Wedding Rings

Honey, I’m Gay

Remember your wedding? The words “till death do us part.” At our wedding we are all a bit starry-eyed and I don’t believe anyone gets married with the idea that some day it just won’t work or something catastrophic will happen. And yet the words above, while words no spouse wants to hear, come to approximately 2 million spouses, according to an industry expert. They find themselves facing the information that their spouse has now decided it is time to come out of the closet and say they are gay. And now what? With this story, I hope to share my own experience as a straight spouse and hopefully point those who might experience the same in the direction of help and healing.

The Beginning of the Story

Wedding Bridge
I waited to get married until I was 30 years old. I guess my life had phases. When I was 18, I determined to never marry until I was at least 25 and had a career. When I was 22, I looked around and saw all of my friends who had married right out of high school now getting divorces. At that point, I pretty much decided it just wasn’t worth it.

In 1984, I met a man while doing a workshop for his company. He was kind, articulate, and his intelligence definitely attracted me. What I found most was that I loved to just sit and talk with him. He listened, and we had intelligent conversations. I became fascinated with him. The more we spent time together, the better things seemed to be. We simply enjoyed each other’s company.

In 1986, after living together for awhile, he proposed and I said yes. Looking back, I realize it was something that seemed like a good idea at the time. Life teaches us many things and what I have learned since (more to come on that later) is that I was never head over heels in love. And yet, it was what it was. We had a wonderful marriage, full of family and friends, and promises for the future. It was the beginning of a new life and full of promise.

The First Crack in the Wall

Crack in the wall
About 7 years into our marriage, at Valentine’s Day, I was looking for a coupon I had. We didn’t have a lot of money and I knew that somewhere I had a coupon for a night out and thought it would be a special Valentine’s thing to do. I opened a notebook in the nightstand on my husband’s side of the bed and shook it out. Out came some things in writing, his writing. Curious, of course, I read it.

The story was about two men. As shock and confusion set in, I realized it was written first person and the other character in the story had the same name as one of our friends. What in the world? And WHY was this in his notebook?

We had dinner plans for Valentine’s Day so I went ahead with them, saying nothing. At that dinner, I asked about the stories. It was at that dinner that he admitted he had been having an affair. At the same time, he was NOT gay. All of the words ran together, but they were something like “it was a mistake, it’s not who I am, it didn’t mean anything.” I was reeling. I also realized then that this same friend volunteered for the AIDS Hospice unit in our town. Now what did that mean for us? At this time in life, the world didn’t know much about how this virus was spread and it was pretty scary. I insisted we both get tested and I sought out a counselor.

We both went to counseling individually and we did couples counseling. All through this time, he continued to reinforce that he was not gay and that he wanted our marriage to work. Our counselor reinforced that idea and spoke of how any marriage can overcome infidelity and that our focus really should be on rebuilding trust.

At some point, I learned the word “boundaries” and began to create some. The boundary was simple: Do this again and we will not stay married. That decision was wonderfully freeing. All of a sudden I had a recognition that I did not need to try to control a situation where i really had no control. It was all up to him. Each decision in life comes with consequences and as long as I laid them out, the rest was up to him. I am a self-admitted control freak, so this was a major step in growth for me. All of that done, we began to try to rebuild our marriage. Or did we?

Denial

Denial Train
Denial, the only trip that does not come with a one-way ticket.

We moved across country in 1999. It was a hard move for me as it meant leaving my grandmother, who has always been my best friend. The job opportunity seemed too good to pass up, my husband had just finished his master’s degree, and our discussion revolved around this being an opportunity to “reinvent ourselves.” How little I knew at the time about what that phrase would come to mean.

It’s interesting that even now as I write this, I can vividly remember November 2, 2001. I had had about two weeks of something just not feeling right but couldn’t put my finger on it. I called my husband and asked for his password for his email so I could “look something up on AOL.” He gave it to me without hesitation. As I went onto his computer I found myself drawn to his email. It was there that I found a string of emails between him and another man in the area. The last one is perhaps burned in my brain forever and said “my wife will be out of town next week and perhaps we can get together.” For the sake of keeping this lens open to everyone, I won’t go into details of the other emails. It’s enough to say they left nothing to the imagination. I found myself right back to that time earlier in life when we dealt with this and with a rather strange calm realization that my marriage was over.

When he came home that evening, we talked. To his credit, this time he said it was true, he was gay. I remember saying “then our marriage is over,” and his reply being “are you sure that’s what you want?” What??? And the option would be? At the time I didn’t know that sometimes people in this situation actually stay together.It was simply not an option for me.

A Time Out

Solitude
I spent the next day driving to a nearby state and sitting in a casino all day, mindlessly playing slot machines. So much went through my mind. How could this have happened? Our wedding was a wonderful spiritual celebration, we had been actively involved in our church, and it just didn’t make sense. And what about friends? Family? How in the world would I ever tell them something like this? In my family, divorce was bad enough, but I was sure my family wouldn’t get this one!

On day three, I sat at my computer and looked for jobs. At the time, I was self employed and knew I had to find something that provided health insurance. I also knew I wanted to move from the area we were in. I considered going back to Colorado, but in the end, that didn’t seem to be the best option.

The next week, I went on my business trip, with the plan that we would separate when I returned. I can’t say I remember a lot about that weekend. It was my last meeting for a seven year term on a board of directors for my association and I think I kind of went on auto pilot and just did it. I told a few close friends, but not much in details.

Indeed, on returning home, the train had returned from the trip of denial and we went about separating our lives.

The Separation

Crisis
I wish I could say it was easy. It wasn’t. While we were living in separate rooms, we stayed together in the same apartment for six weeks before we moved out. I took a job in another state and he moved into the city.

Grief is a funny thing. There are five stages and in that six weeks, I believe we both went through all of those and back again. The funny thing is that you often don’t get to do one stage and be done.

We argued, no, we fought. We yelled and screamed. We cried together. We even tried to talk about staying together.

I found myself at times wondering why I wasn’t a total basket case, feeling I should be more upset than i was, and then just being angry.

One of the saddest moments I remember during this time was when we went to get coffee. We were sitting outside of a Starbucks, a place we often went to just to sit and talk. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “I don’t know who will take care of me now.” My heart did ache for him right then, but I couldn’t let myself fall apart. My response was simple: You will have to learn to do it yourself, just like I do.

I spent this six weeks going back and forth between Virginia and North Carolina with my new job. When I was back home, time was spent going through things, sorting out who would get what, and trying to pack. Most of the things that held memories we ended up throwing away, including our wedding pictures. I believe if we had had children, I might have kept them, but I simply saw no point and he didn’t want them either. So they went to the dump.

We had Thanksgiving together, our last holiday that we would spend together after 17 years. It was a sad, bittersweet day. We tried to do all of the “normal” things we had always done, but I think the only one who really enjoyed that Thanksgiving meal was our dog.

New Beginnings

Tree
How do you start life over at 46?

On December 19, I left Virginia for the actual move to North Carolina. I was fortunate to have a friend who drove the moving truck for me. Leaving was hard, and yet it had to be. My friend told me to just focus on getting to Quantico and if I could get that far, I would be fine and make it.

I recall having an epiphany of sorts about the time I got to Quantico. All of a sudden it made sense. I had not cried crocodile tears with this because my denial and grieving process had started seven years earlier. In my subconscious, I had been grieving the loss of the relationship for a very long time.

The dog and I moved to North Carolina, to a town where we knew no one, had no friends, and I started a new job. While the people at work were great, it was lonely. My boss was a good Christian man who told me one time to always remember that my husband was always welcome there and that God could heal things (all he knew at the time is we were divorcing). I finally felt I had to tell him just to help him understand that this was not a marriage that would be reconciled.

My friends, as I opened up and told them, tried to be supportive. Yet, it was not something they understood. I cannot tell you how many times I heard “And you DIDN’T know?!” No one could understand how a woman could be married to a man and live with him for 17 years and not see that he was gay. In their desire to be supportive, well meaning people sometimes asked some pretty awful questions.

Sometimes I even doubted myself. How could I have believed all of that “it was a mistake” years ago? Now, at 46, my life was gone for any future. So I believed I was destined to just be alone the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, my husband stayed in touch. His calls were always full of what new support group he had found, what people he was meeting, and how exciting things were. He was also doing some pretty risky things, the proverbial kid in a candy store. I finally had to set the boundary that said, do not tell me about anything you are doing to “find” yourself. He went back to church and at some point was made a deacon in that church. On the other hand, I couldn’t go to church without crying and feeling lost.

I did tell my family. Their response was interesting. My brother perhaps understood the most, but still it just wasn’t something they could relate to. i will never forget my mother saying “well, I’m surprised, but not really.” WHAT does that mean? I didn’t have the courage to ask.

Life was lonely and a bit tough. I threw myself into work and became a great workaholic. I took work home with me. I worked on weekends. I played with the dog and convinced myself that life would be just fine.

There are an estimated 2 million spouses who are in a relationship where the other spouse is gay. It has a profound impact on spouses and families. Children can suffer confusion, anger, and self-esteem issues.

You are NOT alone and you CAN make it through this

Helping Hand
I found myself one day searching on the internet for things about gay marriages. I frankly didn’t even know where to begin. On Amazon, I found a book called The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming out Crisis for Spouses and Families by Amity Buxton-Pierce. I read the excerpts and all of a sudden, I realized I was not alone. This author could have been writing about my life! I spent hours reading those excerpts that day and then went in search of the book. I knew I had to read it.

Not one bookstore in Greensboro, North Carolina had that book and I was not about to ask someone to order it for me. I went home quite discouraged. When my husband called that week, I sent him the link to look at it. He found it at a bookstore close to his home and sent me a copy. He also got one for himself. It was the true beginning of a new life for me.

Through the book, I found Straight Spouse Network (SSN), an organization founded by Amity Buxton-Pierce. The SSN provides support for spouses and families. And in finding the organization, I found a wonderful online support group. All of a sudden, someone got it! I was not alone!

The wonderful openness of the Straight Spouse group was healing for me. I liken it much to what my friend has told me of his experience with AA. No one can help you with something like this unless they have been there. Through them, I met folks who had been through this years ago, who were just going through it, some who had chosen to stay, and some who were divorced or divorcing. From all walks of life. And together we healed. The group even meets face to face once a year as well as has local contacts all over the world.

We learned we did not make our spouse gay. We learned that there IS life after, as we called it, “the gay thing” and some of us even learned we could open our hearts again to love someone. One day at a time, sometimes one hour or one minute at a time, but we learned and grew.

I will always be thankful that Amity wrote her story. I am thankful she had the understanding that there is really nothing out there that supports the straight spouse. I am grateful that others were willing to share their stories and their hearts so that those who come behind them can have the support needed to get through a very trying experience.

Moving Forward!

Wedding

My life has been a journey, and continues to be one. When my husband came out, it took two years for me to file for divorce. Once I became aware that I was putting off divorce because being married was a “protection” for me, I was able to file. i no longer needed the barrier of not allowing myself to date or think about becoming involved with someone else. Still, I always believed I would never marry again. The straight spouse experience causes you to mistrust your judgement. In my case, I had to move past being angry at myself for staying the first time.

For me, this story has a happy ending. One which I have written about and will soon add to this site. It has been a long journey to get to where I am today, to trust my heart to someone else, and yet God has been good and blessed my life with a wonderful, loving man.

I have friends in my life because of this story that I never would have met. I am also grateful for them and all they have brought into my life.

A Note for Mental Health Professionals

Counselor
I had a wonderful counselor when we went through things the first time. She also did our couples counseling. From that woman, I came to understand the meaning of the word boundaries, which I believe made this easier than it could have been. I am grateful for the insight she provided.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t add this for all mental health folks. Please really hear what people are saying. I said repeatedly that no one was hearing me that this man was gay. Because he continued to deny it, I was constantly encouraged to focus only on the infidelity and not the fact that it was with a man. We lived in a small community, and I think it was just not understood that this DOES happen to people. How many years of heartache could we have saved if only that had been acknowledged.

I hope we are becoming more enlightened all the time. I hope that if you have a situation like this, you will find the resources for someone so that they understand they are not alone and this does indeed happen to people.

What about Faith?

Bible
My faith and religious beliefs were a big part of this journey. It is for many spouses. In the end, our faith is a very personal decision that we all have to wrestle with and figure out what we believe.

In the beginning, I sure didn’t understand why God would allow something like this to happen. I had such dreams of us serving in the church somewhere, just as our relationship had started. I struggled with my own beliefs and it was quite some time before I could even go into a church and sit through a service without crying the entire time.

In the end, I have come to believe this. There is a plan for my life and someone much greater than I am is in control of that plan. My experience has given me insight to help others who have come after me and that has made all the difference. It is my hope that as the world becomes more aware of this issue that more people will learn to support the spouse in this journey to figure out how it all fits within the framework of their faith.

10 Steps for Distancing

It is often important to find emotional distance in this situation so that you are able to make good choices for yourself. Here are 10 steps for doing that that have I learned during my journey. (Original author unknown)

  1. Stop asking new personal things of your partner about him/herself.
  2. Don’t give out personal things about yourself to them.
  3. Don’t bend over backward to celebrate any occasions that involve them.
  4. Don’t bend over backward to help them more than is necessary.
  5. Don’t help them if they or someone else can.
  6. Avoid discussions that involve their lives, re: old topics.
  7. Start to develop new activities that don’t involve them.
  8. Try to make new friends, acquaintances, anything.
  9. Make small changes in your life: rearrange furniture, change decorations, try new soaps, ride your bike in a different route, eat at a different restaurant, eat different foods, cook them a different way, shop at different stores, rearrange the landscaping, change some of your habits, change the style of clothing you wear, etc.
  10. If they ask favors of you, tell them you want time to think about it.

Someone I Know is Going Through This. How can I help?

What do you do if your friend or family member is going through this? Many times I am asked for the best way to help and/or support that person. Here are a few tips.

LISTEN. Just listen. Sometimes the person just needs to talk, vent, cry, and all that is needed is a supportive ear to hear what they have to say.

Make no judgements. Please don’t say “how could you NOT have known?” It only hurts worse to hear that. Don’t make judgements about the gay spouse either. This time is confusing enough for a spouse without everyone making judgements about their decisions.

Encourage them to be tested. In today’s world, being tested is important as there is no way to know what one may have been exposed to. That in itself can be a scary and humiliating experience.

Tell them about Straight Spouse Network. Help them get connected to people who really understand what they are going through and can provide support and guidance.

Thanks for Stopping By

I hope this gave you some insight into how things can be for the straight spouse. It is my hope that people who go through this can find support and understand they are not alone. I welcome your comments and look forward to reading them.