From time to time, the Straight Spouse Network is asked by counselors, pastors, and mental health professionals how they can help straight spouses whose husbands and wives have come out, especially in the early stages when they have first discovered that they are married to someone who is LGBT. Because many counseling professionals have never encountered anyone in this post-disclosure situation before, WE’RE GLAD YOU ASKED so that you will be effectively prepared.. Below are key points based from our experience and research studies, which we believe will you to help you most effectively help straight spouses heal, move forward, and regain their lives whether they divorce or remain married.
For starters, it’s important to recognize that no two straight spouses are alike. When a straight spouse reaches out for professional help, she or he may have known that her or his spouse was LGBT for some time, or the discovery or disclosure may have taken place just a few days before. Some straight spouses are white hot angry. Others are depressed. Still others know just what they want to do or don’t at all. Some spouses come for counseling in partnership with their LGBT spouses, to save the marriage or to work out a plan for amicable divorce. Some spouses are abused and in need of protection, whether they come to you alone or as part of a couple. Some are married to LGBT persons who are mentally ill or who are addicts. Other straight spoues are mentally ill or addicts themselves. In sum, straight spouses are an extremely diverse group of men and women with many different conditions, situations, and possible solutions.
On our website, you can find specific resources and connections to materials which may also help you understand how best to help straight spouses through their post-disclosure trauma. Our founder, Amity Pierce Buxton, has published scholarly articles on the participular issues straight spouses face and specific stages of their coping with their spouses’ unexpected disclosure, informtion to help professioals counsel straight spouses and mixed-orientation or transgender-nontransgender couples. Her book, The Other Side of the Closet, is important reading for anyone working with mixed orientation couples or members of their families. Unseen-Unheard: Straight Spouses from Trauma to Transformation presents spouses’ own words as the move from shock to eventual resolutio. Printed copies of her scholarly articles are available to you if you contact us. You can also contact Amity through our website if you have specific questions.
Our website also offers you a list of recommended readings that address family concerns, as well as those that straight spouse and their LGBTQ spouses face.:
Most of all, we want you to know that it is really helpful when you start working with a straight spouse to recognize the individual person before you – that is by Affirming, Respecting, and showing Empathy for that person Very often a spouse’s ‘initial experience with therapists and counselors are met with difficult questions – ie, “what did you know, when did you know it,” “ how could you not know”, “let’s explore how you avoided knowing”, and “Really? How can you be sure?”. Some of these questions may be helpful at some point in addressing specific issues, but in the beginning straight spouses are typically shattered as individuals, and in need of Affirmation, Respect, and Empathy.
You may find that straight spouses who consult with you are disturbingly depressed, suicidal, or white hot angry. In these states, there aren’t a lot of people who want to reach out and help. It can be really uncomfortable for counselors meeting with clients angrier than they have ever seen anyone. It’s helpful to know that some spouses need to get angry. The disclosure of one’s spouse as an LGBT person shakes the straight partner. Sometimes after living with unknown deceit for so long, the straight spouse’s core is pretty shaky anyway. Anger helps such shattered persons forge a new core, a new strength.
It’s important however to help straight spouses realize that anger is the start of profound change, and not the permanent way of life. If they stays angry, they will melt down and self destruct. But if they are helped to move forward to being renewed in strength and outlook, that is where healing begins and continues.
By the way, it’s not unusual for some spouses to stay angry for a very very very long time. Unfortunately, some stay locked in anger – a result of not being Affirmed, Respected, and being denied any Empathy, often for many years.
By all means, encourage straight spouses who come to you for help to contact us. We provide free, non sectarian peer to peer help and support through online communities, personal phone chats, and local group meetings in some areas. We are international, with contacts throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and parts of Europe and South America.
It is very important for heterosexual men and women who find they are married to or partnered with someone who is LGBTQ to know that they are not alone, and that there is someone, somewhere, who understands their experience and has come through it. We stress confidentiality and safety, and help each other work toward the best solution for each individual person and family. Some of us remain married to our spouses, most are separated and divorced.
If you are a counseling professional, don’t be shy about reaching out and letting us know how we can help. We are happy to do so!