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Two Realities

Two Realities

By Ron Exler

Nine years ago, after my then-wife told me she was in love with someone else, I didn’t want to be in that place. That place of confusion, anger, sadness, questioning, regret, hunger, and darkness. I wanted that place to disappear. Maybe if I acted as if nothing changed, it would become so. Maybe if I denied the truth, something else would become the truth. Maybe if I closed my eyes, I would open them up seeing something different. Maybe if I just tried harder, prayed more, waited longer – she would change her mind. Maybe we could live our outward-facing pre-disclosure lives to protect the children and ourselves from the disruptions and pains of change.

So, I lived two realities – as many of us do at the beginning. There is the outward reality – the one others see – which many of us paint on social media. All the good stuff. The celebrations. The travels. The additions. We sprinkle in some politics, humor, and maybe share some memes. Perhaps we tout a cause or two. We stay where we are. Because what’s familiar is supposed to be comfortable. At first, I didn’t change how things looked to others and told only a few family members and friends. I stayed living with her for 19 months after disclosure. I did nothing that could repaint the picture for those seeing my everyday interactions.

Yet there was a different inner reality. Where the feelings lived. The place of tears, of questions, of fear. I could see where I was but could not see where to go. I could cry but I couldn’t imagine when the sadness would end. I could not figure out what exactly was happening, let alone what to do about it. I knew that change was inevitable, but remained steadfast in not altering my ways. I struggled every day. That guttural pain would not subside. I was trapped in this thing – this awful unfair crazy place.

Two realities. It’s how many of us protect ourselves at the start, and the path I chose. It was all I could do to keep functioning in my job and personal life. It became almost normal after months of living that way. And it was difficult, exhausting, and only made me sadder.

Now, more than nine years since disclosure and I almost forgot about my two realities. When I saw them in someone else the other day, I flinched. Wait a second – they just told me their spouse disclosed. Why are they doing that? And my dear wife, also a straight spouse, reminded me that I did the same types of things. Her comment ripped through me like a sharp knife. Why are you saying that? That hurt my feelings! She apologized profusely. The next morning it struck me that she’s right. That was me. I was in the two realities.

How did I get out of the two realities? The first step was finding the Straight Spouse Network. I went to a meeting and was surprised I was not alone. I got online and communicated with other straight spouses. I learned the stories of those further along in their journeys. I increased the frequency of my counseling visits, from which I learned I could not blame her for the two realities. They were of my own making, and to create one I needed to act. Slowly, I took small steps to change the two realities into one. A painful journey but also one of growth. Then, I was in trouble. Today, I am fine, in one reality.

If you live the two realities, know that the people in the Straight Spouse Network understand. It’s part of your process. We can help. If my story reminds you of the way you handled this, then please remember how you moved forward. Pat yourself on the back for your progress. And chip in with your time or money to help the Straight Spouse Network help others as it helped you.

Ron Exler
Board Member

Ron Exler is the Vice-President of the Straight Spouse Network Board of Directors.  He co-facilitates a face-to-face support group.  We thank Ron for sharing his personal perspective.

18 Comments

  1. Hi Everyone
    A week ago today my husband of 27 years told me he was a guy man and has known since he was 12 years old. He told me on the eve of our 27th wedding anniversary. Every year on face book he posts the most amazing things about me and sends me flowers at work… I don’t have a face book but my girlfriends would tell me and be so jealous. He said he just couldn’t live the lie anymore and could not continue to hurt me any longer. He says he loves me so much and now its a deeper love. My world has been turned upside down. I am so devastated. I don’t know who to turn to. I’m broken. I loved and dedicated my like to this man and we were planning for the future….even last week he told me how lucky he was and how lucky we are to have the lives we do. We were going to buy a cabin we even went to look at them a few days before…he was planning a trip to Europe for the whole family …He made me think until the day he came out we had a future. I feel so deceived ……I want to understanding and I have been very brave when he is around ..then I fall apart!

    • Hi Donna:

      Join the discussion groups in the forums, you will find others who have been through similar situations who will help you adjust. The initial shock eventually wears off, but it’s normal to react with confusion, shock, anger, even relief sometimes (that it’s not you, it’s him).

      I always say D-day is like the initial bomb blast, but you will survive that. In fact, that you posted here shows that you already have. It’s not the initial blast, it’s what comes afterwards – the smoke inhalation, the over-heated atmosphere, the dust particles you can’t see but you inhale… that’s the danger that you have to watch out for, it can cause even worse damage if you aren’t aware of it.

    • Donna – Why is he posting these amazing anniversary messages about you every year on Facebook when you don’t even have a Facebook account? I’d have opened a Facebook account back when my girlfriends told me about it the first time, so I could have posted back some romantic things back to him, too. But today, if I were you, I’d open a Facebook account right now, to see what else he’s been posting, and to see who is on his friends list, and if there are any that I don’t recognize or know about, but that’s just me.

    • OMG – Donna – i am going thru a very similar situation – 27 years of marriage as well. I discovered he was gay because he left his phone home but there were incidents & discoveries in the last 5 years where I questioned him but he denied being gay. The betrayal & deceit is absolutely devastating. He is also alcoholic & is now a member of AA. It has been a torturous 5 years of crazy behavior – going to gay bars till all hrs. of the morning & not telling me where he was. Have a 25 year old son & 20 year old daughter & we are all trying to navigate thru this crazy BS. Would love to connect if you have time. My husband too would talk about our retirement etc – so I feel like I have been totally deceived & used. And he is still not out of the closet to the public – it is so screwed up.
      Have you attended any straight spouses meetings? Thinking about going if I can find 1 close to my home. Thanks for your post – nice to know we are not alone.

  2. Ours is a different version of two realities. I have mine and my husband has his. He began cheating behind my back 23 years ago with someone he works with. I found out and he said it was a one-time thing and wouldn’t happen again and I believed it for a while. But a wife always knows and I knew he was sneaking around behind my back and they were still getting together. I’m a survivor and a tough old broad, and I don’t mind saying so; I’ve survived the loss of my son, I’ve survived economic hardship, I’ve even survived cancer, and I can and will survive this too. He’ll never admit the truth, or confess, or ask for a divorce at his age, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it. We’re in our 70s now and this was supposed to be our golden years. I’m not giving that over to them. It hurt 23 years ago, but I got over it, it hurt again during my cancer, but I got over it. If he wants to ask for a divorce, he’s going to pay for it. That’s my reality. Am I still angry or hurt? Maybe, but determined more than anything; I’ve got nothing to lose at this point.

  3. Thank you for your honesty and sharing such a personal insight , My husband has recently stated he is transgender,Inam a straight , conservative person, find this very confronting, isolating, works keeps be grounded, hoping to touch base with similar people.
    Unsure what the future holds, hoping the road is not to bumpy for all in similar situations.
    Than you again for your story.

    • Christine, I appreciate the confusion and bewilderment you are feeling. I don’t claim to be an expert on transgenders; even though I’ve worked with transgendered persons, and I empathize with the confusion and frustration, I had a hard time understanding where transgenderism comes from.

      There is a series that National Geographic did earlier this year with Katie Couric, called “The Gender Revolution,” which explored the medical and biological aspects of transgenderism, and it answered a lot of questions for me. It is a biological phenomenon more than anything else. What surprised me most of all was how frequently the contributing factors happen; I don’t recall the statistic, it was 1 in 1,000 births, or maybe 1 in 10,000 births. It appears to us as if it’s becoming more and more prevalent, but that’s because the gender reassignment procedure has only been with us for about 40 or 50 years. It’s too bad in a way that they call it gender reassignment surgery; I think a more accurate term would have been gender corrective surgery. It makes the genitalia congruent with the other components of the person’s biology.

      I highly recommend that National Geographic series “The Gender Revolution” if you are able to find it; they take some complicated ideas and terminology and explain it in a way that is easier to understand, and backed up by medical science.

    • Please go to the Straight Spouse Open Forum where you will find a number of posts by women also in your situation.

  4. Well-written, clear and non-judgmental, so thank you. I could relate to almost all of it, especially to where you said… “I learned I could not blame her for the two realities. They were of my own making, and to create one I needed to act…” That is a hard truth to hear, and an even harder lesson to learn and do, but it really is the way out. I had no power to change the past, and I had no power to change my wife, I could only change what I understood and plan what to do about it. I just needed someone to show me that was the power I always had, and to teach me how to use it.

    It also strikes me that this process, this “two realities” – what we show on the outside and what we are feeling on the inside – is the same process our gay spouses went through, prior to us. Nobody intended it, and nobody planned for it to be this way, but it happened and the question is what to do about it.

    • So true about the parallel paths we travel behind our gay spouses. There are another two realities – the double standard we face. When we go into our own closet after D-day, it’s usually because we’re afraid of being judged for being stupid, naive or gullible. When we come out of the fear-based closet, and try to explain our anger, we get labeled as homophobic, haters or neanderthals… most often by the very same people who otherwise would be telling us we were stupid, gullible and naive. That’s not fair.

      I’m glad for public support when gay and lesbian people come out, it needs to be acknowledged and supported so that it’s seen to be okay; at the very least, it mustn’t be denied. I view it as a correction for the damage the culture inflicts on gay people, and a step in the right direction. But I want the culture to realize that they told us the same lies about homosexuality that they told our spouses, and that did as much damage to us as it did to them. They owe us an apology too, just as they owe it to our gay loved ones.

      I think it’s a form of heterosexism that blinds the culture to how we’ve been harmed. There’s an assumption that heterosexuals don’t struggle with the same issues as homosexuals, and so we who are straight spouses should get over it sooner simply because we’re straight. “Gay people have such a hard time of it, so give them a break.” I agree with that, but give me a break too. Homophobia doesn’t harm only gay people; it harms all of us – gay and straight spouse alike. The problem isn’t homosexuality per se, and it’s not the homosexual person either; the problem is the mixed messages – dual realities – about it, in the culture in which we grew up.

      • Amy, there are mixed messages in our culture. And our voices as straight spouses often get lost. It’s an ongoing effort to get to where our society understands our situations and hears our voices. I do think that people listen better when they are not being blamed. So our challenge is to communicate our issues – not just to society but to our gay significant others – in ways that improve our chances of being heard.

    • Thanks, Roger. Happy to know you’ve grown with the experience. We have choices after disclosure and there is no right journey. But I do think moving away from the blame game and crating one reality are important steps.

  5. When my life changed drastically my daughter gave me the straight spouse link. After reading others experiences I realized that I was not alone and not unique. It helped me a lot. Also my pastor eased my pain by telling me that I was not the cause of my husbands choices, I was not responsible for them and I couldn’t “cure” him. It has been almost 4 years since out divorce and I am at peace with the process.

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Ron. It’s so difficult to put into words, but reading some of what you’ve been through feels so familiar. It takes such a long time to see the journey in the rearview mirror. Having SSN and your straight spouse sound like important keys to finding your way forward.

  7. It is close to 9 years for me also, I wish I was in as good a place as you are. Every day something or someone brings those memories back, I don’t feel any better than I did on 3/1/09 when she told me.

    • Hang in there Jon, it’s been 22 years for me and ive remarried and haa second family

    • Hi Jon, hang in there and persevere, it has been 22 years for me and I still find myself getting bitter about it:even though I am married again to a woman 15 years younger and now have a second family to raise.

  8. Spot on, Ron. We live with the devastation inside and try to appear strong to the outside world as much as possible. Not a healthy way to live but luckily it eeventually balances out and we find other Str8s who get it and help us navigate our new reality.

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