When our spouse or partner reveals they are gay, many of us are flabbergasted. We thought we were with one person, yet we were really with someone different. We thought we knew them. We thought they were open and honest with us. And after disclosure we oftentimes spend quite a bit of time dwelling on the question, “Who is (s)he?”
Of course we do. We are confused. Hurt. Deceived. Angry. Who is this person? At some point, we realize they are what they are. They do what they do. We might not understand their resulting actions, or their new looks. While understanding that being gay is not a choice, we might seriously question their new choices on other matters, knowing they would have decided differently before. It’s confusing, so we ask, “Who is this?” Sometimes this question consumes our lives.
The most important question, however, is the one your gay (ex)-partner has probably long been grappling with — the real high-impact question for any of us.
Who am I?
We are shaken by the disclosure. Shaken to the core. We have huge looming decisions, most probably new to us. Yet if we keep asking why they are who they are, without asking ourselves those same questions, then we miss a huge opportunity. Yes, opportunity. Because this is the time to stop, evaluate ourselves, and decide who we are, who we want to be, and who we can become.
Each of us has obligations and responsibilities. We all have desires and regrets. There are many ways to explore who we are:
- Taking time off from the normal activities
- Hiring a life coach
Why does it matter? We all want to find our purposes. Most of us want to do more. The shakeup makes us realize that nothing is permanent. Nothing should be taken for granted. Our time is precious. We each deserve to pursue what we need and want. The angst, inaction, and guilt from not exploring who we are can be physically self-destructive.
Yet we are convinced, many of us, that this sort of thinking is selfish. We are given life to serve others, and/or a deity. Perhaps that’s the way you were raised as a child. This line of thinking is not a free pass. We still need to decide how we will serve others. Also, until we take care of ourselves, we are not fully available to help others. Pushing our real selves down pushes down the potential to do more for others.
We also need to frame how we will act now, in response to them being gay. How will we treat them? How will we deal with shared assets? How will we handle the children? To direct our positions in those decisions, we have to have a foundation of self.
So when you’re finished asking who they are, start exploring the more important question, “Who am I?”
“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.