If the news of a divorce from a gay spouse is ever good, this would probably qualify as one of the best case scenarios we’ve ever seen.
Popular parenting blogger, Jill Smokler, of Scary Mommy announced her upcoming divorce from her husband on her website after careful consideration. Then, her husband submitted a guest article on his perspective.
“Once I came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I figured I had two options,” Jeff Smokler wrote. “I could die — either from my intentional neglect of my health and well-being, or perhaps from something even more tragic — leaving my children fatherless, or I could come out and hope that I remained surrounded by the love of my friends, family, wife and children.”
“For many years, I chose option one; letting myself slip into unhealthy habits and depression,” he continued. “So how then do Jill and I now find ourselves in this moment? What changed? The truth is, nothing changed. We were simply ready.”
The couple is committed to being honest, and to continuing to create a stable family for their children, and be supportive of their children.
The struggles of coming out, and of coping with the devastating realization for the straight spouse, are not easy. The Smoklers acknowledged that they experienced many years of tremendous stress and difficulty before arriving at the resolution: a divorce that is done as openly as possible.
Jill Smokler is among the luckiest group of straight wives. Her husband struggled with honesty and included her in his discovery and disclosure. They mutually share a partnership of family and personal connection. Letting go of the secret is freeing for both spouses when it is done together. For many of us, that is not an option. We are consigned to closets, experiencing ongoing denial, or threats or shaming by the gay spouse. We’re put off on the question of telling the kids, or we’re cast aside – as if the disclosure only belongs to the gay spouse.
The Smoklers have shown that coming out isn’t just a matter for the LGBTQ spouse. Coming out is a family matter which includes the straight spouse. Not everything is going to be easy, or smooth, or go according to one person’s desires and plans.
They aspire to show that divorce can come from a place of love – and there is no shortage of love in their relationship. We are all uplifted by this affirmation! Yet, a number of straight spouses are experiencing pain along with that sense of “Oh, OK, so it doesn’t always have to be terrible and terrifying for everyone.” It’s a relief that not ALL mixed orientations marriages that end in divorce end with abuse, gaslighting, deception, and shaming. It’s a relief to know that not all straight spouses go through the process of being discarded, or living down the writing of an untrue script.
What are some examples of untrue scripts?
1. This is no big deal. Other couples stay married. Other straight wives are SUPPORTIVE! (after all, look at Scary Mommy!)
It is a big deal, and the Smoklers have said so. And their support is for each other – and has developed throughout the 15 years of marriage. Many times, the feelings of the straight spouse are discarded, denied, ignored, or just plain unacknowledged. We discover that we don’t matter. The Smoklers matter to each other.
2. My wife chooses to be angry. She’s very bitter and hateful. No one can make you angry (unhappy, sad, distraught). Only YOU can make you angry.
Anger is a normal response, and it is a consequence of being hurt and deceived. It can take a while to work it through. And, it takes professional support, patience, and respect of boundaries and personhood. Also, wanting to have equitable distribution of marital assets, and adequate financial support or a fair decision on child custody and support is not about anger. It is about survival. It is about going forward as a family, in the best interests of everyone in that family, and it may not always be clear and easy to determine.
3. Everyone is gay. You are just repressed (judgmental, crazy, narrow-minded, etc)
No. There is a spectrum of sexual orientation, and many people are just plain heterosexual. They marry with the expectation that their spouse is heterosexual, or is willing to commit to a marriage.
4. My kids don’t accept me because my husband/wife’s family is religious.
While religion might inform some children’s beliefs, problems in relationship often have a lot to do with the relationships that have been formed throughout their lives.
We’re really encouraged by the honesty shown by Jeff and Jill ending a mixed orientation marriage with divorce in an honest, deliberate, and considerate way that affirms the entire family. For those of us who have not shared this kind of connection in our marriages, it is also affirming to know that it can be done, if the gay spouse is honest and loving, and the blame games are set aside.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support all straight spouses, male and female, of LGBTQ people. Whether or not your spouse has come out to you or is in denial, whether you found out by discovery or disclosure, we are a peer to peer network that can affirm your experience, offer connection, support, and confidentiality. Your experience may or may not be as ideal as Jill and Jeff, but we are here for you, around the world.
When the straight spouse shares their story with family and friends, one common reaction is to pressure them to stay and work on the marriage. Conservative religious friends may try to help by warning that divorce is a sin, harms the children, and will ultimately lead to misery. A sentiment many have expressed to me is that having a gay spouse is no different from any other kind of cross that married people have to bear. This is an open letter explaining my choice to divorce.
First, I want to thank you. I know you are encouraging me to remain married because you care. You want the best for me and especially for my children. I appreciate that deeply.
Thank you for your kindness and your frankness and especially your offers to help babysit!
I don’t need to explain or defend my choices to you, but I do want you to understand them. I hope you can accept that I am doing what I sincerely believe is best for my children, first and foremost. If we did not have kids, my husband and I would still probably be living in the closet, as brother and sister, and you would have no idea that we aren’t naturally that grouchy.
The fact of the matter is that living in a mixed orientation marriage, in the closet, is a recipe for depression. He was considering suicide at one point. I was depressed and in survival mode. Our children were not better off that way. They had a mom who cried a lot in secret, who was becoming an empty shell from the loneliness. You can’t have anything more than very superficial friendships when you are hiding a big secret like that. I had less and less energy for being a mother, and I was gradually beginning to resent everyone and everything in the world for being so hard. This was NOT in my children’s best interest. But how would you know it was like that, though? I had not told you. It is not something I often talk about with anyone.
Their dad was even worse than me. He was so depressed that he hardly got out of bed except when he had to for work. I covered for him as much as I could. He was constantly getting sick; the stress had shattered his health. We could not go on like that. We were both raised to sacrifice ourselves for others, though, and we probably would have kept right on going if it weren’t for our children. For their sake we needed to live more honestly.
If you want to suggest that therapy or psychiatry or sincere heartfelt prayer could fix the problem, believe me, we exhausted every possibility before giving up on the marriage. I prayed so hard over it all– we both did– and it made me question everything I believed when I didn’t get an answer. But I believe what we are doing now is God’s actual answer. God will not make my husband straight, or fix a marriage between me and a gay man. It just doesn’t work like that. But He can bless us to move forward as best we can. And He can heal our hearts for all the pain we have been through.
My children need parents who can model healthy relationships, unconditional love, and honesty, who can care for them and have energy to love and serve others too. I can’t model how to have a healthy first marriage, but I can model how to move forward with faith and love and forgiveness when life falls apart, as it does for most people at some point or another. I can do all this now, but it was not possible when we felt obliged to stay married. Not possible at all. Please trust me that things are better for my family this way, or at least please agree to disagree with me.
Thank you again for sharing your perspective. I value our friendship and hope we can continue to share about things. I am so grateful to know such a vibrant, kind-hearted person with so many common interests!
The new year for many straight spouses means changes: new opportunities, new routines, new family life. Not all the changes are happy ones. Some are profoundly disturbing. The key is to look at these changes in our lives as new opportunities to learn, grow, and heal.
As we go forward in the new year, many straight spouses will face challenges of divorce, child custody, and the adjustment of all family members, including children and other relatives. They’ll face tremendous difficulties while coping with their own grief, loss, and anger. Some will bear the brunt of the anger of children and relatives, or the doubts of family and friends about themselves. It is not an easy path. The support of straight spouses by their peers is critical at this time.
The Straight Spouse Network is full of people who really do get it. Whether you are separating, divorcing, or remaining married we get it. Whether your spouse came out to you or continues to live in denial of the obvious, we get it. The peer support that we give face to face, on line, and on the phone is invaluable to straight spouses who face this monumental upheaval in their lives. So often we feel as though we are the only people in the universe with this experience, and wonder if something is really wrong with us. This is often confirmed by well meaning friends and family, and even counselors who are ignorant of our issues.
In putting our best foot forward, we benefit from the company of people who acknowledge our feelings and observations, and are unafraid and unashamed to share with us. We also benefit from resources provided by the Straight Spouse Network which we can share with supportive friends and family, our spouses, and our counselors.
The new year is always about new beginnings, new paths. No straight spouse has to go forward alone.
I grew up in an interesting household. I had a mom, a dad, a dog and a cat. Around age seven, a friend of my mother’s moved in with us. By eleven, I had discovered that my mother was gay and that this friend was actually her lover. I wasn’t oblivious; I could tell that my parents were unhappy with each other. The constant fighting was a great indicator of this fact.
My father is not a perfect man. He’s human. I know that he didn’t always fulfill what my mother expected in a husband and provider. But he is still my father, a truth which my step-mother did her best to make me feel bad about. Every time I did something that she didn’t like, she’d point it out in this way:
“You’re just like your stupid f__king father!”
It didn’t matter what it was. It could be anything from her belief that I had no common sense to a simple personality trait. She’d say that she didn’t want me to hate my father and then could never stop herself from proclaiming how much she despised me for being like him in any way. The worst thing was that my mother never stopped her. Often she’d join in on this with moans belittling me for upsetting my step-mother by not just giving into whatever she said or demanded that I do.
Funny enough, I found myself analyzing this and even sympathizing with their feelings a little. After all, my mother’s marriage to my father had kept her and her wife apart for a number of years. My mother had been unwilling to just take off with me without seeing if she could get the marriage to work. In the meantime though, she was sleeping with this woman inside our house. I woke up many a night in search of my mother to discover that she was not in bed with my father, but in bed with this woman who was supposed to be my ‘aunt.’
Before my dad left, he and I had a loving, close relationship. He always stayed up-to-date on what I was learning in school and would make up games to try to incorporate my developing interests and knowledge of the world. We also did a lot of arts and crafts projects together. I remember that when I was learning about the Native Americans in school, he went out with me to find sticks, leaves, bark, and other things and we made a miniature tee-pee together.
I don’t remember the exact day that my dad left. I think I’ve permanently blocked it from my memory, but I do remember the days and years that followed were not easy. My step-mother has always been abusive to the point that eventually I ended up distancing myself from her completely. I think she underestimated the bond that I had with my father. Yes, I could be pissed to hell with him, but when it comes down to it, he’s still my father. Nothing can change that.
I guess in some ways the separation has made my relationship with my father stronger. I have a more open, honest adult relationship with him than I do with my mother. I feel free to disagree with him and him with me. We’ve come to respect each others opinions of things and perhaps best of all is that he trusts me to be okay. He gives me a certain level of freedom that I have never gotten from my mother or her partner. He knows that I have a good head on my shoulders and that I will do just fine in the end.
My mother’s house is a world of lies. She used to tell me to just ‘yes’ her wife to death to keep the peace. I couldn’t do that. I am a terrible liar and then also, because it just doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t believe that that is the real way to get on with people in life. I’m not saying that this happened overnight for me. It took many years and a lot of outside support from my husband’s family and our friends in order for me to reach this point.
I didn’t learn to tell my parents when I was unhappy with things until the middle of college. Both had very different outcomes. My mother and her partner had had a horrible fight which of course always ended up including me and anyone else that had the misfortune to be around at the moment. Desperate to find a sane parent to talk to, I called up my father. He hadn’t bothered to tell me that he had decided to go on a vacation across the country. I tore into that phone message saying everything that I had promised myself that I would never say. Up until that moment my father had had no idea how miserable I was living with my mother, how I had run away to the dorms to escape, and how I felt like I could never count on him for anything.
To his credit, he stood up and did something about it. We started discussing how things were going on at my mother’s house and while he couldn’t afford for me to come and live with him, he would support any decisions that I made. I told him that I was going to dorm at college year round and that is what I ended up doing. It wasn’t always easy, but I think I have come out the better for it both mentally and spiritually. Since that phone conversation, I have been able to be honest with my father. Whenever I have tried to do this with my mother, she runs back to the idea how her and her partner and I can still be a family if I would just learn to work around her. This is code for ‘lie to keep the peace that we all are pretending exists in the first place.’ Thankfully, life’s experiences have set me against this way of thinking.
I know that these are extreme circumstances. Not every step-mother or step-father is so abusive or stifling to their step-children. Some are very loving parental figures. My advice to anyone with a step-family set up, whether that be a gay or straight household, is not to forget that the children have come from two biological parents. To paint either parent in a totally negative way is to tell the child that half of them is no good. It hurts, plain and simple. It hurts the child and it will only serve to damage that child’s relationship with whoever is throwing stones in the first place.
The Straight Spouse Network invites the perspectives of various individuals who wish to share their unique experiences. We thank T.T.S. for being our Guest Blogger today and permitting us to print her article about her experience.