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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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Helping Clergy Help Straight Spouses

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

Recently, two support facilitators with the Straight Spouse Network met with a group of Evangelical clergy and lay ministers.  The purpose of the meeting was to let them know of the existence of the Straight Spouse Network, and how we can be a resource for them in their counseling of mixed orientation couples.

This clergy group very much favored transformational ministries.  However, they recognized that the spouse and family were often not given much attention.  They were interested in finding out about the needs of straight spouses, and the stages of grief and recovery that we go through.   They were given copies of our brochures, and also a copy of Amity Buxton’s article Paths and Pitfalls; How Heterosexual Spouses Cope When Their Husbands or Wives Come Out .

We were invited to speak to this group because they serve large military communities on several installations.  While not chaplains, they serve the military families, and realized that with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they are likely to be encountering more spouses in crisis, as well as those who have lived in the closet for a while and are now safe to come out. SSN is not affiliated with any religion, and is purely secular.  In that respect, we are able to offer help to those who are reluctant to speak with a member of the clergy about their marriage.

Almost all of the individuals present had encountered a straight spouse in their lifetime.  Some told stories of accountability sessions with fellow clergy who were attempting to overcome same sex attractions, and having no knowledge of how to approach the clergy spouse, or any process in place for outreach to spouse and children.  Others told stories of individuals in their congregations receiving a lot of compassion and support when a spouse came out and deserted the family, but acknowledged that the ongoing ministry over years was difficult, and many issues of anger, children acting out, depression, and shock took many years to resolve. And of course, nothing in their training ever mentioned mixed orientation marriages.

We were invited to make future presentations to other clergy in the area.  The convener of the meeting, a superintendent in the Methodist Church, was particularly complimentary of our brochure.  He commented that he has had difficulty in the past referring heterosexual family members who experience crisis when a gay person comes out to other straight ally support organizations.  He found that the focus is seldom on crisis support, but on civil rights, advocacy, or immediately solving the problem in the short term.  “When I look at this picture”, he said, holding up our brochure with a group picture from a recent Florida gathering, “I see a family.  A family that supports one another no matter how long it takes”.   He indicated that he would have no problem recommending SSN as a resource to those he counsels and to other ministers.

While SSN does not support reparative therapies or transformational ministries, we do offer support to spouses who are involved in those processes.  We recognize that there is no single resolution to the crisis of discovering that your spouse or significant other is gay or questioning.  We support straight spouses and partners whether they stay married or divorce, and recognize that a major piece of our unique peer to peer support is to affirm where you are today – not where we think you need to be.

Clergy play a vital part in the spiritual and emotional healing of some straight spouses.  We are looking forward to having more opportunities to help them help us

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