Whose Fault is It Anyway?
Following just about any divorce or marital split, you’ll hear the common advice “It takes two.” Yes. It takes two to make a marriage, and often it takes two people to contribute to the breakup of a marriage or long term relationship.
But then there’s people like us – straight spouses who either are told by our mates that they are LGBTQ, or we discover it in other ways.
Maybe we knew already, but thought that the time of “exploration” was past. Maybe we thought the marriage could be open, without really understanding what that means.
Most people who contact the Straight Spouse Network for support did not know or understand beforehand that their spouse was not heterosexual. Some thought the marriage was just fine. Others thought that the difficulties could be addressed with marriage counseling, therapy, changing their appearance, changing their occupation, staying home with kids, going back to work, getting a different job, not working so much, cleaning more, not being such a clean freak.
But the core problem is that most of our spouses are not attracted to us in a way that allows them to be truly invested in a marriage for anything other than appearances.
Of course there are other problems. Some of us have addictions. Some of us have anger management issues. Some of us have problems with depression, personality disorders, health conditions. And all of those can really kill a marital relationship.
We have no way of knowing how much of what we have brought to a mixed orientation marriage could contribute to the breakup of that marriage – because at the core, many of our spouses are not capable of giving us the same level of intimacy as a same sex partner. Nothing we can do or be can change that.
Some of our spouses move forward, and marry their same sex partner. Moving forward for us is not so easy. This is for several reasons:
1. By the time our LGBTQ spouse discloses their sexual orientation to us, or we discover that they are attracted to same sex partners, they have had a lifetime to deal with acknowledging their orientation. We’ve had a much shorter time to deal with the reality.
2. We often are asked “How could you not know? How could you miss this?” We wonder if there is something wrong with us. We have difficulty trusting other people, and our perceptions of them. It takes a while for this to heal, to get our confidence back, to place our trust in others with whom we want to date or share sexual intimacy.
3. Our initial reactions are intense, and may remain unresolved. The deep anger that many straight spouses experience upon discovery or disclosure and the profound sense of betrayal is not pleasant to experience or to witness. We are often told by friends and family to deal with our anger, stop “dwelling on it” and “be happy he/she has discovered their true self.” The inability to express our feelings because they make others uncomfortable or because they will prompt a lecture delays our ability move forward. These feelings fester, along with a sense of isolation.
Our anger and isolation is compounded when our LGBTQ spouses are lauded as heroes for being their true, out of the closet selves (which they should be) but we are never affirmed. Our experiences are minimized, and sometimes even denied.
Somehow, some folks near and dear to us believe it is all our fault that we choose to be hurt. Or that we chose to marry an LGBTQ person in the first place. Or that we choose to be angry.
Because, you see, we have issues.
Why yes. We do have issues.
We have issues with betrayal – and not having our experiences, emotions, and reactions affirmed, validated, and acknowledged in a supportive way.
We have issues with society – and being forced into a closet of someone else’s construction once they emerge, or remaining closeted with them out of fear or loyalty.
We have issues with anger – and the consistent triggering of that anger over many years as we move forward into family adjustments that belittle our experiences or devalue us, or are made on false assumptions about us.
We have issues with being misrepresented to former in laws, friends, our own children, or people in our community as characters in a new script we have not written or seen.
We have issues with being angry, discarded, rejected, feeling that many years of our lives have been thrown away – and being ignored. We have issues with being told that we should just deal with it, because gay is ok, and we just have to deal with that. Anything else is intolerant.
We have issues with gaslighting. Big time. (Here’s a clip from the movie “Gaslight” which is the source of the term.)
We have issues with rejection from our families and friends when we are supportive of our LGBTQ spouses, maintaining our marriages or cordial relationships.
We have issues with our own lack of visibility. Straight spouses are a diverse group. No two experiences, marriages, or reactions are alike. There’s no convenient social box where all of us fit.
One of the primary needs of any straight spouse is affirmation. The affirmation from family and friends that says “What do you need? I’m here to listen” is extremely valuable.
Confirmation of our LGBTQ spouse’s sexuality is not always a given. Many of us never have the “Honey, I’m gay” moment, and may face recriminations when we discover our husband or wife’s true sexuality. Without that honest admission, upon discovery we face questioning, doubt, argument, and sometimes derision or false accusations of being delusional. Without disclosure and confirmation, our path to healing can take longer, and remain riddled with unresolved questions, feelings, and gutted family relationships.
We’re not perfect people – life gets complicated enough without living it in the shadow of someone else’s denial and deceit.
The Straight Spouse Network is here for all straight spouses, male or female, married or separated, whether they are absolutely sure about their spouse’s sexual orientation or are still figuring it out. Your experiences matter. Your healing matters. And the unacknowledged obstacles to your healing are shared by many of us.
We don’t know whose fault it is, but we do know these things – you are not to blame for your spouse’s sexual orientation. They are not to blame for your addictions or mental health issues. But, living without acknowledgement, affirmation, and honesty does not aid in recovery.
Springtime brings a lot of family holidays and celebrations with the beautiful blooms and warm weather. For straight spouses, these can be occasions of joy, but they can also be occasions for conflict. Even when we have moved on for a number of years, the joy of a wedding, a graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild can also come with a mixed feeling of dread at having to once again deal with our ex-spouse.
Unresolved issues often are at the heart of our anxiety at this events. Some awkward scenarios might include the following:
- Is the closet door open all the way? Who in the family or group of friends knows your spouse is LGBT? If we are out of the closet, we may not know what they have told their family and friends. Or, we may be sworn to secrecy only to find out that everyone else has known for a long time and accepts our spouse’s new life.
- Party Time! The in-laws that you were previously close to are hosting a big party for your child’s graduation, engagement, baby shower. And they have to invite you. You can come. Sure. You wonder if you should go, and probably be uncomfortable, or not go, and be perceived as being difficult.
- Maybe you are hosting the party. Your child makes the list and your ex in-laws are at the top of that list. So you invite them, but aren’t really sure about how they will receive the communication. You’re also not sure if the messages they pass to you through your son or daughter are actual responses.
- Or you WERE going to host a party, and only then did you find out that your ex-spouse or in-laws were planning a big bash which your son or daughter had no idea you hadn’t been invited to.
- Or maybe there’s a party, and everyone knows except you. Your child wonders why you aren’t coming.
- Other people’s unresolved issues. You and your ex are getting along pretty well now. But your parents, cousins, siblings have just never gotten over what your ex did to you. They make it clear that they WILL NOT speak to him/her. Or they are uncomfortable with the reality that your ex will bring their new partner/LGBT spouse.
There are dozens of scenarios that make family celebrations involving our adult or near adult children tough, even years after our separation or divorce. How do you approach these occasions, and make them memorable for the right reasons?
First, tune out the unimportant people and focus on the reason for the event itself. Your son or daughter is getting married, graduating from high school or college, having a baby, starting a new job. If they want you to be a part of the celebration, it has meaning for you. It means something to them that you will be there. You might turn down an invite to a party, but you should never exclude yourself from their wedding, graduation, ceremonies honoring them, or a major religious event such as a christening, a bris, or a naming ceremony for a grandchild.
Sometimes we think we just can’t go if our ex is there. But we must, if our children want us there.
So many of us have dealt with situations in the past that were beyond our control or our anticipation. Its normal to worry that something will go wrong. If you have experienced abuse or gaslighting in the past, it’s perfectly normal to wonder if your ex will attempt it publicly.
It’s important to recognize that the event is not about you – it’s about your child. It’s about your teen graduating high school, your son or daughter getting married and starting a new life, and the celebration of their happiness. If you can work things out with your spouse, great. If not, you still can go and make the day one of happiness for yourself and your family.
Some straight spouses who are still pretty emotional about contact with the ex at family celebrations have found that it is helpful to have a plan for avoiding drama. Find a private area, such as a rest room, to escape to if necessary. It helps to know who your friends are, and stay close to them if you don’t bring a date or have not remarried. If your ex has a problem with how your participation in an event, refer it to your adult son or daughter. For a teenager you may want to enlist the advice of a school counselor or teacher if possible. They can give you an idea of what is expected – and what is not. Remember, the day is about your child, not about you, and not about your ex either.
Stay sober. You cannot control yourself or the events around you if you have too much to drink. After all, you want a wedding or family celebration to be remembered as a wedding – not as the time you got plastered.
Give yourself permission to be emotional. Weddings are always emotional events for parents. Graduations are times that we remember the whole journey of raising a child, and birthday parties often take parents back to the day the child was born. Have some sense of how you will show your emotions. Its ok to show them. OK, don’t break down and collapse and turn on the flood of tears. But show your emotions. It really is ok.
Have an exit plan. Know when you plan to leave (for example, after the bride and groom leave, or when your friends start to leave.) While you are there, carry on with your head high. Look your best, and feel good.
Focus on the reason for the celebration – your child – and save the rest for later. It’s a day in your life, and then it is over. But the memory for your son or daughter and other family members will last.