The Plight of the Straight Spouse.

      What should you do when you suspect your spouse is having an affair with someone of the same sex? How should you react when you finally get up the courage to ask your husband if he’s gay and he answers by getting angry with you for asking such a question? How do you start a new life after your wife tells you over breakfast that she is in love with another woman, and she is moving her in, and you out of the family home you bought, and furnished, and lived in together? There is an international support group with people who have answers. It is called “The Straight Spouse Network” and they are waiting to help.

The week before Christmas, I wrote my On Our Radar column for The New Civil Rights Movement website about The Cathedral of Hope, a primarily gay church in Dallas, Texas that finally had enough children to hold their first ever children’s Christmas pageant. What I remember from researching that column is that most of those children were from previous heterosexual marriages. The marriages break up when the gay or lesbian spouse comes to grips with their orientation, and the children of that marriage eventually come to live in a new family dynamic, when the parent who finally came out finds a same-sex life partner.

When I wrote that column, I thought about the kids. I imagined a little shepherd boy, with his grandpa’s cane for a shepherd’s crook and a little blonde angel in white with a tin foil halo. I remember wondering if we could get video of the pageant to post on The New Civil Rights Movement blog as a way to demonstrate to the skeptical world that gay families are not so very different than straight families.

I also thought about the two dads or two moms watching with pride from the audience, doing the things all parents do, like the surreptitious wave as their little one comes on stage, their slightly anxious face searching the audience for family, breaking into a smile when they see their moms or their dads are out there. I imagined the flash of relief two dads exchange when their kindergartener flawlessly speaks the line they rehearsed with him a thousand and one times. Or maybe he flubs the line, and the dads squeeze each other’s hand in shared parental emotion. In my mind’s eye, I saw proud, smiling parents jockeying for a good vantage point with their video cams and cell phones. At that time,  I saw only what a personal victory it was for all those happy-at-last same-sex couples and their children, making Christmas memories.

What I didn’t think about was the parent who was not there. The straight spouse. The loving parent who no longer had a place in this happy holiday picture. The starry-eyed young woman or young man who promised to love, honor and cherish someone they thought was their soul mate. The parent who devoted years, sometimes decades, to making a family, only to have it run through their fingers like sand.

So why am I thinking about them now? Because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.   

In the world of unanticipated consequences the end of DADT has spawned one we should have seen coming. Soldiers are coming out to their spouses. Soldiers are ending their sham marriages. People are hurting. Hearts are breaking. Families are changing. And neither the straight community nor the gay community has shown a large measure of compassion to the abandoned straight spouses trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

They are spurned on all sides you know, these blindsided castoffs. Spurned by the gay world as an impediment to the LGBT partner knowing true happiness. Spurned by the straight world as someone who after two kids and all those years, must be a freaking idiot not to have known. These straight spouses are every bit the victim as the spouse who was forced to lie about his/her sexual indentity for so long, yet sympathy has been no group’s default position. No one’s but The Straight Spouse Network’s.

For twenty-five years now the Straight Spouse Network has been offering the heterosexual spouse “information, support and affirmation”. They have eight on-line support groups, most with real time chats. Their website offers a blog with practical suggestions on everything from what questions to ask if you suspect your spouse is gay, to how to reinvent the holidays after your marriage dissolves. Most importantly, they offer peer to peer contact with someone who has gone through a similar hell and made it out the other side.

There is no charge for the Straight Spouse Network services. The organization is paid for entirely by donations and staffed with volunteer counselors. So if you are one, if you are married to one, or if you know someone dealing with their spouse coming out, let them know The Straight Spouse Network wants to help. And going forward, let’s all reconsider the lack of empathy we have collectively shown to these straight spouses. They deserve so much better.

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2 Responses to The Plight of the Straight Spouse.

  1. As a former straight spouse myself as well as a psychotherapist, I can say with not a small amount of personal knowledge that the #1 characteristic of straight spouses is the sense of isolation. It’s embarrassing, it’s shocking, it’s humiliating…and no one else “gets it.” When my ex-husband came out 25 years ago I didn’t know a single person that could understand my experience. People make assumptions, say well-meaning but unhelpful things, e.g., “Just pretend he died” and “Didn’t you know?” and generally just cannot relate. It is a lonely space to be in, and acutely painful, because oftentimes lack of love between the couple isn’t the problem. If it were, breaking up would be easier because anger could fuel it. But in our situations it’s mostly just sad. Tremendously, heartbreakingly sad. The good news? There is life after your spouse comes out. You’re not a fool or damaged goods; we marry our partners for all the right reasons. Blinded, perhaps, by naivete, by our spouse’s vulnerability by denial, by many things…but we married for love. And we can trust, and we can love (and be loved) again.

  2. ajoyfulcry says:

    very well written. It has been 8 years since he told me. We’ve been divorced 6. Unfortunately he has a lot of anger towards me, since I would not stay married until he figured it out. These past six years have not been as bad as being married. I still feel alone and sad – but at least there isn’t someone on the couch next to me ignoring me.

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