New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, Idaho Senator Larry Craig, evangelist Ted Haggard, and countless other famous men have made national news by disclosing their secret homosexuality.  Though these disclosures made national news, uncounted thousands of husbands and wives have also come out to their families in the privacy of their own homes. 

One common denominator behind the news stories and behind the closed doors is an unsuspecting mate blindsided by the truth.  These “straight spouses”--heterosexual people who unknowingly have partners who are gay—number in the millions, world-wide.  If you are reading this post, you probably have lived this drama yourself.

What happens to a straight spouse in the aftermath of such a disclosure?  Hundreds of anecdotal reports have reiterated a pattern of recovery that may seem quite familiar to both male and female readers of this blog.  Their journey proves the resiliency of the human spirit and demonstrates that healing and hope are possible.  Individual histories vary, of course, but there are predictable stages that most straight spouses experience.  For one just beginning this passage, it is worthwhile to summarize again the steps toward recovery that may be expected.   

Shock is the first reaction, if the gay spouse has successfully hidden his true sexual orientation.  As hard as it is for outsiders to understand, most straight spouses are genuinely surprised by their mate’s disclosure.  After the first jolt of realization, there may be an odd sense of relief.  This is the “Ah, then it wasn’t me!” reaction.  In a mixed-orientation relationship, the straight partner often feels responsible for the couple’s distance or lack of intimacy, that he or she isn’t attractive enough or sexy enough or smart enough. Just knowing that they have not caused the rift gives brief comfort.  

Relief is quickly followed by intense confusion.  Everything that seemed clear is suddenly in question.  For some, the easiest course is denial, hiding from painful reality. “Maybe there’s some mistake.”  “Maybe this is a passing phase.”   “Maybe therapy will change her sexual orientation.  Denial is a fruitless defense and is doomed to disappointment. 

Some straight partners continue to feel responsible for the dilemma and persist in self-blame.  “Was this my fault?”  or “How could I be so blind and stupid!”  This is a misguided response since sexual orientation is inborn and no one “causes” it.  Nor can we deny it or change it.  Moreover, if the gay spouse has successfully concealed the fundamental truth, sometimes for decades, he or she has become adept at hiding and lying.  This is not the mate’s fault! 

People who tend to blame themselves for this disrupting revelation also tend to feel deep sympathy for their partner.  They see that hiding one’s true sexual identity is exhausting and debilitating, and they feel genuine pity for their spouse.    

Regardless of their empathy, knowing the truth generates deep grief.  Learning that one’s spouse is not what he seemed topples everything familiar. All we thought we knew is in doubt and the loss is like a death.  In fact, a spouse’s coming out destroys the security of the present and casts the future into doubt.  Nothing will unfold as planned and expected.  Fear and uncertainty eventually ignite anger, directed sometimes at the mate and more often at the whole confusing mess in their relationship. 

Behind anger is hurt, and beyond the anger is despair, alternating with deepened rage.  This stage is the most dangerous, for these destructive emotions may turn against oneself.  If rage and despair are prolonged, they may precipitate complete self-destruction through addictions, violence toward others, or even suicide.  Professional help is essential in these cases.

While the discovery of one’s mixed-orientation relationship is inevitably painful, most straight spouses experience a turning point at which they begin to accept their new reality.  Seeing clearly and accepting the fact of your loved one’s sexual orientation is crucial.  Accepting what cannot be changed allows movement toward a positive resolution.  Patience is needed because it always takes time to reach acceptance—months for the lucky few, years for most.  Recognition of reality is the first step.  Difficult decisions then follow—whether to make accommodations and stay together, or to separate.  Either decision requires incredible courage and a re-imagining of the future.  Both partners must reconfigure their future, together or apart, hopeful that they can both find comfort and happiness.

For both partners in these relationships, disruption is inevitable and disaster a real possibility.  For many, however, the disclosure episode is a gateway to freedom from doubt and deception.  This major turning point can be the beginning of something much more satisfying, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recreate one's identity and future.  The most successful people replace resentment with forgiveness, restore trust and hope, and find meaning beyond themselves.  They use the lessons learned to move past their hurt.

This pattern was reiterated dozens of times in the interviews I conducted for my books and documentary.  It is also an outline of my own recovery after my husband came out.  These stages are relatively predictable.  The best news is that it is possible to navigate these stages and arrive safely on the other side of this life event--healed and wiser for the experience.  Knowing what to expect along the way can be immensely helpful.

When a celebrity comes out of the closet, the news saturates the media.  As the headlines fade, the human aftermath is seldom reported and outcomes are a mystery.  How did Jim McGreevey and his former wife end their episode after his announcement faded from the news?  What about the other formerly closeted celebrities?  It’s highly probable that, like the rest of us, their families are slogging through their own version of these same stages of recovery. Best wishes for ultimate happiness for us all!  


  1. Brassyhub says:

    Thank you for this brief and clear summary of the stages that many/most will go through on discovering that without knowing it, they were in a 'mixed orientation marriage'. I can only hope that your relatively optimistic conclusions to the process may be mine: at present, I can see no glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel that is now 9 months long (early days, still, I know, from all my reading).
    I would just like to plead for more recognition for us str8 men married or in relationships with lesbians. SO much of what is written is from the point of view of the str8 wife of the gay man. And there seem to be FAR more stories around of str8 women making their relationships with their gay partner work. I've found next to none to encourage me on my journey. Is this a difference between the genders?

  2. Brassyhub says:

    Sorry, there was another point that I forgot to make in my previous post: this is worse than losing a partner to death by disease or accident, because they are still there. We are faced with the agonizing uncertainties of 'Can we stay together? Can we find some compromise? Can we work things out? Can I trust again?'
    There is no easy/clean break, where we are forced to make a new start, to leave the past. Here we have to chose: to stay or to leave? To sacrifice the known suffering of the present, the daily struggle with a partner whose deepest attractions are not towards us but towards their own sex, for the unknown, the risk of a future we can only imagine, but for which there are no guarantees that it will be any more comfortable than the painful present. At my age (66) can I hope to find a new partner and build new life?

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Carol, I found out that my spouse was cheating on me with strangers he found on internet websites on Nov 20. On the 30th, he moved out to live with one of these men, who he professed to love.
    Since I have suspected the truth for years, I didn't really go through the denial or self blame stages. But I thought he was content with maybe looking at gay porn and masturbating. The shock that he has been serially unfaithful with many men led to intense grief and anger and rage. I've alternated between those stages for the last 2 months, sometimes overcome with sadness that our life together (31 years married) and our plans for the future are just gone up in smoke. Other times, I am blinded by rage that he now has someone and I am left alone, although I have done nothing wrong. I have had thoughts of not going on because I am so overwhelmed at everything that has to be done and how easy it would be to just not wake up the next day. But I am also surrounded by family and friends who love and support me. I have been honest with them about why we are apart and the support is a blessing. I am only very recently coming to the realization that the future may be better than what it would have been. It's still scary but I am starting to realize I can make it what I want it to be (once the financial stuff is all figured out by the lawyers ~ that's another issue!).
    I read your wonderful book When Your Spouse Comes Out and it helped me realize that it is possible to move forward without hate and bitterness in your heart. This post is also hopeful and that is what I am striving for. There is starting to be more good days than bad. I also have a very good therapist and with everyone pulling for me, I think I may be one of the lucky ones who is traumatized for months instead of years. I guess lucky is a relative term here, but I am starting to move past the intense sadness a/o rage to trying to build a better future for myself. It's in my power to do so.

  4. KAT B says:

    Carol, as you know I went through something similar but not within marriage and not with a gay boyfriend but someone with deeply conflicted gender issues. Nevertheless, I was deeply in love with this man, so the stages/feelings were very intense. I can totally relate to these stages...especially denial, fear and anger. Just reading it took me back to that time and the emotional chaos that I experienced. While totally stressed & not listening to myself to get out, I hung in denial for a long time hoping that there had to be an explanation...maybe he was abused as a child & can get help, yada, yada. I can't imagine if I were married with a few kids and facing that situation like many of your readers. I wish I would have had something like this during that time to help me recognize the stages and help me to realize that I wasn't alone. Your readers are very lucky to have you!!!

  5. Jackie says:

    Two points resonated with me from this post: 1) Acceptance takes time. I found that my head had accepted that my husband was gay long before my heart accepted it, and only when the two worked in tandem was I able to move forward with reality. 2) It is such a relief to know that the problems in the relationship weren't my fault. It wasn't much of a relief in the initial stages, but it's good to know now that I'm getting ready to move on.
    To Brassyhub--In my state, divorcing couples who have children are required to take state-run parenting classes. In my class of about 20 people, I met two men whose wives had come out as lesbians. I've read everything I can find about the straight spouse experience, and I've found very little written by men whose wives have come out. It's true that the group is underrepresented in a public forum, but I hope you know you're not alone. It does get better, although ours is a journey I wouldn't wish on anyone. All the best to you.

  6. Carol Grever says:

    I'm responding to Brassyhub's query about information useful for a straight husband striving to remain married to his lesbian wife. I started writing on these issues in 1996, researching my first book. I've interviewed more than a hundred straight spouses, mostly female, because they are more forthcoming about personal issues. Among the men I talked with, not one stayed with his lesbian wife. In most of those cases, the wives announced that they had fallen in love with another woman and they abruptly moved out. Admittedly, this is a small sample, but I can't offer a single example of a straight man and lesbian wife staying together over the long haul. The question straight spouses usually ask is "What's in this for me?" If basic needs aren't met, it usually spells the end of the relationship. If you can compromise sufficiently, then it might work. Only you can answer this key question. Carol Grever

  7. Louella C. Komuves says:

    As always, I truly appreciate reading your blogs, Carol. They are so filled with words of wisdom and insight.... touching on memories of what I experienced twenty years ago (and the years since). "Back then" there were not numerous books about this topic. That is exactly why I shared my story in Carol's first book and years later even risked turning a master's thesis (at age 59) into an autobiography so that others will not feel alone. I yearned... yearned... yearned to know that you could again become a happy, healthy, whole person!
    From the blessings I have experienced (family, church friends, others) that really can happen and being conscious of those blessings helps. You might want to check out my four minute You Tube interview? (Type in Healing from a Gay/Straight Broken Marriage). All that said, my heart aches for others having to go through such a relationship. I especially feel for the men whose wives have left them. It is so apparent that men (for whatever reasons) have not taken advantages of current resources available (counselors, ministers, books, SSN, etc.) and reaching out for help seems more difficult for men than for women. But with either gender, their lives have fallen apart and that has been devastating! Having children (my three sons were grown/married when this happened to me) adds another new dimension to one's sorrow -- but that is another story.
    To Brassyhub, may I suggest that you find a new dream and keep focused on such? Maybe someday we will read your book about picking up the pieces of your life? I found writing helps get feelings out of my body so I do not keep them "handy" to replay and resent, etc.... Above all, my faith played / still plays a major part in my dealings with the totality of life. Do not give up.... we are all here for each other (if we know about each other).
    Again, thanks to Carol for taking time to share such helpful and comforting ideas as we all choose to eventually move past such pain and sorrow. Please keep these blogs appearing!

  8. Brassyhub says:

    Louella, I do write. I journal constantly, pretty well daily. It is one link with sanity. And yes, for me, my faith, though deeply shaken, still offers some solace and help. Though there is also an added dimension of confusion and pain: I thought that God was leading me to this person, to this marriage. How can I have been so wrong? Has God lead me astray? Or did He want me in this painful place? Why?
    You encourage me to dream a new dream. I've told my wife that our original marriage is over. But that I still love her, and my deepest desire is to re-build a new relationship with her, on the basis of a new contract. Is that possible? We'll see. But Carol cannot offer me much hope from the experience of others...

  9. kellen says:

    How nice that so many people seem to find this so easy. I'm being supportive, but underneath that I'm furious. My partner is being congratulated for her decision to be honest, to live as who she is. Does it really not cross anyone's mind that there's another person involved in this? Someone who was lied to and used? Is there some special definition of honesty for LGBT people? Or does being LGBT give you licence to lie and use people that the rest of us don't get?
    I don't even know where to start. I've been told I should try lesbian sex: I might like it. It would be considered outrageous if I made that suggestion to a gay person, but it's fine to say it to me? If I'm not cheerleading, I'm a bigot. If I point out that I could use some support, I'm selfish: after all, I'm straight -- what possible problem with this could I have?
    All I can say to anyone contemplating getting married without telling their spouse about any doubts they have about their orientation or their gender identity is DON'T DO IT. If you really love the person, either tell them the truth or leave them alone. You have no right to turn someone's life into a lie simply to make things easier for yourself. And please don't hide behind 'religion made me do it': at the bottom line, no one can force you to lie, no one can force you to use someone. That's a choice you make for yourself. If you don't have the courage to walk away from whoever's feeding you trash in the guise of religion, that's your problem: you don't have the right to make anyone else pay the price for your cowardice.
    Oh, and spare me any outraged replies: I'm only too well aware that it's politically incorrect to be angry about being used if you've been used to prevent an LGBT person from having to make a difficult choice or face difficult consequences. It must be lovely to be so firmly convinced that other people exist purely for your convenience.

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