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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 2

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Blog | 45 comments

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 2

By Kristin Kalbli

In the absence of a therapeutic environment willing to acknowledge a complex interplay between our spouses’ recently acknowledged homosexuality and our spouses’ narcissism (or otherwise disordered psyches), straight spouses are often left to their own devices to make sense of their experiences. To be in recovery from one of these marriages often means becoming a self-taught amateur sleuth and psychiatrist.

We are undoubtedly unqualified to diagnose anyone, perhaps most of all our own ex-spouses, with whom we have been in a tangled psyche-web of co-dependence, projection and transference from which we are working to heal. But it is also unlikely that we will ever receive the validation of a confirmed diagnosis of our spouses (narcissists aren’t known for their affinity for therapy of self-reflection).

Yet the need to understand what we have just endured, the need to make sense of the nonsensical, the need to process the incomprehensible, can drive us down intense rabbit holes of research into narcissism, passive aggression, sociopathy, sadism and Cluster B. We may need to stare the monster in the face, and in coming to know it, demystify it.

Understanding dawns as we recognize behavior patterns in our spouses, and symptomology in ourselves. Sometimes we discover exact behaviors that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists experiences: the types of denials, the kinds of degradations, the ways of gas-lighting. Sometimes we discover exact feelings and emotions that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists in recovery: the brand of depression, the nature of the sexual damage, the disorientation and loss of self.

We can become consumed by it sometimes. My own bookshelf is a library of modern personality psychology. And each book or article tackled only one particular slice of my particular marriage puzzle: one book on passive aggressive men, a YouTube channel on cerebral narcissism, an article on the signs of a gay husband, a blog post on emotional sadism.

None have managed to unite and discuss all these factors in one place: one book, one resource. And none have been able to robustly or satisfactorily elucidate the complication interaction between our spouses’ latent homosexuality and their narcissism or other disorder.

I have found a few snippets in books and on the internet that resonated with my experience of my ex husband.  This quote from Dr. Roberta Cone begins to address the thick tangle of psycho-sexual energies and complexes we unwittingly fall prey to in our marriages:

“The narcissist is threatened by a partner’s sexual and emotional needs and believes they are out to trap them and suck them dry.  This is the narcissist’s classic projection of their true inner self.  Because of this projection he or she tortures and abuses…Most narcissists prefer pornography and masturbation to emotionally attached, mature, adult sex… Their sexuality is not a connected and balanced part of life.  Sometimes they are latent homosexuals or secretly bisexual…Punishment by emotional withdrawing and abstaining from sex is inflicted on loving partners to maintain control.  The narcissist sadistically frustrates for pleasure and can become celibate within a relationship. Sex then is only performed to keep their partner from leaving or for the demonstration of physical and psychological domination.  They are incapable of true emotional intimacy and dread the needs of a lover…The life force is sucked out of the partner leaving them hollow.”

This was the most succinct characterization of my own marriage I could find. But “latent homosexual” is dangerous terminology in this context, because there is an implied connection here, albeit a fuzzy one, between the pathology of the narcissist and the suppressed psyche of the closeted homosexual. In this paragraph, the condition of narcissism and the circumstance of closeted homosexuality form an interlaced and interdependent complex. And while there is so little research into this, I know I lived it.

In denialI often want to ask people, when they immediately shut down a conversation if the words ‘gay’ and ‘narcissist’ appear next to each other, if they really think it is impossible for an LGBT person to have the same mental illnesses we see in the heterosexual population. The past linkage of homosexuality and psychiatric disorders has made us unwilling to open that conversation and look at the very real and unique ways that being gay or gay-in-denial influences our narcissist spouses to act.

For instance, when our spouses are in denial and making a great effort to throw us off the trail, the very air in the home is made of a deception we breathe every day, a deception about who our spouse is on a fundamental level. A deception that comes at tremendous cost to our sense of reality and emotional stability. Being married to a closeted gay person colors the kinds of sexual neglect or sexual abuse we may suffer at the hands of our narcissist spouses, and this neglect and abuse varies from that inflicted by a heterosexual narcissist. If you put clams in spaghetti and marinara, it’s still spaghetti, but it’s also a completely different dish. If you add closeted homosexuality to a marriage with a narcissist, it’s still a destructive, abusive marriage to a narcissist, but it’s also a totally different marriage than a marriage to a heterosexual narcissist.

I get that this is tricky terrain to navigate, but we must.  Straight spouses are often deeply suffering from PTSD, or “post narcissistic abuse syndrome.” They struggle to find experts capable of guiding their  healing through the nuances of recovery from being married to a narcissist who is also gay-in-denial.

The truth is, while we are not claiming that our husbands and wives were narcissists because they were gay, we are claiming, unequivocally, that when our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with the homosexuality in a way that leaves us particularly wounded. We need support and resources from professionals who  are capable of taking into account that our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, without silencing or shutting us down as we reveal our own stories and tell the truth of our own lives.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

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National Coming Out Day – Free Us From Someone Else’s Closet

Posted by on Oct 11, 2009 in Blog | 0 comments

Today is National Coming Out Day.  For the straight spouses of closeted gay people, this has special meaning.

Closets stifle us and our families.  When we have to keep the secret of a gay spouse, and pretend to the world that all is well, that things are really just as they appear, it stifles us.  Some of us keep those secrets for personal reasons, others for professional reasons.  The secret has a cost to everyone who keeps it.

For the straight spouse whose husband or wife denies being gay while showing a sexual attraction to the same sex, the closet is particularly stifling – and dangerous.  Many straight spouses of such people have found that once we know the secret, either through discovery or disclosure, great efforts are directed at keeping us silent – or should we choose to emerge from the marital closet, making sure that what we say is unbelievable.

Outrage is being shown on HBO this month.  It’s an opportunity to catch a controversial film about closeted homosexual politicians who consistently vote or advocate laws and policies that are not in the best interests of homosexuals.  Such powerful policy makers not only slam the closet door on themselves and their families, they manage to crush others caught in the emergence from that same closet.

Outrage features a few minutes with Dina McGreevey, as well as her ex husband, Jim McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey.  Their story of emerging publicly from the closet in 2004 is well documented, as is the tragedy of the public spectacle of their divorce.  For many of us, that divorce and the publicity surrounding it was a lesson in what happens to straight spouses when we depart from the script of the gay partner, and speak with our own voice. It has been reported in several blogs that McGreevey was unhappy with the inclusion of his ex wife’s perspective in the film. We hope that is untrue speculation.  For straight spouses, her testimony to her personal experience in this film confirms what many of us have also experienced.

Jim McGreevey is now out of office.  Can you imagine the agony of a straight spouse whose husband or wife is still holding public office, or an important leadership position in business, clergy, or social policy making – and the silence they must keep or else risk humiliation, denial, and devastation?  How many of those are there?  We suspect that for every Dina McGreevey who is recognized and speaks out, there are several others who are unknown and suffer anonymously and in silence.

Today, we encourage all gay people to come out to their families.  If you are married to a straight person, come out, honestly, compassionately. If you are a young person who is not out to your parents or siblings, share your secret if you feel it is safe to do so – you may find that although they grieve the loss of their expectations, they will still love you.  Remember, as you come out, there are support groups for you and for your family.  Tell your straight spouse about us.  Tell your parents about PFLAG.

Today, if you are a straight spouse married to someone who is deeply closeted, come out of isolation by contacting the Straight Spouse Network. Our services are free, and completely confidential.  Come out of that closet enough to know that you are not alone.

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Mad Men and the Closet

Posted by on Sep 10, 2009 in Blog | 0 comments

By Cathy Wos

I am obsessed with the show Mad Men. The writing is superb, the actors are phenomenal and the wardrobe is stunning.

It’s the 1960’s, and while an interesting era to watch, certainly not one I want to live in. The world of a 1960’s housewife was stifling. She was to been seen and not heard. Her husband was the breadwinner and he made all the decisions. If the couple divorced, ostracism was certain. She dealt with her isolation through therapy, cocktails and pills, and not necessarily in that order.

In Mad Men, each character struggles with the role he or she plays in society. It is most apparent with Salvatore Romano: Madison Avenue Advertising Art Director and closeted homosexual. In pre-Stonewall society he has no choice but to remain in the closet and play the part of red-blooded hetero male. In Season 2, we are introduced to Kitty, his adoring wife. Sal has invited a co-worker to dinner and Kitty tries to hold her own in the conversation, only to be cut off.  This goes deeper than the usual friction between husband and wife. The viewers can see that Sal has a crush on him, but Kitty doesn’t. All she knows is that something in this marriage is missing and she doesn’t quite understand.

Approximately 2 million men and women have been in Kitty’s role: straight spouse. Mad Men may be set over 40 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the closet has completely opened. Each day more and more people seek support from the Straight Spouse Network. The difference now is that they have somewhere to turn. The difference now is they do not need to stay in their gay spouse’s closet.

As the season progresses, I hope the writers at Mad Men treat Kitty with respect and empathy. My biggest hope is that characters like Kitty continue to exist only on-screen and not in real life.

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