The start of the school year often brings changes to families undergoing change, separation, and divorce. New activities, new schedules, new teachers often catch the happiest of families in a whirlwind. When coping with a recent disclosure or discovery that a spouse is LGBT, the straight spouse can often feel like they have the wind knocked out of them. The fall whirlwind can seem like a maelstrom.
In addition to all the activity, the straight spouse may be coping with the following:
1. Shock, grief, and anger. These are all very normal emotions.
2. Doubt and questions. What do we (or I) tell the kids, or should they be told anything at all? What is the best thing to do?
3. Uncertainty about what to tell teachers, coaches, and counselors
4. Dread of occasions that used to be happy and now accentuate the pain of the breakup.
5. A lack of affirmation. Secrecy can lead to isolation. Sometimes the straight spouse hears that they need to just get over it and march in the next gay pride parade, or stop dwelling on it since its just like any other breakup. Or sometimes they are told that they are just wrong and making the whole thing up.
Sometimes the path may seem clear to the gay spouse or to other family members. But separation from an LGBT spouse often means a change in family dynamics, and a complicated adjustment. With holidays and social event for school coming up, will the separation be public, or is the couple still putting on a face of being together? That united front can be emotionally devastating.
If the separation is known, but the LGBT spouse is still closeted from family and friends, the heterosexual one may get a lot of well intentioned lectures about saving their marriage, or “it takes two”. Or, they may find that the family members blame them for the divorce, without knowing the truth.
If the LGBT spouse is out, the straight spouse may find themselves in the middle of drama over family members reactions. Maybe the family wants to now include the new love interest at gatherings. Maybe the family isnt happy to find out that their son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother or sister is gay, and lectures the straight husband or wife on “living together as brother and sister” or reparative therapy. Or they blame the straight spouse anyway.
Here are a few tips for keeping your sanity during this difficult time:
1. Love yourself. You are hurting now, and it is not through anything that you caused. Now focus on your own healing.
2. Get the support that you and your family need from counselors and school professionals. As with any divorce, there is a bigger picture here, one that impacts the entire family.
3. Develop new friends and new traditions. Things are going to change. Its ok for you to think about changes that are good for you.
4. Distance yourself emotionally from people who are not supportive, and from being overly enmeshed in your soon to be ex’s activities. Follow the ten steps for distancing.
5. Connect with other straight spouses through the Straight Spouse Network. There may be face to face groups near you. If not, there are online communities for support and there can also be telephone contact. Click here to find support.