We’ve started the year with a bang. More people than ever are contacting the Straight Spouse Network for support when they discover that their spouse is LGBTQ.
So what are their stories?
Some are spouses of transgender individuals. Some are married to people who deny being gay or lesbian. Some are struggling to understand bisexuality, and determine if this is the truth about their spouse, or another way to admit that their spouse is gay. Some have had a full disclosure from a newly out and proud spouse and are reeling from the shock and pain, while the rest of the world seems oblivious.
More than a third of the people who contact us are men.
Some of the people who contact us want to stay married. Some aren’t sure. Some were never married.
Each person who contacts us has a different story. Some are grieving the loss of a marriage. Some are in complete shock, not just about infidelity, but questioning the reality of the life they have led. Was anything ever true? Can they ever trust their own judgement again? Can they ever believe what their spouse tells them?
Some situations are more complicated. Some straight spouses are surviving abusive situations, and struggling to remain safe while emerging from an abusive spouse’s closet. They are often told that they cannot tell anyone what they know or the entire world will collapse and it will be their fault. Or they are ridiculed for knowing, told that it is all their imagination, or they are vicious liars.
They may find that they are further isolated from any source of help – because they are perceived as being troublesome, disturbed, and uncooperative. Or they are told that they just have to go along with their spouses demands – or else they are homophobic haters.
Others remain married, seeking help as individuals and as couples, dealing with the emerging changes in their marriages, and coping with family members’ reactions.
What do we do? We connect people. We either connect straight spouses online or in face to face support groups where they exist. We aren’t therapists. We don’t tell you what to do. We offer free, confidential peer to peer support from a network of volunteers.
We are also a point of contact for others who want to learn more about straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages. We have spokespersons who can speak up about the straight spouse experience on panels, in print, and to local groups. we also can serve as points of contact for local journalists, wishing to write about the effect on a family of coming out – or not coming out.
In some places, our volunteer force is thin. But we do help with online connections for support, and phone calls.
We also build connections. We are not a political organization. However, you will sometimes see our local chapters represented at gay pride events, being visible, being out, and being available to help the straight spouses of the people who are celebrating. Sometimes the LGBTQ people we meet at these events are out to everyone – except their heterosexual husband or wife.
Our founder, Amity Buxton, has worked with thousands of mixed orientation couples over her long career by her estimate. She has published research on counseling straight spouses, which is available through our website.
If you want more information, or would like to volunteer to help other straight spouses, please contact us here.
By Tara Lowney
The year that was
fears and pain
crossroads and choices….
Words were said
destroying what I believed…
The power of those words
shattered who I was….
Someone who settled
out of fear…
Fear of the unknown,
fear of the solitude,
fear of the what now?
Knowing there is a
that haunts me
how do I face the
that beckons me….
Waiting at the crossroads
for me to catch up
a hand is held out…
reminding me it’s not that far
a journey together…
or continue to live with the shadows?
Accept what others see
or continue to believe the doubts are truths?
Chained to those fears
as you move forward,
as hope and reassurances
soothe your worries…
Tied to those fears
to let go,
to push forward,
to live the year that’s now…
By Emily Reese
In the last decade, whenever I’ve shared the story about my ex coming out of the closet, with the deception, hurt, anger and tragedy, I almost always hear the phrase “I wouldn’t have been able to do it” or “I couldn’t do it.”
I suppose there were times when I didn’t think I could do it, either. There were numerous nights, after the kids and my ex went to bed, that I couldn’t sleep and found solace in my minivan parked in the garage, crying primally and spinning my wheels about how I could fix things and make everything perfect again. So many of those times I thought I had reached my limit and that I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
But somehow, I continued to deal with it. I just kept going.
There is no getting around it: There’s nothing good about a spouse coming out. (Except the fact that finally you are living in truth, which is unfortunately a nightmare most of the time.) Were there times I wish I could have had a Delorean and gone back in time to change things to make our situation better? Sure. But that wouldn’t have been truthful, and ultimately, we all deserve to live in truthfulness, even when it hurts.
When people say “I couldn’t do it” or “I wouldn’t have been able to handle it the way you did,” I usually retort: Yes, you would have. It’s called survival, and that drive within our human spirit is very strong.
I had this goal, like most people do, to find some light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t always see it, and I didn’t know what the end would look like, but I had to believe that it was there. It was tough to remember this hope at times, especially when I had so much anger and bitterness and felt justified in continually punishing my ex. The divorce sucked. Realizing that my own kids would be hurt was horrible. However, I came to understand that they wouldn’t feel the same kind of hurt that I did because they weren’t in love with the man like I was. He was their dad… and always would be… even if things would look different in the future. They weren’t divorcing their dad. I was. A few years later, my middle daughter was asked what she thought about her dad coming out of the closet. She said, “When he told us he was gay, I don’t think I was too surprised, not because I knew, but because it didn’t make him any different to me.”
This greatly changed my perspective about how I was putting my own hurt and feelings onto my kids, expecting them to feel the same way that I did. It caused me to focus on my own emotional health without thinking my kids were going to be scarred for life. In other words, they may have things that they have to work through because of it, but their experience was not going to be like mine, which brought me some peace in my own journey to let go of the things and people I could not control.
I found that sharing my story with others and finding spouses who had gone through something similar was the best healing balm for me. Yes, I went through counseling, but knowing I wasn’t alone was the biggest band-aid for the gaping gash in my heart. Because of the support of others who had traveled down this road before me and turned out fine, I was able to get through it.
I am thankful to be further away from those first few years of hurt. Being able to help others through their trauma continues to help me, even now, and gives me some sort of purpose behind this experience that was so tragic.
Believe me when I tell you: You can do it. You are stronger than you think you are. The support you find here and through others will be the best medicine you can ask for.
Emily Reese is a straight spouse who blogs about her experiences at SameSides
Straight spouses are developing support networks around the world. As technology driven media makes it easier to share information, many people living in countries where homosexuality is not even discussed are able to ask and answer their questions online, and connect with support groups.
Being a straight spouse is not confined to just one country, continent, or group of people. Just as homosexuality is global, so are the incidents of gay and lesbian people marrying a heterosexual person, for a variety of reasons.
International straight spouses face different obstacles. In some parts of the world, it is not only taboo to discuss or acknowledge homosexuality, but it is also frowned upon for women to speak of sex at all. In some places, homosexuals are targeted for prosecution, persecution, and death. Spouses, family, and children may also share in the social condemnation.
When a marriage is arranged or the result of two families coming to an agreement, finding out that a spouse is gay can have serious consequences beyond the marriage. We have known of straight spouses who were pressured into silence, or discredited and disgraced for proceeding with divorce in situations where marriage is a contract between famiies.
We know of groups that meet in Australia, New Zealand,India,the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and Canada. We’d like to hear from straight spouses in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America. Our communication is always confidential and will not be shared with anyone else.
We invite anyone, male or female, who is married to or divorced from a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender spouse to get in touch with us. Our services are free and confidential. Fill out the form in the Find Support tab, and we will respond. If there is a contact in your country who has been vetted by us, we will advise you and let them know too. If not, then you can explore the online support systems we have.
The start of the school year often brings changes to families undergoing change, separation, and divorce. New activities, new schedules, new teachers often catch the happiest of families in a whirlwind. When coping with a recent disclosure or discovery that a spouse is LGBT, the straight spouse can often feel like they have the wind knocked out of them. The fall whirlwind can seem like a maelstrom.
In addition to all the activity, the straight spouse may be coping with the following:
1. Shock, grief, and anger. These are all very normal emotions.
2. Doubt and questions. What do we (or I) tell the kids, or should they be told anything at all? What is the best thing to do?
3. Uncertainty about what to tell teachers, coaches, and counselors
4. Dread of occasions that used to be happy and now accentuate the pain of the breakup.
5. A lack of affirmation. Secrecy can lead to isolation. Sometimes the straight spouse hears that they need to just get over it and march in the next gay pride parade, or stop dwelling on it since its just like any other breakup. Or sometimes they are told that they are just wrong and making the whole thing up.
Sometimes the path may seem clear to the gay spouse or to other family members. But separation from an LGBT spouse often means a change in family dynamics, and a complicated adjustment. With holidays and social event for school coming up, will the separation be public, or is the couple still putting on a face of being together? That united front can be emotionally devastating.
If the separation is known, but the LGBT spouse is still closeted from family and friends, the heterosexual one may get a lot of well intentioned lectures about saving their marriage, or “it takes two”. Or, they may find that the family members blame them for the divorce, without knowing the truth.
If the LGBT spouse is out, the straight spouse may find themselves in the middle of drama over family members reactions. Maybe the family wants to now include the new love interest at gatherings. Maybe the family isnt happy to find out that their son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother or sister is gay, and lectures the straight husband or wife on “living together as brother and sister” or reparative therapy. Or they blame the straight spouse anyway.
Here are a few tips for keeping your sanity during this difficult time:
1. Love yourself. You are hurting now, and it is not through anything that you caused. Now focus on your own healing.
2. Get the support that you and your family need from counselors and school professionals. As with any divorce, there is a bigger picture here, one that impacts the entire family.
3. Develop new friends and new traditions. Things are going to change. Its ok for you to think about changes that are good for you.
4. Distance yourself emotionally from people who are not supportive, and from being overly enmeshed in your soon to be ex’s activities. Follow the ten steps for distancing.
5. Connect with other straight spouses through the Straight Spouse Network. There may be face to face groups near you. If not, there are online communities for support and there can also be telephone contact. Click here to find support.