BEAT THE HOLIDAY BLUES

December 12th, 2016 by Carol Grever

 

In the U.S. and other Western countries, major holidays begin in the fall and carry into the New Year.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year celebrations go on for months.  Holiday music blares in every store.  An air of rushed excitement prevails, commercialism abounds.  “Happy Holidays” greetings come through mail and email, phone calls and visits.

But are the holidays happy?  For many straight spouses, this time of year brings an eruption of unwanted memories, regrets, and melancholy. What used to be, isn’t.  What might have been, didn’t happen.  How many possibilities were lost?  What plans were dashed?  What bitterness lingers?  Recurring thoughts like these can plague men and women whose families were fragmented when a spouse came out as gay.  Depression is common. 

How can we overcome the sadness that accompanies this formerly joyous season?  Here are some recommendations from The Mayo Clinic, adapted for the special needs of straight spouses

1.   Acknowledge your feelings. The future you’d hoped for has evaporated.  You’ve suffered a huge loss and grief is normal.  Give yourself time to cry and express your sadness.  Be gentle with yourself and don’t force fake cheerfulness. 

2.   Reach out.  Phone a friend when you feel lonely.  When you tend to isolate yourself, seek out companionship.  Attend religious or social events.  Look for ways to help others in need.  Volunteer for a worthy cause to meet new friends and renew your sense of purpose. 

3.   Be realistic.  Holidays through the first year after a separation are the most trying, dredging up old memories of family traditions that no longer apply.  Clearly, the holidays won’t be perfect or even similar to previous years.  Rituals change and we have to create new traditions for a new life.  After my divorce, I celebrated my first solo Thanksgiving in Jamaica, drinking rum and eating jerk turkey on a barefoot beach.  It was a way to draw a line in the sand—that was then, this is now. 

4.   Understand that everyone won’t be on your side.  After a coming-out event or a divorce, some family members and old friends may feel awkward and even turn against you.  Try to accept what you can’t change and give everyone time to adjust to the new reality.  Set aside grievances until a more favorable time for discussion.

5.   Plan ahead and stay on budget.  Decide which of your holiday traditions you’ll continue and set aside specific times to shop and be with friends.  Participate in the activities that you really enjoy and eliminate those that evoke bad feelings or painful memories.  If gift-giving is part of your tradition, stay on your budget.  You can’t buy happiness with piles of gifts.

6.   Take a breather. Spend time relaxing alone.  Even a few quiet minutes without distraction can reduce stress. If you are a meditator, try taking five-minute breaks spaced through the day.  Relax and let go of the chatter in your mind.  Nap, or listen to music.  Or go for a walk.  These moments of peace can change the tenor of the whole day and give you strength to keep going. 

7.   Learn to say no. Decide which activities feel right and fulfilling to you and say no to all the rest.  Forcing yourself into extraneous or unpleasant social situations can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. True friends will understand your absence. 

8.   Maintain healthy habits. Overindulgence leads to stress and guilt. Have a healthful snack before holiday parties so that you don't overdo sweets, fatty foods, or drinks. Get sufficient sleep and don’t neglect physical exercise.

9.   Seek professional help for signs of depression.  These symptoms may include persistent sadness or anxiety, unusual physical complaints, insomnia, irritability, and hopelessness.  Inability to face routine chores is another red flag. If these feelings last, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Remember that time heals.  Regrets soften and wounds close through time.  Each successive holiday season can confirm progress on your personal journey.

Holidays are markers of your changing world.  It is impossible to recover the past, but a wider future is open to straight spouses.  You can reinvent yourself and reconfigure your life.  It isn’t easy, but it is certainly possible.  John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Therein lies the secret of a wholesome future.  Change your mind and you can change your life.

A few months after my former husband told me he’s gay, we went shopping together for Christmas gifts for the family.  In a small gallery, I stumbled onto a pen and ink drawing by Kathy Wolff.  I was captivated by her meticulous image of a graceful tiger, stepping out of the ruins of a root-bound building, one paw firmly on solid ground.  Strong and sure, she was emerging, not from a door, but through a window—an unlikely exit.  She had escaped, free of  confinement, confident and quiet, ready to take the next step. 

That tigress changed my way of thinking about my former life and my life to be.  I bought the drawing and it has hung over my meditation shrine ever since, calling me to keep walking forward with courage and assurance that the next step will be the right one.

May your holidays be bright with hope and good will. 

 

FORGIVE YOURSELF AS WELL

February 1st, 2016 by Carol Grever

    Straight spouses have a lot to overcome, recovering their emotional balance after discovering that their mates are gay.  The stages of recovery are well documented, often followed by advice to forgive, as a final step.  The following message about forgiveness was a response to Jacqueline Vaughan's guest post, published recently on this site.  It is a wise addition to the usual advice to forgive the gay partner.  I offer it with enthusiasm.  CG

 

Dear Carol,

Thank you for sharing the recent letter in your blog. My heart goes out to all of us who are suffering from the loss of our best friend, spouse, and everything that we thought was real. The pain that follows the shattering revelation (that what we believed was true is in reality a lie) is of a magnitude that is overwhelming to experience and difficult to find solace from.

I would like to share what a counselor told me about moving forward with my life as an individual. I have spent a lot of time examining the 25 years I spent with my husband, and I keep wondering why I didn't know he is gay. I married him at 43 years of age, and was a widow, and I had been married previously to a heterosexual man for about 20 years. Of course, as I look back, there were indications that my new husband was different from my first husband, but I did not know he was gay. He had a son and daughter from his first marriage. I loved him and coped as issues presented themselves. I thought it was life being lived with all its challenges and joys. I do not know why I did not know my husband was gay. The counselor told me that it is time to leave wondering why I didn't know, and begin learning to forgive myself. It is time to appreciate how I coped through the 25 years of life and made a safe loving place for us and our family. I think she is right. I do not need to forgive him - I need to forgive myself. He must forgive himself, and I must forgive myself.

Forgiving myself is a bit different than what we usually hear about forgiveness, I know. It is my strong belief that my husband needs to forgive himself for the deception and lying, and I need to forgive myself for being gullible and open to being fooled. I am working on supporting myself as I grow and learn to be independent. There are successes to celebrate and note. I encourage us all to be as gentle and kind to ourselves as we are to other people. We deserve our own encouragement, admiration, and respect. We are lovable and capable.

There is a saying: "Things generally turn out best for people who make the best of how things turn out." We have the opportunity to grow and heal if we choose to do so. Not easy. Not easy! May we all be open to receive the love and support being poured out on us. Stay focused on kindness to yourself. You are important!

Sincerely,
Lori

STANDING UP TO ADDICTIONS

July 27th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

When the obstacles of a mixed orientation relationship are complicated by addictions, challenges multiply.  Whether the addiction is to drugs or alcohol or some other debilitating habit—pornography or gambling perhaps—layers of complexity make the family’s burden even harder to bear.  Addiction kills relationships.  Without outside help, liberation is nearly out of reach.

To address this issue, I sought advice from a close friend who nearly lost his life to his own addiction.  He is now actively engaged in Alcoholics Anonymous and has been free of substance abuse for fourteen years.  He mentors others in the 12-step program and offered the following approach to recovery. 

Concentrate on working the steps with a trusted, seasoned sponsor within a peer group, such as AA or Al-Anon.  As AA’s Big Book emphasizes, staying sober requires a “psychic change” that entails spiritual undergirding.  The spiritual quest begins with identifying your own “higher power.”  Individual concepts of this power vary greatly.  If you are connected with a particular religion, that is an obvious approach.  If you have no religious affiliation, you might seek support in one of many perennial wisdom traditions of east or west.  These offer truths that have lasted through the ages.  Read widely and experiment to meet your unique needs.

There is no single “right path,” but identifying a power beyond yourself fosters courage to fight addiction, as well as straight spouse challenges.  For many, the well-known Serenity Prayer is helpful in times of discouragement.  Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it offers valuable aspiration:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and wisdom to know the difference.

Most spiritual traditions emphasize kindness toward others as a basic value.  That principle is included in AA's work through personal assessments, unloading resentments, and making amends for previous harm done to others.  Perennial wisdom traditions also teach compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, helpfulness, and right-sizing the ego. These values appear in some form in most world wisdom teachings, though AA has codified them specifically to address addiction.  In addition, the organization also reminds participants not to be a doormat for the world's judgments.  Treat yourself kindly as well. 

At every meeting, AA testifies to the fact that addiction kills.  To support recovery, establish some personal goals with a reasonable time frame. Overnight cures are unrealistic.  Progress is always “one day at a time” for sobriety and for advancement of personal psychic change.

This tested advice applies to both addiction and to straight spouse recovery.  My friend’s counsel, summarized here, is based on his long involvement with AA and the witness of his own recovery into a clean, sober, and happily married state.  His life was saved and renewed through that organization.  If AA is not available to you or does not fit your needs, alternative resources can be identified online. 

During any kind of recovery, it is also important to have a trusted person to confide in--a relative, friend, pastor, or qualified counselor.  Talk your situation through.  Peer groups are invaluable.  Find a network of people who are also faced with your specific problems, and contact them in person or online.  Today, the internet is the first and most accessible way to locate such allies.  Above all, know that you are not alone, that others have faced and overcome these ordeals.  It is possible to recover and thrive!

These suggestions from my friend have been proven effective for decades by Alcoholics Anonymous. My personal advice for straight spouses and also those suffering addictions is to take care of your mind, body, and spirit in the best ways you know. Don’t sacrifice yourself to any toxic situation.  Listen to your innermost feelings and consider your best options, then go forward with resolve.

 

THE BATTLE’S WON; THE WAR CONTINUES

June 27th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

A major battle for legal gay marriage in the United States was finally concluded on June 26 in a landmark decision by a divided Supreme Court.  In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority ruling that same-sex couples can now marry in every state of the union, establishing a consistent, nationwide policy that guarantees equal civil rights, regardless of sexual orientation or identification.  Same-sex couples now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples .

This long-awaited legal protection of same-sex marriage represents the culmination of a gay-rights movement that began in New York in 1969 with the “Stonewall Riots.”  The “Rainbow Revolution,” advocating equal civil rights, has simmered and exploded in various locations since.  Finally, this question has been settled in this country—for the whole nation and territories, not just one state at a time.  In a remarkable display of high level support for the court’s decision, President Barack Obama ordered that the exterior of the White House be lighted up with rainbow colors to celebrate.

For American straight spouses who have already suffered the consequences of ill-fated marriages to gays, this vital court decision has come too late.  Their gay husbands or wives felt compelled, for a variety of individual reasons, to enter conventional male-female marriages.  Nearly all of these relationships eventually fail, with the straight spouse the most obvious victim.  However, a mixed-orientation marriage that ends in divorce punishes everyone involved, including the gay partner and any children of the union.  No one wins.

Our new legal protection hopefully will diminish the number of mixed-orientation marriages in the U.S., though it cannot end these mismatches altogether.  Other societal factors will continue to push gays to marry straights, including family, social, career, and religious pressures.  A fundamental change in societal attitudes will be the ultimate deterrent to these ill-advised relationships.  After a very slow start, public opinion here is now moving rapidly toward broader acceptance of lawful marriage for any loving couple, regardless of sexual identification or orientation.  It took a half-century to reach this point, but the pace has suddenly quickened.  When societal acceptance advances sufficiently, that should end the straight spouse dilemma, as we know it.

The United States is only the world’s twenty-first country to legalize these unions nationwide and to guarantee all couples equal dignity in the eyes of the law.  Such legal sanctioning of same-sex marriage remains an open question in many other places in the world, and familiar debates and arguments can be heard in Australia and elsewhere.  While this latest court battle is won, there will certainly be continued push-back from states-rights advocates and others with strong negative opinions.  Dissenting Court Justice Antonin Scalia scathingly called the ruling a “threat to American democracy.”  It may take another generation for truly equal rights for all, but we seem to be moving in the right direction at last.

VIRTUAL SUPPORT EFFECTIVE

May 6th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

I was recently invited to participate in a private Facebook group for straight spouses in Australia.  Since I live in the United States and most of my contacts are in this country, it has been interesting to read accounts from “down under” of people dealing with mixed orientation relationships.  Most of the FB participants are women in the early stages of recovery after their husbands have come out. 

Many are mothers with children still at home, others are middle-aged or older.  They share day-to-day disappointments and progress, as well as moments of despair or hope—the mixed bag of emotions familiar to all straight spouses, no matter where they live.  They ask and answer questions about depression, anger, spousal abuse or subterfuge, finances, health concerns, how to help their children understand, and on and on.  They live in different cities, but they support each other effectively via their Internet friendships.

The similarity of their experience to that of Americans is real and not surprising.  In matters of love and betrayal, we are much alike.  I expected that parallel, but the Aussies’ raw openness is different.  They share daily detailed accounts of emotional wounds with utter candor, with no hesitation or embarrassment.  They share deeply and don’t mince words.  They celebrate small wins--“I got a new haircut, shorter than my husband liked.”  They also reveal rage and despair—“This is not worth the effort.” 

Through the years, straight spouses from three continents have contacted me, seeking reassurance and guidance as they regain their balance and sense of self.  Regardless of their religion, culture, native language, or home country, there is a recognizable pattern in their experience.  With some individual variation, they move through the phases of recovery described in an earlier post on this Website (“Stages of Recovery,” May 28, 2008).  After the initial shock of disclosure, they may have an odd sense of relief (Whew!  It wasn’t me!), followed by a mixture of denial and confusion that may include elements of self-blame, as well as sympathy for the gay partner’s pain.  After facing their new reality, the next stage is fraught with danger:  Anger or rage, grief, and despair.  In extreme cases, violence or self-harm occur.  Some spouses give up completely; a few succumb to addictions or choose suicide.  These typical reactions have occurred over and over, colored by the particular culture of the country.

Hope is not lost, however.  Though the painful earlier stages are all part of the process of recovery, occurring and recurring in a maddening cycle, they are not interminable.  A trigger event usually creates a turning point that leads to acceptance of what cannot be changed.  Recognition of their new reality opens the ground for eventual forgiveness and discovery of new meaning beyond one’s small self. 

None of this process is guaranteed, nor is it a mechanical evolution with certain closure.  In order to move through it successfully, support from knowledgeable, understanding peers is almost essential   I cannot imagine surviving my own transition into independence and a rewarding new career without the early encouragement of a straight spouse peer group.  In face-to-face meetings, I found comfort and reassurance that I was not alone.  I discovered that straight spouses are legion.  We exist in every country and somehow find individual pathways toward healing. 

Now that the Internet is pervasive, our virtual contact through social media seems to work as well.  The Australian Facebook community for straight spouses is one excellent example.  This is therefore an enthusiastic endorsement of peer support and the power of our own words to heal ourselves and each other.  Keep talking, people!  You can get through this!

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE RIVER

April 4th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

For many years, I have enjoyed whitewater canoe trips with women friends on the wild rivers of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah in the U.S.  Being philosophical types, we named our outings “Journey to the Source,” using the river as a metaphor for life.  On these trips, we take time to contemplate the meaning of pivotal events and to rest from the incessant rush of ordinary experience. 

Water is a familiar symbol in this way--the “womb of the ocean,” the “stream of life” and so on.  We are urged to “go with the flow.” Though these phrases have become trite, like most clichés, they are based in a deeper truth which has become popularly recognized. 

My friends and I have learned a great deal from the river.  The first is to work with it, never against it.  Paddling upstream is extremely difficult, indeed impossible for any length of time.  The harder we fight, the more depleted we become. Yet we try to do just that in our personal lives.  We push ourselves mercilessly in wrong directions, exhausting body, mind, and spirit.  

On the river, we have learned that keen observation of the obstacles--the rocks and rapids and bends in the channel—coupled with aware and subtle guidance with the blade of the paddle, allows us to move smoothly through potentially dangerous situations.  If we battle the river, we always lose.  If we’re inattentive, the canoe may turn sideways in an instant and tip over.

Mindfulness is our key protection in canoeing, just as it is in daily experience.  Wayne Dyer said it well in Real Magic:  “Whatever we’re for strengthens us; whatever we’re against weakens us.”  On the river, we seek positive directions, guiding ourselves purposely toward the flow of the current, letting the power of the river move us.  Staying present in each moment, we avoid the dangerous rocks and glide safely into calmer waters.

Another lesson from the river is that our trip is most successful when we are generous and compassionate toward others.  We usually suffer “instant karma” if we act in selfish or hurtful ways.  For example, a group of young men were canoeing the North Platte in Wyoming when we were there.  They thought it humorous that all these old ladies had the nerve to tackle such a macho sport.  With lunch stops and excursions, the two groups passed each other several times during the first day. Ethyl, our guide, knew the fellow who was leading their party.  The two of them traded good-natured jokes and humorous insults as we all traveled downriver. 

On the second day out, the men passed us very fast, paddling furiously to get ahead of us.  Ethyl knew that they were rushing to beat us to the most beautiful camping spot on the river, which she had hoped to claim for our group that night.  Sure enough, when we arrived at this special spot, the men were already setting up their camp, terribly smug about their victory.  We had to paddle two more tiring hours to put into a decent site.  That effort took extra discipline and fortitude, despite strong headwinds and weariness.

But the river took care of us.  A heavy storm hit overnight, bringing high winds and torrents of cold rain.  At 6:00 the next morning, a very bedraggled, motley group of familiar river rats rounded the bend as we were preparing our breakfast.  We waved in silence as they paddled past.  It seems that the river surged during the night and flooded their “perfect” campsite.  They had to break camp and hastily retreat to their canoes well before daylight.  River karma.

I have learned so much from the river:  Gentleness, compassion, generous behavior, along with the importance of mindfulness and a positive direction.  These are also important keys to emotional recovery.  As time passes after our straight spouse crises, we are increasingly able to understand that we are not separate from the suffering and joy of others, including that of our gay mate.  With growing realization that we are fundamentally connected to every living being, we can let the river carry us, burdens and all, to the next safe campsite. Optimistically paddling ahead, not back, it becomes possible to heal ourselves and move into a more peaceful future

“HOMOWIVES” IN CHINA FIND VOICE

March 6th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

Most straight spouses feel unique in their mixed-orientation dilemma, though these mismatched couples can be found everywhere in the world.  During two decades of writing about these relationships, I have received related contacts from Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Thailand, Australia, England, South Africa, in addition to my home country of the United States.  It’s clear that these challenging marriages are a world-wide phenomenon. 

An online article in Quartz by Zheping Huang gave startling statistics about female straight spouses in China.  Until recently, such marriages were not publicly acknowledged, though scholarly estimates number them in the millions.  Zhang Beichuan, a scholar in the field, estimates that China has twenty million male homosexuals and 80% of them will marry a woman.  Eighty percent!  Social and cultural pressure to do so is pervasive. This contrasts strikingly with the estimated 15-20% of American gays who marry. 

Young men in China, gay or straight, are pressured to marry in order to father an heir.  Divorce is out of the question, and the wives are trapped. Female straight spouses in China are dubbed "homowives," short for wives of homosexuals.  The Quartz article focuses on these women’s extreme predicament and their mounting support for gay marriage. Their goal is to remove some of the social pressure for gay men to marry women and to legalize same-sex marriage.  Quoting the article:

“Homowives” and their supporters are getting more vocal about their own situations, and the need for China to become more accepting of homosexuality. Zhang Ziwei, a 27-year-old corporate secretary from Nanchang, southeast China’s Jiangxi Province, who dated a gay man three years ago, now manages a QQ chat group on the topic with more than one hundred members. She is translating two books—My Husband Is Gay and When Your Spouse Comes Out, written by Carol Grever, an American woman who married a gay man—into Chinese.

These women are becoming vocal activists to urge legalization of same-sex marriage.  Though their efforts have not yet come to fruition, it is gratifying to know that my books may be useful in their efforts.

Click the link below to read the whole Quartz article.   

http://qz.com/329575/chinas-homowives-are-becoming-unlikely-champions-for-gay-rights/

WAKING FROM THE NIGHTMARE

February 4th, 2015 by Carol Grever

 

After years of writing about mixed-orientation relationships, I’m still learning.  Sometimes the lessons come in curious ways.  The latest one came overnight in an extremely vivid and detailed dream.

In the dream, I’m still married to Jim, my gay husband.  Our two sons are grown and we are in our late 40’s.  We are partners in our successful staffing business, respected leaders in community and church organizations, and immersed in a busy social life.  We appear to be the “perfect couple,” though privately I suspect that, behind our glittery public façade, something critical is missing in our marriage.  We are great business partners, but Jim seems distracted at home and our intimate relations lack real passion and have become routine.  Jim has new friends that I don’t know and takes “solo vacations” occasionally.  He goes out at night, sporting flamboyant clothes, driving his expensive new convertible.  Sound familiar? 

Up to this point, my dream has been a replay of what actually happened before my husband came out of the closet.  I was simply replaying real experience in my sleep. 

Now comes the curious part.  I dream that Jim is having an affair, but not with a man.  The break from our real history is that he’s seeing another woman.  This is where “the teacher appears” in my dream.  I feel nothing but FURY.  I’m crazed with anger, hurling curses and insults, feeling utterly betrayed and rejected.  I scream and rail and throw Jim out of the house.  Then I collapse in exhaustion.  I wake up sweating, feeling panicky. 

That violent reaction in the dream is nothing like my actual waking experience when my husband told me he’s gay.  Hiding behind the nightmare’s ferocity is my quivering, vulnerable, wounded heart, whispering, “You’re not good enough.  You aren’t beautiful or sexy or desirable.  Jim doesn’t love you because you’re a loser.”  I felt like an abandoned child, overcome with a nauseating sense of utter inadequacy.  My unbridled anger was born in my broken-hearted dearth of self-worth.

In real life, our history was quite different.  Jim haltingly told me that he’s gay, a secret he’d struggled with during our whole time together.  He had lived the lie his whole adult life. He felt helpless shame and was torn apart by his own dilemma—to stay and endure an inauthentic old age, or to tell his truth and suffer the consequences.  What actually happened is that I responded at that moment with pity and compassion for his pain.  Instead of screaming at him, I put my arms around him and cried with him.  Even then, I knew that life had changed forever, and I was filled with grief, not fury.  I wept for both of us. 

As months passed after Jim came out, I learned much more about his double life and struggle to keep his clandestine affairs hidden.  I had recurring bouts of anger and despondency through those months.  It was the familiar “roller coaster” of feelings—hopeful one day and emotionally destitute the next.  Our familiar, comfortable life was falling apart, and I grieved its loss as a death.  But my major emotion was sadness, not anger.  My real-life response to Jim’s truth was totally different from this illuminating nightmare. 

My terrible dream did demonstrate something I never fully realized before.  I experienced Jim’s revelation all over again, but my response wasn’t at all like our true history.  In my dream, Jim isn’t gay.  His lovers are other women.  This critical difference attacked my deepest sense of worthiness.  It devalued me as a person.  “I’m not good enough.”  I felt unloved and unlovable--utterly worthless!  These devastating feelings caused me to strike back with incredible force.

What makes the nightmare worth sharing here is this:  Competing with another woman for my husband’s attention and affection brought forth a violent counter-attack and destructive self-doubt.  My self-esteem plummeted and I wanted to fight back.  In contrast, I actually responded sympathetically because it wasn’t about me at all.  Jim’s homosexuality is not my fault, nor is it his choice.  Sexual orientation is inborn, not learned or chosen.  If your mate is gay, it says nothing at all about your desirability or your worth.  It is simply fact.  You can’t change it, even if you are perfect in all respects.  And your spouse can’t change it either. 

Understanding this truth may help you avoid internalizing blame and shame and loss of self-respect when your spouse comes out.  Your incompatibility with your mate has nothing to do with your own attractiveness or value as a human being.  Knowing this at a deep level could open your heart--even to the possibility of empathy, friendship, and eventual forgiveness for the earlier betrayal.  It might allow you to let go of a past marred by deception and heal into confident optimism.

Years have passed since my husband told me he’s gay.  For most of the time since, I have urged other straight spouses to let go of self-blame.  There is nothing anyone can do to change sexual orientation--yours or your spouse’s.  Instead, change what you can in your unique situation, accept what you have no control over, and move toward the next stage of your life in the most positive way you can manage.  Time can heal even deep wounds.  If you can eventually forgive the hurt you’ve endured, you truly are restored and whole.

 

 

DECIDING A GREAT CIVIL RIGHTS QUESTION

January 19th, 2015 by Carol Grever

      

       The United States is approaching a definitive answer to what the New York Times calls “one of the great civil rights questions in a generation.” Our Supreme Court agreed to decide if gay marriage must be allowed in all 50 United States.  More than 70 percent of Americans already live in places where gay couples can marry.  Same-sex marriage is already legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia.  Now is the time for positive Supreme Court action.The high court will hear arguments, probably in late April of this year. 

          This news is a relevant topic for Straight Spouse Connection.  Many readers of this blog are middle-aged or older and have already been victimized by societal pressures requiring traditional marriage.  Their gay spouses felt compelled to marry to hide their sexual orientation.  Many languished in mixed-orientation relationships for decades before one spouse came out.  They are already casualties, their damage done.  Other younger gay people continue to marry straight partners because of religious beliefs, family, social or career pressures.  This news about a Supreme Court decision is germane in all these scenarios.

          Though they can’t change their past, many older straight spouses are “paying it forward.”  Perhaps their closeted anguish helped build the current momentum toward a definitive decision to honor the dignity of same-sex relationships—to prevent future grief of straight men and women unknowingly entering disastrous mixed marriages.

          The future looks brighter for those just entering marriage, gay or straight.  Legal recognition of same-sex marriage nation-wide would measurably alleviate gay people’s need to hide their sexual orientation through secrecy, deception, and double lives.  It would diminish the significant legal and emotional burdens caused by local discriminatory laws, freeing people to marry as they choose and enjoy legal protections they previously were denied.  Thus, legalizing same-sex marriage would mean fewer mismatched couples entering ill-fated gay-straight bonds, with the inevitable pain of discovery.

          Legalization of gay marriage in the United States would not be binding anywhere else in the world, but many other countries have preceded us in this decision.  Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 18 countries, the earliest acceptance by The Netherlands in 2000.  The most recent countries following suit are England, Wales, Brazil, France, New Zealand, and Uruguay in 2013, and Scotland and Luxembourg last year.  After years of political posturing and religious protestations, world opinion is leaning toward broader acceptance. 

          Surely our Supreme Court will see the need, heed the trend, and make a positive decision to sanction gay marriage.  If even one mixed-orientation couple can be saved from a doomed marriage, coerced by family, religious, social, or professional pressure, efforts to legalize same-sex marriage have not been wasted.

 

 

ADVICE FOR A NEW BEGINNING

November 6th, 2014 by Carol Grever

 

“I have met a straight spouse 'survivor', and over time I found I really admired her and like her very much, but I am finding that dating her has its hidden challenges.  She was very honest and up front, and is 3 years post finding out.  She has dealt with the aftermath with dignity and courage.  But I sure would like to be aware of the pitfall issues, especially where it triggers feelings.  I can deal with the emotions; just don't want to cause her hurt.  Would you consider a do’s and don’ts column for those of us that appear after?”

~ ~ ~

This sincere call for help noted that such an article would be a “tall order,” but it spotlights another aspect of the straight spouse journey—finding happiness with a new partner.  What should a new suitor know about the distinct needs of a recovering straight spouse?  What particular sensitivities remain that could sabotage a subsequent romantic relationship?

Let’s open the next chapter.  What does a person dating a straight spouse need to know to create a wholesome and positive bond?  My book, When Your Spouse Comes Out: A Straight Mate’s Recovery Manual (The Haworth Press, 2008) has whole chapters on related topics, but for this article I posed the question to three straight spouses who have previously contributed comments to this blog.  I also asked my most obvious source, my own husband, who stumbled on a few pitfalls himself in our early days together.  All of us have walked this path and all contributed to the advice summarized here.

Common Challenges; Sage Advice

Fear and loss of trust.  Break-ups after a mate comes out are fraught with feelings of betrayal.  Trust has been destroyed because what appeared to be true was not.  The fear that such deception could happen again creates a long-lasting wound that takes years to heal.  Vague suspicion surrounds each potential suitor, who must prove his sincerity.  As one survivor noted, I think it’s a good idea for anyone who gets into a relationship with a straight spouse to expect occasional insecurity, even some suspicion that you might be hiding something. 

Kathe was specific about her requirements:  The big three I looked for in a new relationship were truth, faithfulness, and commitment.  I decided that I wouldn’t compromise any of them. Ask for and give complete honesty.  Talk through the source of fears and offer repeated reassurance that this is a new start.  That was then, this is now.  As Louella put it, I can go on trusting until I discover a reason for distrust.

Lingering anger.  Every divorced straight spouse carries hidden triggers or hooks for blocked anger.  It simmers under the surface and flares unexpectedly. Some hold it longer and more deeply than others.  Triggers are individual and unpredictable, rooted in past experiences that no one else can fully comprehend.  This pitfall requires patience, understanding, and often forgiveness.  A good practice is to try to stand in the straight spouse’s place, exchange yourself for her and see each incident from her perspective.  This develops empathy for her wound.  Recognize and try to avoid the hook that precipitated a particular outburst.  

Shame, self-doubt.  Straight spouses are repeatedly asked, “Didn’t you know?”  The implied “How could you not know?” is one source of the deep-seated shame that many feel.  Feeling stupid is the common result, often leading to long-term self-doubt.   Obviously the gay partner was adept at deception.  The kindest approach for a healing straight spouse is frequent, mutual reminders that the one who was misled is neither stupid nor blind—just deceived. 

Nervousness about intimacy.  Volatility in a new relationship may be rooted in sexual insecurity.  As Jackie put it, When you’ve been sexually rejected, or you’ve been blamed for the sex in your mixed-orientation marriage not being good, or you’ve otherwise had emotionally fraught experiences with sex, approaching sex again tends to be scary because in the past, it’s been traumatic. I think it’s a good idea for anyone who gets into a relationship with a straight spouse to occasionally expect some sexual insecurity.  Once again, patience, empathy, and understanding are needed.

Unexpected, recurring grief.  Changing family and social ties and the disintegration of one’s expected future invite bouts of recurring sadness for straight spouses.  They endure many losses that have to be grieved, sooner or later:  Divorce, loss of identity, shaken friendships, family alienation, feelings of worthlessness. 

Deep wounds require long healing.  Louella Komuves wrote a book to help herself heal (Silent Sagas: Unsung Sorrows, iUniverse, 2006).  After eleven years happily remarried, Louella recalls an example of repeated grief.  The date of her anniversary with her first [gay] husband was approaching.  Next year, that anniversary will be 50 years ago that we married.  When I realized that, suddenly I needed to be "sad" because that time would not be celebrated in the very special ways that both my parents and in-laws enjoyed. . . . However, knowing that my second husband is a great listener, I had no trouble sharing with him my sadness.  Once I said aloud what I was feeling, it was like getting the thought "out of my body" and gave me the renewed freedom to be content in my current status.  It is natural to grieve personal losses, like missing a benchmark anniversary, but episodes like this pass even more quickly with an understanding listener. 

Shared values.  For many straight spouses, compatible spiritual paths are a vital component of complete recovery.  Shared spirituality as a core value grounds relationships.  At the very least, tolerance for differences in belief systems is essential for lasting connection.  As Louella observes, it was not important that the man belong to my religion (mainline Protestant denomination), but I needed him to know how important my personal involvement in church activities is to me.  Though her husband feels welcome to participate, he doesn’t feel obligated to join Louella’s church.  Instead, each encourages the other to practice their individual spiritual journeys—in a loving, open, supportive atmosphere. 

Wisdom from experience.  My husband, Dale, who has lived through Kevin’s dilemma, offers his advice on loving and understanding a recovering straight spouse.

  • Examine yourself.  This new relationship is more complex than most.  What is your goal for the best possible outcome?
  • Keep talking!  When you hit a pitfall, ask exactly what happened and how it felt.  Ask her to help you understand her needs. Your own sensitivity is a good foundation for this developing relationship.   
  • Explore your own feelings and attitudes toward homosexuality and inform yourself about related issues. Learn the facts.
  • Be aware and accepting of her lifelong relationships formed prior to your life together.  Her family ties, her history with a gay husband, her children, friends from her previous life—these will not go away and may become more complicated.  You’ll have to put the pieces of this puzzle together in a new design that works for you both. 
  • You can’t hate.  Accept your new reality and try to drop negativity.  Also understand that her recovery will be complete when she can truly forgive.
  • Realize that long-term healing will be required.  It takes several years.
  • Finally, when you hook an emotional response, talk it out immediately and remember that the trigger episode from the past “doesn’t belong to you.”

Shared responsibility.  A survivor’s new mate should give frequent reassurance to support renewed self-confidence, but both people carry responsibility for the ultimate success of their developing partnership.  Jackie articulated the point very well:     

I still have a responsibility to be in good working order. It’s one thing to ask a partner to tag a base every now and then—“no, I’m not hiding anything” or “yes, I think you’re sexy”—but it’s not okay for me to be a constant ball of insecurity. I have a responsibility to know my triggers and not bite my partner’s head off if he accidentally sets one off. And if there are desires or habits that aren’t a good match, it may mean that we’re not sexually compatible--not because there’s something that needs to change about him. So, kudos on the sensitivity, but you never have to sign up for bad treatment or become a different person sexually just because a straight spouse has gone through a trauma.

Find professional help.  Addressing recurring issues requires unique solutions for each couple. There are no neat formulas to follow. For that reason, it is important, perhaps imperative, to engage in joint and individual counseling with informed professionals.  Use these resources to work out your best possible future.  Drawing from her own experience, Jackie’s reminder applies:  You never have to sign up for bad treatment or become a different person just because a straight spouse has gone through a trauma.  Hopefully, her great qualities outweigh these inconveniences, and the satisfying parts of the relationship are worth the price of admission.