Racial change came with the slave trade to the New World, and led to abolitionism, the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. That took a few hundred years. Not that racism is dead, we’re still dealing with the after-effects of slavery.

      Gender role change began in the early 1800s, led to the suffragettes and eventually women’s right to vote. That took less than 100 years, even though we are still dealing with issues of women’s rights.

      The weight of social standing began to change at the end of the Gilded Age, and the sinking of the Titanic dramatized it; the rich still enjoy their privileges, but we no longer lock immigrants below decks while the rich take to the lifeboats. That took a few generations.

      Now we live in an age where strict definitions and mores of sexuality are changing, and it’s happening faster than a single person’s lifetime – too fast for many to grasp it even though it’s happening around us.

      I wish I could find that show now, it was fascinating and so relevant to…

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