Straight Spouses: Coping With Your Own Closet
Disclosure (or discovery): The Initial Shock
Betayal within any marriage is painful, and coming to terms with the loss can be excruciating. But when your marriage ends because you discover your spouse is gay, there is a whole other layer of thoughts and emotions to contend with. It is nothing short of devastating to realize that the person you married and thought you knew so well is a stranger.
Your spouse's coming out within your marriage is not an individual event; it impacts everyone in your family circle. No matter how much love and compassion you may feel for your partner, you also have to contend with profound feelings of betrayal and anger. And it is often a lonely journey because you, too, are affected by the social stigmatization and lack of understanding about homosexuality, even by well-meaning friends and family. "Didn't you know?" "How can s/he be gay? You're married!" "You'll be fine in a year. It's just like when someone dies."
It is a death. It's the death of a dream, of everything you thought was true, and -- more often than not -- of the marriage. And it can happen in an instant.
The Unforseen Crisis
Understand that you will experience a flood of mixed emotions as you face the reality of your situation. Disclosure and its aftermath occur in waves, starting with your partner's disclosure (or your discovery) of his or her true orientation. Once an individual is "out," the second wave begins, as the straight wife or husband deals with what it means personally, to the family, and the possible larger social and professional implications, as well.
Help and Hope
Though it may be hard to believe at this moment, you are not alone. Thousands of wives and husbands have gone through this very same experience before you and come out on the other side. While you probably feel lonely and isolated in your grief and pain, know that there are countless other people who not only understand what you're going through, but who are there to listen, comfort and support you.
And know that there is hope for the future. Hope may not be the first word that comes to mind upon learning that your spouse is gay. But healing will happen, and you will find that there can be life and genuine happiness for you again. And as part of the healing process, you will find within yourself strength and courage you didn't know existed. You will reset your compass, regain your sense of self-worth, and move forward into the next chapter.
First, breathe. You have many decisions to make, and you don't want them to be driven by the emotions that you're currently experiencing. Slow down and take time to think through next steps.
Second, take good care of yourself starting right now. Emotional crises can cause us to lose sleep, eat too much or too little, turn to alcohol or other substances to numb the pain, stop exercising, or any number of other things that can erode our physical and emotional well-being. And as they say on airplanes, put your oxygen mask on first. You can't be of much help to your kids or anyone else if you don't take care of yourself first and foremost.
Third, don't try to be your spouse's savior. While living a closeted life has undoubtedly taken iits toll on your partner, you cannot be your partner's therapist or even primary support system at the moment. No matter how much love and compassion you may feel for your spouse and his/her own painful journey, right now your focus needs to be on you.
Additionally, you and your spouse will both benefit from finding trusted counsel who "gets it." You may decide to seek help either as a couple or individually. And if anyone you turn to, either personally or professionally, responds with judgment, has their own agenda, or otherwise minimizes your experience...run. You don't have the luxury of time or energy to educate other people right now. You need assistance and wisdom based on knowledge and facts, not personal opinion or even religious beliefs.
Most importantly, you do not have to endure this alone. Your life, your health, your happiness and your future are too important to just suffer in silence and isolation. A therapist who is trained to listen, assess your particular situation, and offer insights into the recovery process will guide you on that journey to healing.
Someone who has experienced that same journey first-hand will bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding that all the training and textbook learning alone can never teach.
Responses to each stage vary. You may feel trapped in a nightmare from which you cannot awaken. You may question the truth of the entire marriage. Or you may experience feelings of relief and validation, especially if you sensed that something was "not right" in the marriage all along. Less often, spouses move relatively easily into acceptance of their "new normal" and try to accommodate their partner's needs while keeping the marriage intact; for others, there is no going back.
There is no right or wrong way to respond, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.
The revelation that your partner is gay brings about immediate crises. For example, you may well experience a crisis of:
Identity -- The coming-out can shake your sense of who you are
Integrity -- Your partner has kept his or her orientation or gender identity secret
Belief system -- The disclosure can shatter your assumptions about gender, sexual relationships, and marriage
Faith -- You may be angry with God and your faith shaken to its roots
Security -- You may fear the future, particularly if you have been married for many years and/or if your split is acrimonious
Someone Who Just "Gets It"
Herself a straight spouse, Kim has counseled wives, husbands, and couples through the coming out and healing processes. She has worked with many men and women as they move through the discovery, the breakup, and the recovery; and shows others that they are not alone on their journey.
Kim is a past board member of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), and currently volunteers as an on-line support group facilitator for the Straight Spouse Network. She is very happily remarried and lives with her husband and teenage "bonus daughter" in Virginia.
Kim and her former husband have remained friendly over the years. He has been married to his longtime partner for several years, and they share a loving life together in Florida.
When you're ready, Kim is there to help you come out on the other side..."because everyone deserves to live an authentic life."