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.
Pretzel Logic. That’s the name of a novel about the straight spouse experience that was published a few years ago. Its also the term straight spouses use to define the statements of some of our gay spouses that don’t make sense to us.
Here are a few examples of pretzel logic:
I had to have sex with men/women because you didn’t give me what I needed.
Why didn’t I tell you sooner that I was gay? Well, I didnt want to hurt you. (after a long term marriage)
Don’t be silly. Everyone is gay. All men are curious. Something is wrong with YOU for thinking this. You are narrow minded.
Oral doesn’t count.
Its not cheating if its with the same sex.
I’m not a lesbian, I just fell in love with a woman.
We didnt get divorced because I’m gay, we got divorced because you are (fat, thin, ugly, bad housekeeper, too busy)
I’m not gay, I just like having sex with men.
Me gay? I don’t believe in labels.
Don’t be silly. Women always kiss their girlfriends (negating the difference between an affectionate greeting kiss and an erotic kiss)
You don’t understand. Those guys don’t mean anything. Its just sex. You’re my wife.
Some bisexual men do report that they feel intimate love with women, but their attraction to men is just sex, with no intimacy attached to it. However, to the woman who is committed to a monogamous marriage, “just sex” is still cheating.
None of these statements make sense when applied to heterosexual infidelity. What matters to straight spouses is our experience in the relationship – and our expectations. Its difficult to change those expectations suddenly. We expected that the person we married was sexually attracted to the opposite sex, like we are.
Many straight spouses recognize that being gay is not a choice, but being honest is. We also recognize that being honest is painful. For us, whatever might have contributed to the breakup of the marriage or relationship is clouded by the fact that our spouses are gay, and view us from that perspective. Nothing we can ever do to ourselves or the relationship will change that.
One of the primary needs we have from supportive family, friends, and counselors is affirmation. Its a double whammy when we are working our way through pretzel logic to resolve the relationship and move forward with our lives. Often there is no outside affirmation of us, just questions about our judgement, our motives, our perceptions.
The Straight Spouse Network is a primary resource of peer to peer affirmation and support. It’s helpful to connect with others who have heard many of the statements mentioned – and learn how they worked through it.
Some years back, there was a wonderful book about the misadventures a seemingly happily married woman had when she discovered her husband was gay. Pretzel Logic, by Lisa Rogak, described the convoluted twists of reasoning and rationalization we all experience in our marriages, tryng to understand and resolve our issues of marriage to a gay person.
The term Pretzel Logic describes a twisted reasoning that always brings us back to the same unresolved place, where we are the only loose end if we do not subscribe to the apparent logic before us. The end result is that we ourselves become twisted, and have a much more difficult time with our own recovery.
We encounter pretzel logic in discussions with our spouses, our family members, our friends (current and former) our clergy, and unfortunately, our counselors.
Here are some examples of pretzel logic – and a possible argument for each scenario:
- “It’s just the same as if I cheated on you with someone of the opposite sex. You should forgive me.” or “I didn’t cheat on you, it was just oral sex with a man, not intercourse with a woman.” No, it is not just the same. And yes, it is infidelity. It is extramarital sex.
- “If she’s happy, then the marriage will be ok, and I’ll be happy.” Unless you are ready for some non traditional arrangements from the beginning, are YOU happy with a wife who must have sex with anyone else in order to be happy?
- “I’m not gay, I just like having sex with men (or women, if a lesbian wife is talking)”. Again, is having sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage what you bargained for? Would that be an acceptable answer for heterosexual infidelity?
- “I’ve been honest with you, and your attitude is the reason this marriage is ending. You’re not willing to work on our relationship.” When did this honesty start? If it started recently, then no, your reaction to the deception is NOT the reason the marriage is ending. If you knew from the beginning that there was a history of same sex attraction in your spouse, you may not have realized how this would interfere with your marital intimacy.Gay spouses have had their entires lives to figure out that they are gay. You have been dealing with this reality for far less time.
- “I’ve changed. I’ll never do it again. You’re not being supportive.” Even if it were possible to change sexual orientation, there will always be a question of honesty and trust. When the support is there for “preserving the marriage” and “changing”, there is usually little to no support for the straight spouse as a human being. How will you cope with the lavender elephant in the room for the rest of your married life?
- Me being gay is not the only problem, look at you. You’re (pick one) a. fat b. insensitive c. not available d. narrow minded e. homophobic. Lots of people are fat and they stay happily married. It’s more difficult to embrace a new lifestyle than it is to embrace love handles. If the ideas proposed include open marriage, having it both ways, celibacy for one or both partners, closed loop relationships, then this is a lot for a straight person who thought they were in a monogamous marriage to be suddenly open to. Anger, revulsion, shame, and horror at discovery or disclosure that a spouse is gay or lesbian have nothing to do with homophobia.
- “You can’t tell anyone else. It’s wrong to out a gay person .” or “I’m out and proud and telling everyone we know, and if you don’t agree, you’re hateful and homophobic.” An individual’s sexuality is really no one else’s business except the people they have sex with. If a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered individual marries a heterosexual person, then it is the spouse’s business too. Coming out or staying in the closet affects the wife, husband, and children. The straight spouse is entitled to confide in family, friends, and anyone who will give them support for their healing, or for that matter, anyone they choose. They should also be respected if they prefer discretion among their family members and friends, or have concerns about children meeting a new partner while they are still coping with divorce.