Archive for the ‘Recovery Tips’ Category


April 23rd, 2011 by Carol Grever

The complexities of a mixed-orientation marriage increase exponentially when one or both partners suffer addictions.  A recent email from a straight spouse highlighted this multi-layered affliction.  Here is an excerpt from her message.

My husband and I met over 13 years ago. . . . Twelve years later he came out to me and to many acquaintances.  At first I did not see how it could change what we had.  Now that he has been out for a few months, I am having difficulty coping with my feelings.  We still love each other, but I have lost my trust in him . . . .  I feel all alone.  We both suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction.  We have over six months of recovery and are active members of AA.  That is why this all came up.  My husband was working on clearing the wreckage of his past, and his true self came to the surface. 

Addictions themselves add enormous difficulty to the problems of a coming-out event.  Two major life changes are happening at once—getting sober and revealing one’s true sexual identity.  The entire family is affected by both challenges.  While the12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has effectively helped millions recover from dependence on alcohol and drugs, working through the steps transforms people in fundamental ways.  They set out to conquer their addiction, but in the process they alter their ideals, standards, and daily life.  An elemental shift is happening, whether it is the gay or the straight partner engaged in the AA program. 

These psychic alterations further complicate their marital dilemma.  For example, AA’s Step 4 requires a deep and fearless moral inventory of character defects and wrongs done.  Step 5 demands openly admitting those wrongs to a neutral party.  Steps 8 and 9 require making amends to anyone harmed by earlier actions.  People spend months or years occupied with these steps toward sober living. 

The drama is even more complicated when both partners are in AA.  If they both fully participate in the 12-Step program, each understands the transformational process.  But if only one partner experiences this psychic shift, the mate’s alienation increases.  The chasm widens and the probability of saving their marriage diminishes even further.  Still, the indisputable benefits of overcoming a drug and/or alcohol addiction make recovery efforts intrinsically worthwhile. 

Perceived dangers to a rocky mixed-orientation marriage should not deter an alcoholic from joining AA.  Day by day, recovering addicts and alcoholics reconfigure their very lives.  Sincere adherence to AA’s 12 Steps can lead to freedom from addiction, while simultaneously mapping a very different life path.  The work involves total honesty around self-centeredness, resentments, fear, and sexual behavior.  A spiritual awakening often occurs as a person’s “Higher Power” is identified.  Viewpoint, values, and lifestyle all drastically change.  Lies and secrecy are no longer tolerated.  Minds are clear, not muddled by chemicals.  Ongoing personal assessments fuel even more change. 

At best, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, and humanitarian service are evidence of the personal growth encouraged by AA.  The downside is that the partners may grow in different directions and recovery from addiction becomes another catalyst to separate.  However, statistically, these gay-straight relationships have less than a 15% chance of survival under any circumstances, even if addiction is not present.  The most positive conclusion, of course, is to have both partners living the life they choose, clean and sober, productive and proud, whether gay or straight, single or together.   



February 3rd, 2011 by Carol Grever

When a mixed-orientation pair decides to separate, the usual aftermath is a period of confusion and ambivalence.  It is hard enough to make the decision to split, but just as hard to adjust to new realities.  Once separated, how can the straight husband or wife create enough distance to allow letting go altogether?  If the couple’s separation is abrupt and hostile, this question might not arise.  But if there is still love between the two, especially if they have children to consider and protect, distancing becomes a dilemma.   

Two conversations with straight spouses in the past weeks reiterated the problem.  One mature gay man left his straight wife over a year ago, but they still reside in the same small town, she still lives in their old home, they see each other on the street, and her pool of grief is constantly replenished.  She says she just can’t let go.  In the other case, the couple’s separation happened just last month, and the two are co-parenting a son while living in adjacent apartments, desperately trying to keep their equilibrium.  They still care about each other a great deal, but they both realize that their marriage must end because the husband has fallen in love with his male soul mate.  The players in both of these poignant dramas are painfully confused by their conflicting emotions.

How can you let go of an intimate partner without blame or hatred?  How can a friendship be salvaged from a broken marriage?  It isn’t always possible, but it has been done by many who were willing to expend the necessary effort.  The Straight Spouse Network released the following description of the process.  It can be used as a guide to nurture a healthy relationship with a gay ex after divorce.  This is how it looks to let go in a constructive way.

  • To let go doesn't mean to stop caring.  It means I can't do it for someone else.
  • To let go is not to cut myself off.  It's the realization that I don't control another.
  • To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
  • To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
  • To let go is not to try to change or blame another.  I can only change myself.
  • To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
  • To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
  • To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
  • To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
  • To let go is not to be protective.  It is to permit another to face reality.
  • To let go is not to deny, but to accept.
  • To let go is not to nag, scold or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
  • To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment. 
  • To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but to try to become what I dream I can be.  
  • To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.
  • To let go is to fear less and love more.

Adjusting to a new life after an emotional relationship ends is a process that takes time.  There is a period of grief, as if after a death.  The process must take its full course or it will reappear again later.  Reconfiguring your future involves reaching out to new friends, developing new activities, and making many small changes in daily life.  Change your makeup or haircut, rearrange the furniture, try new foods, experiment with different styles of clothing, develop a new interest or hobby.  Such small adjustments may improve your mood and overall attitude toward the situation.  But the tincture of time is the ultimate healer.  Your sense of disruption will eventually fade as the new you emerges. 


November 30th, 2010 by Carol Grever

     “Stages of Recovery” is one of the most frequently visited articles on this site, particularly by those who have recently discovered their mates’ homosexuality.  They are desperate to know how long their shock and pain will last and when they might hope to recover their emotional balance. 

    Following the description of typical stages of recovery for straight spouses, there are numerous comments from others who have visited the site.  Their authentic experiences graphically depict varied aspects of this ordeal.  The most recent comment from "Helen" is worth repeating here because it reveals the genuine possibility of restoration.  Helen successfully reconfigured her life with courage and patience.  She has reached her goal of renewed happiness, stronger and wiser now.  Here is her story.

I'd like to respond to Trisha, because so much of her story sounds so familiar to me.  I, too, stumbled upon my ex's sexual preferences on the computer.  He never planned to tell me about it--ever.  In fact, he is still somewhat resentful that I ended the marriage because he was willing to continue to live the lie he had created. 

I feel for you, Trisha, and the pain you must be feeling right now.  I remember so clearly the agony of realizing that my family and my future was a mirage.  My ex didn't want anyone to find out he was gay for a while after I knew, and that was tough for me.  It is no longer a secret now, thankfully.  Being able to share that secret is an important step in healing, and it is one I hope you take very soon.  Just because he doesn't want to share the news with the world doesn't mean you can't talk about it with people who love and support you.  

Perhaps it will help you to see the other side of all of this. A little over a year and a half has gone by since I discovered my ex's homosexuality and he finally admitted it.  I can honestly say I am happy now.  I spent over a year on my own with my girls, building a life.  I bought a house of my own.  I struggled with all the emotions of a broken relationship.  I mourned the death of my marriage.  I grieved over the man I thought I had married, my 'best friend'.  I questioned myself for getting into the relationship without realizing he was gay.  I got angry about the years I had lost and the love I didn't have.  I cried.  I laughed.  I gained and lost weight!  I turned 40.  I leaned on my good friends and my family.  I spent a lot of time alone.  By the end of that time, I felt strong and beautiful.  I knew who I was more than I had in a long time.  I know that I am whole again.

It is a struggle, there is no doubt, but the struggle is so important.  I don't know if this will help in the darkest moments, but it will get easier.  So much of what your husband is doing probably makes this seem like it is all about HIM, but this is your life, and it needs to be about you!  You need to take care of yourself and your children! . . .

I wish you the very best in your journey, Trisha.  Just know there are people out here who understand and who are rooting for you.  I can relate so well.  I am glad you shared your story, and that you are reaching out.  This wonderful website is a great place for support. Hang in there and know that you are strong enough to get through this--and remember that you are not alone!

    There is little to add to Helen’s description of her process.  She went through all the typical stages of recovery and emerged whole, healthy, and happy.  It can be done, as she and others have proven.  May all who read this achieve similar success. 


November 16th, 2010 by Carol Grever

I thought all the issues surrounding my marriage and divorce from a gay man 20 years ago had finally disappeared or settled down, but now I seem to be smack in the middle of it all over again.

A common dilemma facing mixed-orientation families is deciding who should know and who should be “protected” from the knowledge that one family member is gay.  Particularly around holidays, emotional family issues surface.  This is An especially precarious time for mixed-orientation families who have not been completely open with each other.  Some relatives know the whole story; others don’t.  Everyone who is aware of the truth is imprisoned by the secret they carry.

 Mae is one such straight spouse.  Caught in this situation, she shared her story. It is a case study of the destructive force of secrecy in a family.

We had been married about 2-3 months, when finally, because of my constant questioning about why he didn't seem to want to have anything to do with our sex life, he told me that he had fallen in love with a man and had an affair just before he met me. 

When we were married I was a single mom with three children.  After 10 years of marriage, and one child (a son) of our own, I finally reached the stage of accepting the fact that nothing was going to change.  By that time, I was near to my own breakdown, because the worst of the whole situation was the secrecy.  I had spent 10 years unable to tell anyone why I was miserable, because he refused to come out.  When I asked if we could just agree to be celibate (we hadn't had sex in 5 years!), he refused to agree.  He refused to go to counseling.  I never felt I had the right to tell anyone what was wrong with our marriage--I thought it wasn't my place to 'out' him.  Living the lie was killing me, and that isn't just a convenient phrase.  My depression was affecting my health.

 My three daughters saw something was wrong, but I couldn't tell them.  They loved their stepfather.  I had no reason to tell anyone I wanted a divorce, but I desperately wanted out of the box I was living in.

After years of bare survival, this woman left her husband and remarried.  Her three daughters went with their mother, and the son stayed with his father.  At the time, none of the children knew the real cause of the divorce.  Mae continued her account:

This all happened 20 years ago.  Just recently my ex-husband finally came out to my son, who loves his father and has never suspected anything.  My son was shocked, and has been going through the stages [of coping] you have listed.  He finally truly understood why we were divorced, but I could sense his confusion at my silence all these years. My daughters still don’t know the truth.

All this, however, is not why I am writing here.  One of the things I warned my son about when he called and told me about his dad's confession, was to be careful not to get caught in the game of secrecy. 

Then, just a few days ago, my son called and asked if his dad could come to our Thanksgiving celebration (we've always kept our celebrations separate since the divorce).  My husband doesn't like my ex, but he would tolerate the situation if he had to.  But I told my son that unless his dad also told [the rest of the family] I was not willing to invite him over.  I think it would be horribly unfair, and unhealthy, to have this celebration with this hanging in the air.

Mostly, I cannot bear the idea of being put in the position of keeping this lie alive around my daughters when he has already told my son.  I just can't bring myself to have this charade in my house, with my participation.  Everything in me wants my daughters included and wants this life of lies that affected our family so devastatingly to be over once and for all.

My son is now furious with me, telling me it should make no difference who his dad has told and who he hasn't. This is breaking my heart, and once again I can't tell my daughters what is hurting (I told my current husband years ago).  My ex is somehow still controlling my life and separating me from the rest of my family, which is one of the consequences of keeping a secret like this.

Mae’s last sentence is the very heart of her dilemma.  Her ex-husband is still in control.  Mae feels bound to “live the lie” even twenty years after her divorce.  She still lives in his closet, trapped in the past.  She wonders if she is wrong to insist that her ex-husband must come out to all family members.  She asks, “Should it matter?”  She is questioning her own perspective and feels completely confused. 

In answer to her request for advice, several observations may be instructive.  First, there is still considerable emotional connection left in this divided family, otherwise there would be no question about coming together on the holiday.  There is thus some ground on which to build a more comfortable future association because Mae’s gay ex-husband apparently wants to be included. 

What would happen if, Instead of asking her son to be the messenger, Mae talked directly to her ex-husband and took charge of the matter:  “You are welcome in my home on the condition that you come out to my daughters.  Then everyone in the family will stand on equal ground.  If you don’t tell the girls, I will do so myself and we will all be freed of the burden of lies.” 

Mae has no obligation to lie any longer.  This is not her secret to keep.  She is not required to hide the truth from her daughters any longer, particularly since her ex-husband came out to their son.  Though taking a stand may stir initial anger or hurt feelings, clinging to the lie will most certainly harm Mae’s future relationship with her daughters and could damage her own mental and emotional health.

Truth frees.  Secrecy imprisons.  Mae can choose to walk out of her own closet of secrecy and breathe the fresh air of truth. 

Sincere wishes for the best outcome for all.






July 7th, 2010 by Carol Grever

    “Stages of Recovery,” dated May, 2008, is the most
frequently visited page on this blog.  Visitors
to this site look for reassurance that their current misery will eventually
heal.  Like other straight spouses before
them, they seek to understand recognizable steps toward their own

    After the early stages of shock, confusion, denial and
self-blame, straight spouses face the realities of a mixed-orientation
relationship and its rush of tough decisions. 
This awareness leads to anger and despair, along with profound
grief.  We mourn the loss of security,
trust, and expectations of a predictable future. 
We are set adrift in a sea of uncertainty and we grieve our loss as we
grief a death.  Indeed, it is the death of
the future we’d planned. 

    This “dark hole” of rage and grief may last for months or
even years.  But for most, often aided by
competent counseling, deeper healing begins. 
How do we know when this turning point has come?  What hopeful signs can we see?
  Centura Health offered a useful list of these signs in their
September, 2007 issue of Seasons of
A summary of the article is
relevant to straight spouse recovery and offers markers of progress.

  • You
    look outside yourself with enough energy to reach out to others while
    coping with your own grief.
  • You
    can express and live with your emotions, as they lessen in intensity over
  • Episodes
    of emotional turmoil abate.
  • Sadness
    is often present, but does not deepen into depression.
  • You
    open to social contacts and resume traditional ways of being in the world.
  • You
    let go of guilt and blame, realizing that you did your best.
  • You
    have glimpses of meaning in life, moments of hope and joy.
  • You
    begin to plan for the future.

    As grief subsides, most straight spouses reinforce their own
inner resources, looking forward to new interests and new friends.  For some, forgiveness is possible as wounds
heal.  This is a new beginning.  When we see every experience as a teacher,
every stage of recovery as fuel for waking up, we are well on our way to wholeness
and a happier phase of life.


April 24th, 2010 by Carol Grever

     The simplest way to learn what works best in
counseling straight spouses is to ask them directly.  One especially articulate man shared his
experience of the benefit he received from his therapist in just four
visits.  Now, eight months after his wife
came out, he has already managed to recover his optimism about his future.  Here is his story.

We are all different, but I am a 47 year old Australian male who was
told three weeks before his 20th wedding anniversary that his wife is a lesbian
and leaving.    She had been in counseling for about 10 months
and I had no idea.  She had never told me any of her feelings and it was a
complete surprise to me.  I was
completely devastated and pretty much went into shock.  I arranged a
psychologist through work as a colleague pointed out that our organization
provided such things.

     Her name is Wendy and she saw me
about a week after I found out.  She was very interested in my situation
and her first and immediate concern was whether I was going to self-harm. 
We discussed this and I let her know that while I had thought of it, I had
dismissed it as an option.  I was very open with her about what had
happened and she wanted to know how I thought and how the kids were and what I
wanted from the sessions with her.  She
also talked a little about it being a new situation for her (straight guy
finding out about a lesbian wife) and she suggested that I might do a little
research online on lesbians and my situation.  I did, and found Straight
Spouse Connection.  It was great
advice from Wendy as it got me a little control.  I was doing something positive.

      The next meeting was one week
later.  She again checked to make sure I was not going to self-harm and
then we talked about the situation.  This time she was quite
forthright.  My wife was in another city visiting her lover.  Wendy
pointed out what I didn't want to hear, that they were probably making love as
we spoke.  Very confronting but she was right and I needed to face up to
this.  I was then exploring a bit why my wife was doing what she was
doing.  I wanted to see it from her side as I genuinely wanted to know and
understand.  Wendy pointed out that the sessions were about ME and she was
there to help me, not my wife!  So we then talked of the future, how I
would need to adjust to being single.  I have the children (which is
unusual, but so is all this, or so I thought). 
We talked about what I would need to do to adjust to a different
lifestyle as a single father.

     Our next session was again a week
later.  I was feeling better and was DETERMINED not to let this wreck my
life. I have a number of techniques to bring my self out of problems, although
this is a very deep place.  I drive out bad thoughts by thinking
compassionately, I force myself to smile (you would be surprised how effective
that can be), and I set myself a deadline to be happy.  Did it work? 
Well, sort of.  I gave myself a month to climb out of the absolute despair
I was in.  It probably took about five weeks to get some balance

Wendy was amazed at my turnaround at our third session.  We talked
about pushing myself too hard and what damage that might do.  I did
slip backward pretty far a few times in the following weeks, but she had told
me this would happen. Because I knew this, I was okay with it.  In this third session we talked of the future
more, how to cope with the sense of rejection and that at some time in the
future I might look for companionship and love again.  She expressed great
confidence in my outlook.  This was good, as I was struggling with the
concept of a future at that time.

     In our fourth and final visit, we
talked about where I came from to where I was then.  We talked of ongoing
coping strategies and that there will be dark days to come but they would
lessen.  She said I had made incredible progress.  When we met she was thinking I would be
seeing her for a long time and that I was in a bad way.  I was.  At
our last meeting my body language was confident and I had my cheeky, cheerful
self back.  So what did Wendy do for me?

1.  She was there for me.  She said this a couple of times:  Her view was that the sessions were to help
me and not for any other purpose.  She was not in any way judgmental and
led me to explore a whole pile of issues with calm and logic.

2.  She was confronting.  By that I mean she showed me in a caring
way that the circumstances were what they were and I had to face that reality.

3.  She explored options with me but gave no particular answer.  She
was very co-operative in that we worked the problem together but always with my
absolute interests at heart.

4.  She let me run my own pace, but warned me (very gently) not to force
the pace and to care for myself.  I had to be selfish in that work.  I was still deeply concerned about my wife
and I needed to look after myself so I could look after the children too.

5. She gave me hope that time would take the searing pain away and that I would
find my happy self again.

    Could I have managed without
her?  Probably, but certainly not as
well.  I would have taken longer to get
over it.  She took me places I didn't want to go, and then brought me back
out and set me on a good path.

    This man's movement through therapy was more rapid than most, and this
example is not meant to be a model for all. 
However, he was pleased with his result and he seems realistic in his
assessment of what happened in his sessions and how he was assisted.   Others have widely
varied experience and quite different outcomes, but this story assures us that it is possible to recover and to look forward with hope. 


September 20th, 2009 by Carol Grever

    Appearances may not reflect reality,
particularly when it is necessary to hide a secret.  After 20 years of what seemed to be a perfect
marriage, Greg's wife came out as a lesbian. 
With her one sentence, “I’m gay,” their familiar, comfortable suburban
life turned upside down and Greg joined the ranks of straight
spouses—heterosexuals who unknowingly married gays.  Both mates made an abrupt turn into a future
that is very different from what they'd planned.

    Whether it’s a spouse coming out, as in
Greg's case, or dire illness, death of a child, financial ruin, or one of
countless other human crises, people do survive.  They work through the immediate pain and
recognize opportunity beyond.   This takes
time, but ten tested tools can help turn calamity into calm.

  1. Relax
    as it is.
      The past is gone; it cannot be
    changed.  The future is not yet here, and
    most of the things we fear will not happen. 
    All we really have is now--this moment in time.  Stay firmly in the present moment.  Breathe deeply and let go of regret over the
    past and fear of the future.  Now is
  2. Change
    your mind.
      Poet John Milton nailed
    it:  “The mind is its own place, and in
    itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  Thoughts control actions and we control our
    thoughts.  Heal yourself through choice
    and effort.  Notice any tendency to
    replay your story line and relive your past dramas.  Press the stop button!  Replace destructive thinking with conscious
    optimism, and make a fresh start with uplifted thoughts.  Avoid people who carry and reinforce rage;
    instead, affirm hope.
  3. Keep
      Find a trusted friend who’s a
    good listener.  This may be a counselor,
    relative, pastor, or just someone you’ve known a long time.  Sharing your troubles and thoughts lightens
    your load and helps to clarify your own thoughts.  Just as important, talk to yourself!  Encourage yourself with positive self-talk to
    build confidence.  Repeat affirmations
    that are meaningful to you, such as, “I am a whole and worthwhile person.”  “I have everything I need to lead the life I
    choose.” “I can do this!”
  4. Find
    outside resources.
      A few clicks on the
    Internet can locate support groups and chat rooms for people in almost any
    crisis—health, family, relationship, financial, career, even spiritual.  If you’re not computer savvy, local public
    librarians can usually do the research for you. 
    Internet resources offer up-to-date information and, if necessary,
    protect your privacy and identity.
  5. Get
    a pet.
      Having a living being to love and
    care for is therapeutic, especially during a crisis.  Animals’ unconditional affection may comfort
    physical or emotional pain.
  6. Pay
    attention to your health.
      Take time for
    unhurried, nutritious meals and sufficient sleep.  Take a walk in place of a cocktail.
    “Everything in moderation” is a good guide, especially in times of stress.
  7. Cultivate
    curiosity about the larger world. 

    Consciously reach out to new friends and develop constructive new
    interests that move you outside your personal problems.  Take a class. 
    Start a hobby.  Learn a different
    skill, or travel to a place you’ve never seen.
  8. Nourish
    the spirit.
      Whether you’re religious or
    not, nourish your own spirit during this time of healing.  Find a practice that helps your find your own
    center, your inner peace.  Maybe it is
    meditation or prayer, reading spiritual books, yoga or bicycling, hiking a
    mountain or sitting quietly by a river. 
    Follow your own definition of spirituality and practice it.
  9. Forgive.  Harboring resentment is like eating rat
    poison, then expecting the rat to die. 
    Anger only hurts the person who is angry.  Philosopher Wayne Dyer summarized it:  “It’s not the snakebite that kills you, it’s
    the venom.”  Research indicates that the
    ability to let go of resentment is paramount for ultimate emotional recovery.
  10. Live on Purpose.  Country singer Dolly Parton touched deep
    truth when she said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”  Invigorate mind and spirit by finding some
    meaningful cause, work, activity, philosophy, or value system that engages and
    uplifts.  Living “on purpose” feeds the
    need to give back and nurtures emotional health.  Use it as a yardstick to measure any new
    activity or direction.  Simply ask, “Is
    this on purpose?”

    There is no
guarantee of total recovery after any life crisis, but these ten tools have
worked repeatedly and are established in related literature. The very first
step is to open your heart to new purpose in a renewed life.  Set fresh goals to pursue with energy.
Ultimate healing requires choice, focus, effort, and time, but success is
certainly possible.  You have much to
give, so affirm your own worth in your thoughts and self-talk.  You can do this! 


June 15th, 2009 by Carol Grever

How about your children?  When do
you tell them that one of their parents is gay? 
How much should they know about it, and how soon?  How can kids understand such a complex
issue?  Their age, maturity, and general
stability all affect the answers to these and related questions.  There are no stock answers that fit all
families, so important decisions tailored to your situation are inevitable. 

Experts suggest explaining the situation in stages, not overwhelming the
youngster with too much information at once. 
Answer their questions honestly, but don’t try to cover every detail of
the situation in one sitting.  Children
sense that something is wrong and they need sufficient information to allay
fears that the trouble is their fault. 

It is also important to use language the young person can understand,
being scrupulously careful not to malign the gay partner.  Divisive behavior and hateful words
inevitably wound the child even further and damage future family
relationships.  Above all, don’t try to
make your child an ally by demonizing his other parent.  Measure your words carefully.  This is a real test of your own maturity and

Some examples from my book When
Your Spouse Comes Out
may point the way. 
Matt explained to his four-year-old why Mommy had moved into a separate
bedroom.  Matt began by saying that there
were going to be some changes.  Mommy has realized that she is what’s called gay.   Most
people, men and women, like and want to live together as husband and wife, but
with gay people, men like men and women like women and that’s who they want to
be partners with for their life.  There
isn’t anything wrong with it.  It’s just
like people have different hair colors and skin colors, different heights—some
people are taller and some people are shorter. 
While most people aren’t that way, there are a lot of people who are
gay.  Your Mommy has figured out that she
is one of those people.  At some point,
it will mean that Mommy and I won’t be married anymore.  But we’ll both still be your parents and it
doesn’t change how we love you.  This
isn’t your fault.  It isn’t anything you
have done.  For the time being, things
will stay the same here at home. 

Notice the language level for a small child and reinforced reassurance
that the boy would still have two loving parents and that the immediate changes
would not threaten him—and weren’t his fault. These points are important to
make, regardless of the age of the child. 

Explaining to older children presents a different challenge.  Carlotta and David had a son and daughter who
were thirteen and eighteen when David disclosed his homosexuality to his
wife.  Though this couple immediately
realized that their marriage would end, their family still existed as a high
priority.  Their focus was to preserve
family ties in some form. 

They spent months in private discussion, adjustment and preparation
before they told their teens.  When the
time seemed right, they called a family meeting and told the whole truth to
their teenagers, answering all questions honestly.  After they had time to absorb the truth, both
teens discreetly told their friends and received immediate peer support.  They also adjusted to the changes, knowing
that both parents were behind them.  At
no time did either parent denigrate or criticize the other.  Their family ties held firm through an
amicable divorce and their kids went on to college and are launching successful
lives of their own now.

Waiting until the heat of the discovery has cooled is a good idea.  Give yourself time to recover from your own
shock, work through immediate personal issues, and prepare yourself to support your
children through their time of recovery. 
Straight talk to older children is important.  Telling the truth is better than holding
back, unless there is some compelling reason to do so.

Disclosure to adult children may be less difficult.  One couple arranged a gathering of their
whole family and a separate meeting of their closest friends.  There, they read letters they each had
composed to explain their situation and their personal feelings.  After they read their letters, they offered
to answer any questions.  Then they left,
allowing space and time for their surprised loved ones to talk and begin to
process their unexpected news.

        If possible, face-to-face disclosure is best.  My husband and I traveled together to tell
each member of our families—our son in California, Jim’s mother in Colorado
, my mother and our other son and his wife
in Oklahoma
.  First,
we told them that we were about to separate, and then we told them why.  If we hadn’t shared the whole truth, they
never could have understood why our 30-plus-year marriage was ending.  Telling the truth freed us all to help each
other reach acceptance. 

Truth binds.  Secrecy
separates.  After keeping her gay
husband’s secret for decades, one straight wife suffered greatly from her
daughter’s simmering anger about the family’s long-held secret.  The adult daughter accepted her father’s
homosexuality but harshly blamed her mother for not sharing the truth. 

In another case study, the gay father was afraid to admit his sexual
orientation, so he lied to his son and said that he didn’t love his wife
anymore and that was the reason for their separation.  When the truth came out a few weeks later,
the son said, “Why didn’t you say you’re gay! 
That is much easier to accept than the story you told me before.”  These examples suggest openness with children
at the earliest opportunity, regardless of their age. 

Truth also frees.  One interviewee
recounted a scene she’ll always carry in her memory.  The
morning following our decision to let each other go was like this: although we
realized what a heart- and life-wrenching decision we had made, we went for a
bike ride with our son along the dirt roads of some property we had in the
mountains.  My husband rode his bike like
a kid who’d just learned to ride alone without training wheels.  He told me later he was feeling as if he’d
just dropped a burden, a terrible burden he’d carried for years—not the burden
of our marriage but the burden of hidden truth of who he was. 
In a similar way, all the members of a
mixed orientation family can feel liberated when their secret is out.

It would be nice to have sure-fire step-by-step instructions for telling
the children about a gay parent. 
Unfortunately, every family has to invent its own best method.  Keep in mind these principles to ease the
way:  Tell as much of the truth as you
can, as soon as you can, in language that is understandable and kind.  Give ample assurance that your love endures
for your children, regardless of other changes in the family.  Give yourself the gift of liberating truth. 

What is your experience with telling your children?  Please share a comment on this interactive
site.  Your hard-earned wisdom can help
others now struggling with this family predicament. Click "Comments" below.


(Click the cover image of the book to learn
more about When Your Spouse Comes Out: A Straight Mate’s Recovery Manual.)


March 27th, 2009 by Carol Grever

    These past few weeks were filled with emotional ups and downs in my family.  My former husband's mother was in and out of the hospital, then to the nursing home for end-of-life care under hospice supervision.  Relatives came and went, saying their good-byes.  Margaret tried to stay cheerful as her body weakened, and we all finally knew that any day could be her last.  She died on March 16, five days before her 94th birthday.

    Margaret's death brought many important realizations.  Driving to and from the nursing home, I was engulfed in memories of my life with my gay husband, with its mixture of happiness and conflict and the upheaval that ended that marriage.  Thrown together almost daily with my former husband was confusing.  There was a constant overlay of past and present.  I was the bridge between the family of my past and my happier present reality, smoothing the way for superficial but well-meaning conversations between two men who could not be more different.

    Even more difficult was balancing opposite philosophies and spiritual practices among family members.  Margaret's memorial service last week served as a magnifying glass to emphasize those differences:  Baptist vs. Buddhist.  Materialist vs. Idealist.  Narcissist vs. Selfless.  Past vs. Present.  My tension was palpable.

    Finally it was over.  Margaret was interred in Lubbock, next to her beloved husband of more than 50 years.  My ex-husband and sons went back to their own utterly dissimilar lives on opposite sides of the country, and I was left in blessed quiet to explore what it all means.

    By chance, I heard a Dharma talk titled "Spiritual Wealth," by David Chernikoff, leader of the Boulder Insight Meditation Community.  He recalled a Native American traditional story that I've been pondering since.  His tale of two wolves is a metaphor for the tension I've just described--and it points to an ancient, reliable solution.  I want to share this story with other straight spouses, with hope that it will guide them as well.

    A grandmother is teaching her little granddaughter.  She says, "Two wolves are fighting inside you.  One of the wolves is hateful, angry, aggressive, envious, resentful, guilty, and despairing.  The other wolf is compassionate, joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, kind, generous, and forgiving.  These two wolves are always fighting inside you."

   The little girl thinks about this image of opposites for a moment, then asks, "Grandmother, which wolf wins?"

    The wise elder replies, "The one you feed."

    This simple story brought my own internal battle into sharp focus, renewing my personal determination to feed my peaceful wolf. I believe that we create our own lives through our choices: Love or hate, peace or war, resentment or forgiveness.  Ultimately our lives are shaped by countless accumulated choices and we gain mastery over our own thoughts.  In any given situation, we can feed one wolf or the other, and our choice will determine our outcome. 


December 23rd, 2008 by Carol Grever

    Imminent death tests complex connections.  My former mother-in-law is dying.  At 93, she has faded into a frail, 90-pound wisp of the formidable woman I first met.  She was in her prime then, and I was in high school, standing in awe of my boyfriend Jim's dominant parent.

    I learned significant lessons from Margaret.  Through three decades of marriage to her son, she and I had predictable differences and occasional rifts, but mutual respect was a given.  She taught me to make excellent guacamole and dozens of savory, thrifty casseroles.  I admired and emulated her domestic decor.  Frugal and pragmatic, she demonstrated essential skills for lean times.

    An unselfish gift was one example of her practicality, offering a glimpse into her values.  Jim and I became engaged while we were both in college.  In those pre-credit card days, he struggled even to pay tuition, making the purchase of a diamond ring impossible.  Margaret generously gave us her mother's diamond to put into a new setting, while she continued to wear her plain gold band.

    I wore that little quarter-caret solitaire with gratitude through the years my marriage to Jim lasted.  When he came out as gay and we divorced, it was a confusing time, torn by the pain of separation and the upheaval of a monumental life change.  It hurt even to look at that simple engagement ring.  What should I do with it?

    Eventually it became clear.  The diamond belonged to Jim's mother's mother.  It needed to stay in that family.  I returned the ring to Margaret and felt a weight lifted from my spirit.  Her gratitude matched my feelings years before when she "loaned" it to me.  She again had the stone reset to wear on a chain around her neck.  She never took it off afterward.

    This story of the little diamond is a parable to illustrate enduring family bonds that remain after forgiveness is possible.  When Your Spouse Comes Out, my second book about straight spouse recovery, gives another example.  "Carlotta" is one interviewee who worked especially hard to maintain civility and cohesiveness through her divorce from her gay husband, "David."  She uses visualization to move toward new goals, while still supporting their family's connection.  One image she holds is her dining room during a Thanksgiving dinner.  "Ten years from now, I see the kids and David and me together at the table--all still friends, all happy with new partners." (p. 87)

    Just this past year, my own stretched and extended family achieved Carlotta's dream.  Last September, Jim and his partner (now his husband) celebrated his birthday here in my home, with my amazingly tolerant husband, Jim's mother and sister, and a former gay partner all present.  That scene around our table will be repeated this week on Christmas Eve, with one special person sadly missing.  Margaret is too ill to join us at lunch, but the strength of her presence will still be felt at that table.  The ties that bind have stretched to lengths none of us could have imagined.  Longer and thinner, they are still intact.

    Do you have a story of enduring family connection?  Share it in a comment!