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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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Unnatural Disasters – Take Time To Heal

Posted by on Mar 28, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

“I lost my wife.  Maybe”

Those are the words of a man who has survived the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  The physical disaster which caused his loss is something that few of us can identify with or imagine.  His words tell us that despite events that left tens of thousands of people dead within a few hours, he’s still hoping that his wife is alive among the tens of thousands who are missing.  They convey an awful uncertainty.

He doesn’t know for sure if she is dead or alive.  Eventually he will know for sure, one way or another, probably within months at the most.  And he’ll begin the process of grieving and rebuilding his life, with or without his wife.

Mental health experts are now finding that the timeline for recovery from a man made disaster is much longer than the timeline for recovery from a natural disaster.  They point to the ongoing problems Japan will have, not just for recovery from the earthquake and tsunami, but surviving the crisis of nuclear meltdown will carry its own burdens of trust, ongoing fear of radiation damage, a loss of security.

What does this have to do with the straight spouses of gay people?  Plenty.  The crises of discovery, disclosure, and ongoing adjustment are also man made.  Unlike other marriage breakups, the circumstances of our separations and divorces are not preventable by anything under our control.  Straight spouses often enter a closet of confusion, shame, and anger as their gay spouse emerges from their closet – or they feel locked in by a gay spouse who continues to deny the obvious truth.  Moreover, when there is no confirmation or affirmation from counseling professionals, clergy, family, friends or the gay spouse themselves, the straight spouse can often experience ongoing feelings of isolation, and submerged grief.

It may seem offensive to some to compare marriage to a gay person to a tsumami or an earthquake.  But straight spouses often describe the moment of discovery or disclosure as an important event in their lives that rocks them to their core.  A homosexual person has a lifetime to understand that they are gay.  A spouse has a much more brief time to adjust, and the effect on their lives can be cataclysmic.  The experience of having no affirmation, confirmation, or getting misguided advice from those who do not understand the timely process of grief, anger, acceptance, and resolution may actually prolong the time needed for the spouse to heal.

Unlike the tsunami or earthquake, the crisis of discovery or disclosure in a mixed orientation marriage is a man made crisis.  It is all too often survived alone, despite the profound change to the emotional, social, and familial landscape of our lives.  The Straight Spouse Network is here so that no one need be alone when facing the unimaginable experience of discovering a spouse is gay. There is life, healing and hope.  It takes support, understanding, and healing takes time.  Lots and lots of time.

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