“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.