Imagine that you go to work one day, and around lunch time, you have an unbearable headache. You decide to go back home and rest as that evening you have a party to attend with your loving wife. When you arrive home, you are surprised to see your wife’s car parking in the front. When you enter the house and open the door to the bedroom, you find your wife in bed with…another …woman.
A similar story, when one partner in a heterosexual relationship is blindsided by the revelation that his partner is gay, is not uncommon. Based on conservative statistics, the estimate is that approximately two million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the United States have married partner of the opposite sex.
Last week, as a marriage and family expert I was invited to attend a video segment on HuffPost Live. The video presented the subject of “spouse coming out of the closet.” The segment discusses the story in the book “The Door of the Heart,” written by Diana Finfrock Farrar.
“Tammy and Ed Sloan have been married for over two decades when they suddenly discover themselves on opposite sides of a current social issue – gay rights. Soon, they are horrified to discover that their differences run much deeper. The Door of the Heart is a story of being true to oneself, of marriage and commitment, and of individual responses to change; but in a broader sense, it is a story about how polarization limits the emotional and spiritual growth of individuals and destroys every aspect of community.”
We were joined by Henry who came out as gay to his wife (Evelyn), and her discovering that her husband (Henry) was gay. They shared their personal and family experiences dealing with their challenges and also shade their perspective about the subject.
In the Huffington Post Live video, I didn’t have time to explain the complexity and challenges of a family spouse coming out of the closet and its impact on family members. A spouse coming out within a marriage is not a single event, but rather a long and difficult process. It clearly starts with the gay individual that initiates the change. It continues with the straight wife or husband and afterwards involves children and the family as a whole. All go through their own personal struggle to understand and accept the revealed information, based on their subjective experience, perspective and belief system.
Over more than 24 years, Amity Buxton has researched the impact of a spouse coming out on the family. She has discussed the grieving and healing process the straight spouse experiences upon learning of this revelation. She found that the discovery and its consequences within a family occur in the following stages:
Stage one starts with the act of coming out (voluntarily or not). This happens after the internal struggle to acknowledge one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Stage two involves the straight spouse dealing with the new dramatic information and what it means. Stage three takes place when the whole family finds out, while both spouses and other family members deal with the revelation.
This whole process involves many internal and external conflicts as well as an emotional roller-coaster (betrayal, confusion, anger, relief, pain, etc.). The coping, pain, anger, fear, and grief is often slow, difficult and a spiral process. Pain and fear are felt mostly in the beginning. Anger arises throughout the process and grief occurs as you let go of your attachments.
This complex experience requires many implicit and explicit issues to be discussed. Issues such as: sexual identity and sexual orientation, integrity, trust, belief systems, well-being, self-esteem and others. As the family has to go through a process of coming out, special consideration and sensitivity to children’s needs and perspective must be taken.
Getting through these issues and feelings, and effectively coping with them may take anywhere from three to six years to heal properly. While the couple involved could not be romantically involved, perhaps they can still be good friends and good parents.
Please visit author, Moshe Ratson at his Google+ Profile: +Moshe Ratson