Its not uncommon that well-meaning people give advice to straight spouses that sounds good, but is actually devastating. They say “Time to move on” we hear “time to stop talking about it, you’re being annoying”. They say “have you tried counseling” we hear “you’re not trying hard enough to make the marriage work”.
People don’t mean to be insensitive, but this misplaced advice can often cause the straight spouse to retreat to a closet of secrecy and isolation. There is often much affirmation today for gay couples who come out of the closet, gay celebrities, and support for same sex marriage. The straight spouse usually receives none of that affirmation.
We’d like to thank “Just Jane” of the London Daily Star, for saying all those well intentioned right things in the completely wrong way to a straight spouse.
The headline is one that we are all familiar with: “Ex-husband’s gay bliss is torture because our love was one big sham.” The writer explains to Jane that her ex has moved on rather quickly. He’s moved in with a man, and talks about marriage. She has difficulty with the fact that he moved straight from their house into another man’s arms. They were married twenty years, and she had no idea. She admits that things went wrong in the marriage ten years ago and she had an affair. But she says she still loves her ex husband and is having difficulty healing. His family tells her to just get over it and move on and stop being so dramatic.
Jane gives some advice that on the surface seems good – not to waste any more years, to not waste another second and focus on the positive. But she also says that the ex husband is no longer the woman’s concern – and he’s always the father of her adult child.
Much of her advice zeros in on the affair the woman had. “Of course you’re confused, unhappy and frustrated, but you have to admit that something must have been wrong as far back as 2005 for you to have an affair with a colleague. Why did you feel the need to seek out another man for sex? What was missing from your marriage back then? I suspect that you and your ex were guilty of burying your heads in the sand for a very long time. He now admits that he suppressed his true sexuality for a long time.”
“What was missing from your marriage back then?” Well, we can guess. Sex. Love. Affirmation. Affection
“And now he has admitted his true sexuality.” No guilt there. But this response certainly leaves a grieving woman with a heap of guilt for having normal feelings and seeking affirmation.
It’s not that it’s bad advice, or that the pity party needs to go on forever. But several things are missing here. Acknowledgement of the straight spouse experience, for one. . Understanding at the hurt of being cast aside, for another. And of course, grief over the end of the marriage, no matter how bad it was.
After ten, fifteen, twenty, forty years of marriage, when gay people decide to come out of the closet and move forward, they do so quickly. They have had their entire lives to figure this out. The spouse is devastated, and expected to pick up the pieces quickly and follow along in the name of tolerance, forgiveness, and the advantage of coming out, living honestly.
There is a lot of support now for LGBT people to come out – and not a lot for the grief experienced by their straight spouses.
All that good advice might have been easier to swallow in smaller doses, without a huge side helping of guilt. Because, you see, one thing we never have the opportunity to examine post divorce is our part in it. We could be the best or the worst spouse, and the result is the same. We married someone who is LGBT. It can sometimes seem that the justification for years of deception is that we were not faithful, not attractive, or practiced deceptions ourselves.
Even if we were the truest and most loving and noble husbands and wives in the world – the result is still the same. Our spouse is gay, the world cheers, and we must move along now…..
That’s right. Time to move forward. Move along. Get a move on.
We can take the hint. We are being put aside, told to get out of the way. Because the affirmation, sympathy, acknowledgement that comes our way is minimal, and is often tinged with questions about what did we know, when did we know it, how did we not know, why were we in denial, and of course an admonition to not hate gay people.
We’ve been lucky to have some advice columnists send straight spouses to us. Dear Abby is one of our most visible public supporters in the USA. She always tells straight spouses to contact us. We offer peer to peer support. We WILL help you move on, but on your own timetable. We WILL affirm your feelings. We WILL LISTEN. And we will never tell you to just get over it.
Jane, honey, a little affirmation goes a long way with us. Next time, offer the straight ex wife or the straight ex husband some real help for healing. Tell them about the Straight Spouse Network, or the Straight Partners ( firstname.lastname@example.org) group in the UK.