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?”
Sometimes, we just get it all wrong.
I was there. Angry that my ex-wife was gay and left me. Early in the process it was tough to separate the reality that she was homosexual from the hurtful behaviors. It is easy to mix up – she’s gay, she’s pissing me off, therefore it must be the gay thing that’s the problem.
Except it’s not.
I now can see clearly that what hurt me was her behavior. The deception. The lack of communication. The unrealistic expectations. The pretzel logic. The rejection.
But we often focus on the homosexuality and blame that. We focus on their changed looks. We focus on their new partners. We focus on where they go and what they do. We exude vitriol at their gay lifestyles as if that is the reason for our personal agonies.
As a straight spouse, I see a lot of energetic, passionate, sometimes even eloquent communications about our gay partners – how they look, who they are with, where they go, what they do – oftentimes with strong tones of disapproval or outright obvious disgust.
That’s all wrong.
Because the fact that they are gay is not why we hurt. We hurt because somehow, somewhere in the process of their coming out, they hurt us. The pain is real and we want to blame something. Since the homosexuality is often central to our breakups, it is the obvious target.
Yet we know that many couples amicably break up after one spouse comes out. We see that many of the gay spouses remain good parents to their children. Some straight spouses even remain friends with their gay exes.
As straight spouses we need to be careful – careful to avoid gay bashing. Careful to not blame the homosexuality when the real cause of the pain is the other person treating us wrongly. Careful to not focus so much on what the gay spouse is doing that reflects them being gay.
Why? We can never recover from the hurt of learning they are gay when we focus on what gay thing the ex-spouse is doing now. We can never recover from the rejection when we reject them simply because they are gay. We can never communicate with them effectively when our language about them is filled with shame or hate.
So sometimes, we just get it all wrong. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s think about what we are saying, writing, and doing. Each of us has our imperfections, things others may not agree with, appearances others may not prefer. Healing, in my view, requires acceptance. Not agreement necessarily, but acceptance. Without acceptance we remain mired in the anger, unhappiness, dislocation, and regret.
How can we live this change? Stop focusing on the appearance of the gay spouse. Stop focusing on what parades they go to or bars they frequent. Think about what you say or write before spewing it out there – is it hurtful, shaming, blaming, or bashing? If so, think about how you might feel if your ex were to say such things about you.
Why not focus on making ourselves better by doing what we like, spending more time with the people we love, and embracing causes that matter to us? We’ll all be better off if we spend our limited energies wisely, towards positive change.
The Straight Spouse Network wants to thank Ron for sharing his perspective and experience.
We don’t know who the original author is of these steps, but this advice is often quoted at our meetings and on our forums.
Ten Steps for Distancing
Stop asking new personal things of your partner about him/herself.
Don’t give out personal things about yourself to them.
Don’t bend over backward to celebrate any occasions that involve
Don’t bend over backward to help them more than is necessary
Don’t help them if they or someone else can.
Avoid discussions that involve their lives, re: old topics.
Start to develop new activities that don’t involve them.
Try to make new friends, acquaintances, anything.
Make small changes in your life: rearrange furniture, change decorations, try new soaps, ride your bike in a different route, eat at a different restaurant, eat different foods, cook them a different way, shop at different stores, rearrange the landscaping, change some of your habits, change the style of clothing you wear, etc.
If they ask favors of you, tell them you want time to think about it.
Independence Day in the United States is a family and community celebration of the nation’s freedom and independence. It is also an occasion for many people to take stock of their personal freedom, their own independence, and measure how far they have come, and what they must do to continue on their own personal freedom trail.
For the straight spouse, that can mean a lot of things. It can mean remembering the day of discovery or disclosure, and marking all the milestones that have happened in between the darkness of deception and the sometimes blinding light of truth.
We honor the day that we took the steps of freeing ourselves, whether we stay married or divorce. We honor the day that open communication involved us too, asserting our own needs and perceptions. We honor the day that we stopped keeping someone else’s secret, or the day we came to a workable agreement how that secret should be shared. We honor the day we ceased to be disgraced by someone else’s behavior. We honor the day we became more savvy about money, and started asking the right questions.
We honor our strength, our forbearance, our graces. We honor those who helped us, listened to us, stayed up nights talking to us so we knew we were not alone.
The Straight Spouse Network has a type of independence day planned all month long. We are in the running for two grants from large corporations, which will help us get the word out. They’ll help us continue.
All we need from every single person we have ever helped, including gay spouses and family, is a vote. Vote for us to win a Pepsi Refresh Grant of $25,000. You can vote every day of the month of July for this.
Also, up until July 13, if you are on Facebook, you can vote for us to be among the top 200 charities for Chase Giving. We’ll get a pile of money for that too. That will free us from having to decide which of our many outreaches to scrap, free us to help more people. The instructions for voting on Chase are here. You can keep your vote private on both sites if you and your family are not completely out of the closet yet.
We need the help of each and every one of you reading this. Together we are strong.