The situation we find ourselves in is not usually one of intentional deception. (In some cultures, families and geographical areas this may be different however, as it is a matter of survival). For most of us in a western culture, our marriages were the result of us conforming to a society, who at that time, believed homosexuality was a crime, a perversion and a mental illness. We married thinking that it was the right thing to do and that it would help to change what we perceived was faulty within us. I know this was the case for me. I wanted to do the right thing. Having a wife and family was everyone’s ultimate goal or expectation. There are also a number of people whose same sex orientation did not become obvious or awakened till after they were married. You, I, and thousands of others are the products of an uninformed society. We are at the fault line and our generation is the one caught in the transition.
Had the current knowledge on sexual orientation been available to us growing up, our choices would have been different. If we were born 40 years earlier we wouldn’t have ever considered coming out. If we were in this current generation we would have realized our sexual orientation is natural and normal and wouldn’t have married to help fix it or felt it necessary to conform.
One Couple – Two Journeys
From my observation, the straight partner basically goes through the same process gay and lesbian people go through to accept their sexuality. For the straight partner though, it is accepting their husband’s/wife’s homosexuality and the realities and consequences associated with that. Once we come out to our partner they begin their journey. Indeed, we have forced them on that journey just as we have been forced to face the reality of our sexual orientation. Neither of us chose this journey. It is important to remember that we never do this journey in sync together.
As an example, there are some straight partners who have come to a place of acceptance that the marriage possibly has no future even before the gay partner has come to accept that. It’s rare but I have seen it happen. This would make it easier for the gay partner to be open and honest about their journey. I have also worked with straight partners who have come to a place of complete celebration of the life they had with the previous partner and moved on, but the gay/lesbian partner has only been able to achieve a level of reluctant acceptance of his/her gayness.
I have identified eight stages most of us go through to finally arrive at the place where we fully accept and embrace our gay self. It is the disclosure of our homosexuality that begins our partners’ journey; we are already along the journey; maybe even at the end. Up until the point of coming out to our partner, it is most likely not a part of their consciousness (although they may have had suspicions). There was a time we were also not conscious of our gayness or didn’t have a name for the feelings we had. The way we respond to each other will either help or hinder the others progress. Being aware of these stages, the demands of the moment and what we need to do in order to move on hastens progress but doesn’t guarantee resolution as we are dealing with two individuals on separate journeys. The amount of time it takes and the pace will always be different. And even though the journeys are individual, at the same time they can be painfully entwined. Sadly, some can get stuck in a stage for years; some even a lifetime. My experience in this area has predominately been with gay men and straight wives. My assumption is that straight men that are, or have been, married to lesbians will face some different issues whilst others will be very similar. The difference being that basically men and women have different brain wiring, hormones and chemistry that impact the way they approach and perceive sex, romance and relationships. Men are from Mars and women from Venus. These differences impact the outcomes.
Eight Stage Process to Complete Reconciliation
– (I don’t know I’m gay, straight or anything. I’m just a kid). The straight partner is also initially in this state. It is not even on the radar. Courtship, engagement, wedding and marriage are the things that fill the mind.
– (I’m different to the guys or girls around me. I’m thinking about and finding myself attracted to the same sex. Could I be gay?) Research shows that the average age when people have this awareness is around 13-14 during puberty. That makes sense because it is of course a sexual orientation we are talking about. For some there is a period when they become aware but they don’t have a word for it. Some have this awareness even younger – particularly in hindsight they see how it was always the same gender that attracted them or got their attention in movies or that they we fascinated with same gender bodies instead of opposite etc. For the straight partner there may be thoughts, suspicions or questions that arise about their partners sexual orientation.
Denial of the gay self.
Many of us have lived in that space for years. ‘I’m not gay’ we have said to ourselves and come up with a whole range of excuses to justify that. I was drunk, I’m bisexual, I was just horny, I’m imagining things, I was just experimenting or it’s just a phase. We try and put the reality of our homosexuality out of our minds. We may have told our partners about our homosexuality even before we were married and we both existed in the space of denial for years believing that marriage would be the solution to this ‘thing’. I have met many women who, after the husband has come out, are in total denial about their husband’s homosexuality.
Rejection of the gay self
This can be like denial but we actively try and rid ourselves of this ‘terrible curse’ or ‘problem’. This can involve ‘ex-gay’ programs, counselling, therapy or all manner of mental tricks to kill the gay self and its expression. We self-monitor our voice, gestures, what we wear, who we mix with…anything that might vaguely identify us with the identity we are rejecting.
When the wife/husband is in this phase she/he will most likely suggest that you get some help to change the part of you which is incompatible with your heterosexual marriage or agree that we can both work this out together. Their commitment to save the marriage increases.
Suppression of the gay self.
When we realise that denying it or rejecting it hasn’t worked we try to suppress our homosexuality. I can control it, monitor it, it’s my secret, no one need know. The partner may want to keep this a secret as well and encourage you to control it. They may want you to limit or have no same sex activity or only if there is no emotional attachment with the person.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her well known stages of grief, talks about the third step being a bargaining stage. The third stage of grieving involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Sometimes, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…” Can you see how these relate to your marriage and homosexuality? It is in this stage that the wife/husband will try and find ways to change the situation and bargain with you, themselves or God. They may also, during this phase, look inwardly and blame themselves or think they’re not woman or woman enough or haven’t been a good spouse and therefore have contributed to the ‘problem’. During this stage the straight partner may try various bargaining techniques to revive the marriage, relationship or sex life. The pressure this creates can be enormous because the homosexual partner knows he/she can never fully give what the other is wired to receive from a heterosexual spouse. For the straight partner it creates a senseof desperation and for the gay/lesbian it only increases the sense of guilt.
If the wife or husband has been prone to being a rescuer then it is in this stage that they will exhibit the co-dependent behaviours of being a rescuer. All rescuers end up becoming victims. In their efforts to try and ‘fix’ the situation or person they give and give but are unable to receive back what they want from the other person. They will make excuses for the other person, give away their power and allow themselves to be disrespected……and hence the subtle change from being the rescuer/helper to becoming the victim. The third corner in the co-dependent triangle is persecutor. Both husband and wife can end up in this corner. After trying everything to be the rescuer and then finding herself becoming a victim the wife can then turn on the husband and become the persecutor which means she may have moved on to stage four.
Hatred of the gay self
This phase can be a dark phase which can include depression or thoughts of suicide or the development of other mental health issues. The hatred of self can be intense.
When the straight partner is in this stage the resentments build till there is hatred towards the gay partner. She/he is angry. Angry at you for being gay. Angry at life (it’s not fair) or God for not answering prayers. Sometimes when I have worked with both partners in this situation the gay/lesbian has moved on from this stage but the spouse is still in denial or bargaining. As soon as I see the anger emerge I know they are making progress. It’s not a pleasant stage to be in. Some straight spouses remain in this stage and live a life of bitterness and resentment towards their partner, not even allowing them any contact with the children. They may create a toxic environment and poison the children against the husband/wife. ‘I will make him/her pay, they think to themselves, ‘for all the pain and heartache he/she has caused me.’ This is a phase we must both work through and our response will either help or hinder the other from moving on. Ultimately though it is their journey and they will be responsible for the choices they make…….as we all do in life.
Acceptance of gay self.
This can be both healthy and unhealthy though. It is wonderful to come out and accept our homosexuality. But there are also some people, like I was for years, who have accepted their sexuality but it is only a reluctant acceptance. I had accepted the fact that I was gay but because my ‘straight’ life had been so wonderful and initially my gay life quite traumatic, deep down inside I would have preferred to be ‘straight’. In essence though this is tolerance, not complete acceptance; we tolerate the gay self because we know there is no other option. People who prefer to be heterosexual can never fully embrace their true selves and enjoy the sense of freedom that brings. They exist with a subconscious belief that life is unfair; they still live with a sense of shame and some even believe they will inevitably go to hell because they ‘gave in to their homosexuality’. The straight spouse that has moved on from the hatred stage may only be tolerating and not completely accepting. This will be evidenced by occasional digs and reminders of what homosexuality has done to them, and the marriage. I have spoken with many men who tell me their wives have accepted the fact that they are gay but from other things they have said it is obvious they have not fully accepted it. This can go on for years, never allowing each individual to move on and truly be themselves. It is a life of restriction not freedom. Sometimes this surfaces when the man finally falls in love with another man. Jealousy rises to the surface in the wife who up to now has professed acceptance.
Celebration of the gay self
Celebration means I actually love being gay; all negative connotations of guilt and shame have been removed. Not every gay man or lesbian has moved to this stage but it is the beginning of living a life of authenticity and congruence. The person who celebrates and embraces their sexuality lives a powerful life that transforms those around them because no one can deny what they have………a wholesome and profound love of self.
You know when your straight partner has moved on to this stage as they will speak positively about the life you had and be grateful for the children and the years of marriage together. You are invited into the home as a lifelong friend.They have no problem meeting your new gay friends and rejoice with you if you find a partner. All bitterness and resentment is gone, replaced by unconditional love and forgiveness. This is, as I’m sure you realise, healthy for her/him, you, the children and those who are dear in your life. This is the same for heterosexual couples who are divorced.
Not everyone gets to this stage it takes complete honesty with yourself and others, courage and respect for the stages we must both journey through to find complete healing and wholeness.
© Anthony Venn-Brown