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How Counseling Professionals Can Help Straight Spouses: Affirmation, Respect, and Empathy

Posted by on Nov 9, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

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.

help-and-supportFor 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 perso 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!

 

 

 

 

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We’re Getting Noticed!

Posted by on Nov 21, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

We haven’t been posting in this blog for a while, as we’ve been undergoing some renovations on our site. But the cyberdust is clearing, so we are back! And we have been busy!

We are very proud to announce that Amity Buxton has published two recent articles for Huffington Post. Amity’s voice is one of the clearest statements of the straight spouse experience, because she focuses on the total experience of the spouse, the family, and on going forward. The path to our own healing and strength is not an easy one, and can be lonely at times. Thanks to Amity for sharing with a wider audience our perspectives and concerns, as well as our ongoing needs and those of our families.

The heterosexual spouses and ex spouses of LGBT people are not the enemies of LGBT people. We are family. All families have disagreements, different ideas. But they are family. This can be difficult to realize at first, but many of us do continue to have some familial relationship with our exes and some of us progress better with healthy distancing . There really isn’t a one size fits all checklist for describing or recognizing a gay spouse, or even for describing our own experiences and perspectives.

So we love it when someone is recognized for getting the word out about all our different experiences. And that includes a recent TV appearance by a straight spouse on the Judge Alex show. For many who saw the program, much of what the straight ex wife said rang very true. She was deceived, and recovered her costs for the wedding. Many who viewed the episode found it validating to hear someone else state what they have been feeling.

There is a whole new awareness of families like ours today, and we are happy to offer help, support, advice, and friendship to men and women who find that they have married or become sexually involved with an LGBT person. Real support at an unreal time is truly what we are about.

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Unseen Unheard

Posted by on Jun 28, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The straight spouse experience has been told in compelling detail in the new book Unseen Unheard: the Journey of Straight Spouses by Amity Pierce Buxton and R. L. Pinely. Amity is the founder of the Straight Spouse Network, and the author of The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families.

The book is a compilation of different experiences of men and women who discovered that their husbands or wives were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. These powerful and unique stories are told in personal remembrance by straight spouses, and chronicle the slow journey from the shock and paralysis of the initial discovery to the healing and affirmation of a new life of infinite possibilities.

Often the straight partner is overlooked in the coming out process, silenced, or disregarded. These stories reflect the devastating reality of recovering from shattered belief systems, betrayal, sexual issues, and secrecy that often accompanies the revelation that their wives are having an affair with another woman or their husbands are having sex with other men – or want to. While many LGBT people come out of the closet with affirmation and encouragement, their heterosexual spouses are rendered invisible and inaudible, working through their shattered lives alone.

Moving forward from the point of discovery or disclosure is a slow journey, but a profound one. The book recounts the insights gained, the new self discoveries, and affirms the courage and resiliency of inner strength that emerges for many.

Unseen-Unheard: The Journey of Straight Spouses is available from Creative House International Press, or on Kindle at Amazon.com


The straight spouse experience has been told in compelling detail in the new book “Unseen Unheard:  the Journey of Straight Spouses” by Amity Pierce Buxton and R. L. Pinely.  Amity is the founder of the Straight Spouse Network, and the author of The Other Side of the Closet.
The book is a compilation of different experiences of men and women who discovered that their husbands or wives were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  These powerful and unique stories are told in personal remembrance by straight spouses, and chronicle the slow journey from the shock and paralysis of the initial discovery to the healing and affirmation of a new life of infinite possibilities.

Often the straight partner is overlooked in the coming out process, silenced, or disregarded.  These stories reflect the devastating reality of recovering from shattered belief systems, betrayal, sexual issues, and secrecy that often accompanies the revelation that their wives are having an affair with another woman or their husbands are having sex with other men – or want to.  While many LGBT people come out of the closet with affirmation and encouragement, their heterosexual spouses are rendered invisible and inaudible, working through their shattered lives alone.

Moving forward from the point of discovery or disclosure is a slow journey, but a profound one.  The book recounts the insights gained, the new self discoveries, and affirms the courage and resiliency of inner strength that emerges for many.

Unseen-Unheard: the Journey of Straight Spouses is available from creativehousepress, or on kindle at Amazon.com

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Sex, Love, & Prop 8: Is There a Ministry for Straight Spouses?

Posted by on Mar 21, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministry in Long Beach, California, was attended by a mixture of clergy, LGBT people and their parents, and one straight spouse, formerly married to a gay man – Dr. Amity Buxton. More than 160 people were present at the plenary session to hear Coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento give the opening address on the topic of love. As was reported in the press, 5 people walked out when it became apparent that the Bishop’s talk was not about love in general, but about sex. Specifically, he stated that gay and lesbian people must remain chaste and sexual activity between them is sinful. By the end of the address, the audience erupted in anger. Within minutes, however, a board member rushed to the stage and invited the Bishop to stay and listen to personal stories of individuals in the gathering. One by one, nine volunteers walked to the front of the hall, and took the microphone to tell their “lived experience” directly to the Bishop as he sat in the front row.

All this has been reported in print elsewhere. What has not been reported is that the lone one straight spouse in the audience was one of the speakers. Amity summarizes her response:

“I recounted my husband’s decision to marry as a good Irish Catholic because it was the right thing to do and would make him happy, even though he had a gay lover unbeknownst to me at the time. I told of his gradual depression and physical ailments that developed over twenty-five years, our divorce and annulment, and his eventual death alone. At the end, I stated strongly that this painful experience was why I will not stop working toward making sure that no one else has to go through what he, I, and our children had to suffer.”

Amity later participated in focus groups and three other plenary sessions, informing everyone in each session of the invaluable resource that the Straight Spouse Network provides for straight spouses, current or former of LGBT people and the importance of having this for our families. It was a revelation to most attendees that straight spouses have a support organization, much less need support.

At the final bilingual concelebrated Mass, Amity was gratified to hear the priest who delivered the homily validate the importance of straight spouses. He said that one new thing he had learned at this conference was the existence and unique perspective of straight spouses and of the work that Amity had been doing to provide support for them for over 20 years.

What stands out from this report is in the last statement – the priest had only then learned of the existence of straight spouses. With all the attention focused California’s on proposition 8, defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, many churches are unaware of the existence of straight spouses.  If they were aware of us, a portion of the focus, energy and money allotted for the defense of marriage might be allotted for resources to help straight spouses and our families deal with profound moral and spiritual dilemmas.  We need resources such as counseling, spiritual healing, renewa.  It is our hope that there will be more focus on keeping us connected to the communities of faith and providing pastoral ministry that addresses our needs. rather than shunning us, ignoring us until we leave, or responding to our questions and concerns with lectures on that particular denomination’s teachings about our partner’s homosexuality.

Pastoral response to us and our families is a challenge for many clergy of all faiths and political affiliations, especially when our existence is not acknowledged. The Straight Spouse Network (SSN) is a resource for clergy to learn of our needs and perspectives. We encourage all communities of faith to plan for appropriate and ongoing pastoral response to straight spouses and their families. SSN can help them do so.

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The Smart Divorce and Straight Spouses

Posted by on Mar 9, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

We’d like to thank Deborah Moskovitch, author of The Smart Divorce, for her recent article in Huffington Post about straight spouses and healing. She extensively quoted Amity Buxton, and Amity’s research findings about the stages of our recovery, and the time involved. She further stated that she intends to apply Amity’s research to her own counseling practice.

Its so difficult for many of us to find a good competent therapist who is willing to work with us on all our issues, including the process of emotional and sexual recovery directly caused by being married to someone who is not heterosexual.  We are very encouraged that Deborah has posted these six stages of recovery, and hope that other marriage counselors and therapists will see them and learn.

We’re also encouraged by the active discussion that follows the article.  Much of it as usual is about being gay, or how gay people are perceived – but there are a few nuggets in there about us as well, and how we are impacted.

Deborah also interviewed Amity on her program The Smart Divorce  on Divorce Source Radio.

We are appreciative that this resource for therapists is so accessible.  We suggest that if anyone is dealing with a therapist who seems to not have much experience with mixed orientation couples or straight spouses, Deborah’s article and the interview are a great resource to share.

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