After the initial shock of discovering that we are married to a lesbian or homosexual man, we straight spouses find ways to process what we now know, and what it means in our lives. We talk. we cry. We shout. We listen. We shut down. And eventually, we open up to friends, counselors, clergy.
What happens then often shocks us. The gay spouse gets what we crave – affirmation, confirmation. Its good they came out. They are so brave. This is so hard. Youcannot blame them for being closeted. It’s so difficult. Society is so terrible. Are you sure? How do you know? Well, why do you think THAT means your spouse is gay?
Very few people ask how we are doing and what we need. Those who do will often not keep asking. We are supposed to just get over it, because other people are very uncomfortable with the reality of our lives. Often counselors focus on helping the gay spouse or helping us understand the gay spouse.
We need help. We need understanding. We need affirmation.
Some of us DO find solace in understanding the experience of our gay spouses. Some of us need to create healthy distance, privacy, renew our acquaintance with ourselves. Some of us have been told that our marriages would have ended anyway, because we’re at fault for something. Whether it is appearance, sexual prowess, sensitivity, housekeeping, we are told “it takes two” when a marriage breaks up. We seldom hear that we could be perfect – and our spouses would still be unhappy because we are the opposite sex.
Some of us need to hear that no matter how good we are, we could not change the outcome of our marriages. Some of us need to hear that we ARE good. Some of us need to hear that no matter what our failings, our spouses are gay and this is a huge challenge for any marriage. Acknowledging this difficulty does not make us “haters” or “delusional” or “uncooperative”.
Sometimes we are surrounded by people who tell us how we ought to feel, what ought to happen. We ought to stay married. We ought to divorce. We ought to go to this particular counselor or program that will save our marriage. We ought to attend the gay pride parade. We ought to tell our children. We ought to NEVER tell our children because that’s up to the gay spouse alone.
What we really ought to do is be honest. Some of us will need to tell our children, in an age appropriate way, about why our homes are changing, even if the gay spouse does not approve. Some of us will tell children together with the gay spouse. Some of us will want to tell the children together, and find the gay spouse does it alone – and when we feel left out, marginalized, overlooked, many counselors and well meaning friends will tell us that we should never have done that anyway, it doesnt matter. We know it does matter.
Some of us will stay married. Some will separate right away. Its a process, and for many couples it is not a quick one. Perhaps the least helpful thing is for a straight spouse to hear that they should just divorce now because that is what will happen anyway. It doesn’t always happen. People have to work these questions out in their own way, in their own time.
The Straight Spouse Network provides a safe place for the straight spouse to sort out their reactions, needs, wants, desires. We won’t tell you to save your marriage. We won’t tell you that you should just save yourself a lot of trouble and file for divorce. The Straight Spouse Network will support and affirm you as you find what it is that you want and need – whatever that is today. Because we are a peer group, many of us will also have similar experiences to share with you.
You are not alone. Your perspective, perceptions, experiences, and questions matter.
Time.That dreaded word.
You’ll feel better in time. You’ll get over this in time. Just give it time.
After a 30 year marriage and building a life together and all the ups and downs and family connections and disconnections now I have to give it TIME?? HOW MUCH TIME DO I HAVE LEFT??? I thought this was forever!
But we’ve been together since high school, 12 years, been married finally for 5 years and my baby clock is ticking. You want me to give it TIME?? Time for what? Time to grieve? Time to trust? Time to find a new relationship? Time to start over again to find a soulmate and have a family? Time to make new friends? HOW MUCH TIME DO I HAVE LEFT???
Time to figure out this single dad thing? Time to figure out this weekend dad thing? All while figuring out how to keep from punching your latest lover because men aren’t supposed to hit women – and I never have done that? Time to find new relationships and be a dad? HOW MUCH TIME DO I HAVE LEFT before the kids are older and I have missed so much? Or before I explode? Or before you try provoking me in front of your lover so I will explode and you can have me arrested with a witness and out of the way? How much time to build a family life for the kids with me in it?
Time? I have none now. I have to be the answer person for all the kid’s questions. They blame me for everything. They aren’t comfortable with your boyfriend but are afraid to be “haters” or “take sides” and admit it. I’m chauffer, soccer mom, working mom, always worried about money. You’re at school events and everyone tells me how lucky I am that you are so involved. I have no time at 1 am when our oldest has broken curfew and I had to leave the other two alone to go pull him out of a party where there is teenage drinking – all while worried that you will use this incident against me in court, even though I called you and no one answered – again. I have no time when it is “your turn” because I am cleaning up the messy house, retrieving stuff the kids forgot, and explaining to the counselor that you were supposed to take the kids to counseling but its YOUR TIME – so no call to me and no responsibility from you – but plenty of “parents must cooperate” lectures directed at me. Some people tell me it’s wonderful that you came out you are so brave, etc etc, I need to understand that…but no one ever needs to understand me. TIME? FOR ME?? WHO’S THAT? I HAVE NO TIME LEFT. You have time for lawyers, a successful career, and plenty of social action – and you always look good when you turn up in public with the kids. Im a wreck. I HAVE NO TIME.
How much time to decide if we should divorce or stay married? You say you want to stay married. I don’t know. Yes and no. HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE LEFT?
Yes. Healing does take time. It can be amazing to look back after a year or so and see how far our lives have come. We also need opportunities to heal. Support from others who “get it”, and learning how to keep ourselves safe and sane in a time of incredible grief and stress is very important. We’re all about “bridge building” in the Straight Spouse Network, but we do know that you can’t heal if you keep getting re injured – no matter how much time there is. Maintaining safe and reasonable boundaries is a very important part of the healing process.
Time brings us perspective – and for many of us it is a unique perspective. And for some of us, it takes a long, long time to heal and move forward. The Straight Spouse Network supports us no matter how long, no matter what stage we are at, no matter what our choices are for moving ahead.
We thought it was forever. Marriage, that is. Oh sure, there were ups and downs, bumps in the road, challenges. Every marriage has those.
We thought it was forever.
We also thought our spouses were heterosexual, or at least interested enough in the opposite sex to commit to a marriage with us.
And we know how that turned out.
Several long time volunteers with the Straight Spouse Network are appearing in a new documentary and telling the stories of how the discovery that their husband or wife was gay or lesbian impacted them, and for some, their whole family. I Thought It Was Forever will be released in the near future The candor expressed in the film is remarkable. Many of us do not feel safe discussing our marriages openly. Some of us are still in our spouse or partner’s closet.
This film will tell how some of us told the children; How some of us moved on; How some of us have found new purpose in helping others who make the same discovery about that spouse or partner they thought was going to be with them forever.
Take a look at the preview for this film. All of these comments are so familiar to so many of us.
Recently, two support facilitators with the Straight Spouse Network met with a group of Evangelical clergy and lay ministers. The purpose of the meeting was to let them know of the existence of the Straight Spouse Network, and how we can be a resource for them in their counseling of mixed orientation couples.
This clergy group very much favored transformational ministries. However, they recognized that the spouse and family were often not given much attention. They were interested in finding out about the needs of straight spouses, and the stages of grief and recovery that we go through. They were given copies of our brochures, and also a copy of Amity Buxton’s article Paths and Pitfalls; How Heterosexual Spouses Cope When Their Husbands or Wives Come Out .
We were invited to speak to this group because they serve large military communities on several installations. While not chaplains, they serve the military families, and realized that with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they are likely to be encountering more spouses in crisis, as well as those who have lived in the closet for a while and are now safe to come out. SSN is not affiliated with any religion, and is purely secular. In that respect, we are able to offer help to those who are reluctant to speak with a member of the clergy about their marriage.
Almost all of the individuals present had encountered a straight spouse in their lifetime. Some told stories of accountability sessions with fellow clergy who were attempting to overcome same sex attractions, and having no knowledge of how to approach the clergy spouse, or any process in place for outreach to spouse and children. Others told stories of individuals in their congregations receiving a lot of compassion and support when a spouse came out and deserted the family, but acknowledged that the ongoing ministry over years was difficult, and many issues of anger, children acting out, depression, and shock took many years to resolve. And of course, nothing in their training ever mentioned mixed orientation marriages.
We were invited to make future presentations to other clergy in the area. The convener of the meeting, a superintendent in the Methodist Church, was particularly complimentary of our brochure. He commented that he has had difficulty in the past referring heterosexual family members who experience crisis when a gay person comes out to other straight ally support organizations. He found that the focus is seldom on crisis support, but on civil rights, advocacy, or immediately solving the problem in the short term. “When I look at this picture”, he said, holding up our brochure with a group picture from a recent Florida gathering, “I see a family. A family that supports one another no matter how long it takes”. He indicated that he would have no problem recommending SSN as a resource to those he counsels and to other ministers.
While SSN does not support reparative therapies or transformational ministries, we do offer support to spouses who are involved in those processes. We recognize that there is no single resolution to the crisis of discovering that your spouse or significant other is gay or questioning. We support straight spouses and partners whether they stay married or divorce, and recognize that a major piece of our unique peer to peer support is to affirm where you are today – not where we think you need to be.
Clergy play a vital part in the spiritual and emotional healing of some straight spouses. We are looking forward to having more opportunities to help them help us
For those of us who discover that we are married to a gay husband or lesbian wife, the different decisions we make going forward are influenced by one common factor.
We must live in the truth. We may not like it, we may rebel against it, but we must live in it.
We cannot go forward living someone else’s lie, someone else’s story of how it SHOULD be.
Your gay husband may say he’s not really gay, he’s just curious. He was molested. All guys do this. Well, maybe he’s a LITTLE gay, he’s trying to figure out if he’s bi. Or he might declare himself cured of all things gay and now it is YOUR FAULT if the marriage does not work.
None of those things account for your experience, so they do not open the path to living in truth.
Your lesbian wife might say she’s exploring her sexuality, she was raped, all the girls do it now, and what’s the matter with you anyway, real men think this is hot, you must be inadequate. But no one is considering what her involvement with or sexual attraction to other women is doing to you.
That too is not living in truth.
Those of us who have heard our spouses say “honey I think I’m gay” are actually in a better position to recover from the shock, because we go forward with the truth. We get therapy, set boundaries, take the time to really figure out what we want from the relationship, whether or not the marriage continues.
But there are those of us who never hear those words. Instead we hear that we are making it up, we are crazy, we are lying. Or we are told to NEVER TELL ANOTHER PERSON WHAT WE KNOW. Those of us who make and keep those promises for years and years pay a heavy price in addictions, weight gain, stress related illnesses, depression, internalized anger. When we inevitably tell a friend, family member, or counselor, we endure heaps of recrimination from ourselves and our spouses, because YOU SEE!!!! YOU BROKE YOUR PROMISE!!!!!
Imagine your husband or wife cheating on you with a member of the opposite sex, and being told that you have to promise to keep quiet about it.
To LIVE the truth, we must also TELL the truth. That doesn’t mean shouting it from the top of tall buildings, but it can mean telling our trusted friends and family members. It doesn’t mean telling everyone. But it does need some telling, and speaking out loud.
There is no reluctance on the part of our spouses or many of the people who surround us to tell the truths about us. We’re fat. We’re messy. We’re ugly. We let ourselves go.
Then there’s the perceptions of us that pass as truth. We’re depressed. We’re too wrapped up in work. We’re unresponsive. Those may be true, but they are usually not the WHOLE truth. Telling the whole truth, even among just a few people, even between the couple and their advisors, is really necessary.
Unfortunately, there are those of us who continue to be caught and imprisoned in a spouse’s closet. We cannot emerge due to financial threats, actions to take away our children, actions to scare off any new love interest we may have, even after divorce. The need to control the “story” translates into custody litigation, prolonged divorce trials. The world must not know the secret, and the straight spouse must be discredited so that no one will ever believe them. The “story” can be that the gay spouse is cured, or never acted on their impulses, or that it just never happened and the experience of the straight spouse is all a lie. Or the story is that the straight spouse is PERFECTLY OK WITH EVERYTHING – and life is compartmentalized to the hilt so that truth and real life never meet. The effects of such isolation, pressure, and social shunning of the straight spouse are profoundly destructive.
Even when the gay spouse is out, there sometimes is a need to villify the straight one for every aspect of life together. Somehow, the idea that a gay person did something horrible by lying to a straight spouse is diminished if they can prove that the straight spouse is a horrible person anyway. The straight wife is a terrible mother, a slovenly housekeeper. The straight husband is insensitive, works too hard, is inattentive, or is hostile. Sometimes any expression of the normal anger we feel is portrayed as abuse, and we wind up defending ourselves for being human. Some of us who have been “single married moms” find we are struggling to maintain custody of our children, buried under an avalanche of legal bills, investigations, constant motions, and legal abuse. This type of harassment is certainly not confined to mixed orientation couples, but when the intent is to perpetuate the myth of the “not so bad after all” parent, or to cover up homosexual activity, the effect on a family is devastating for years and years.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support all heterosexual people who have a gay or lesbian husband or wife, or who are divorcing one. We are peer to peer support. We’ve felt the anger, we’ve survived the divorce process. Some of us have stayed married, and can share some wisdom about that. There is no “right” way to feel, and we come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all perspectives. We help one another to heal and move forward – in truth.