Is it time to unveil your truth?
The following conversation amongst four GAMMA members spotlights how varied a wife’s reaction can be to her husband’s coming-out.
Opening Comment. Well, I told my wife many years ago . . . we had been married for almost 20 years at that point. I recently told her about the warm, monogamous, and loving relationship that I have with my best friend for four years now. I am utterly amazed at her response. She says that I have excellent taste in men . . . and that he obviously does too! Go figure.
Comments around the group:
First response. You're a lucky guy. I told my wife about myself a long, long time ago, but she remains very uncomfortable about anything to do with gay people or the gay community. This makes it difficult to be frank and open with her. That's sad. At least I think it's sad.
I keep hoping that perhaps my wife will begin to mellow and come to accept the fact that I am a gay man who has -- and needs -- gay friends. But no luck so far.
Second Response. I told my wife a few years ago. At first, she was totally surprised. Then, calm set in - I think she was actually in shock. Finally, she really started dealing with it and it was an emotional rollercoaster for about a year. There's an element of trust that we never got back. However, she came to the conclusion that I'm still the same person as before, that she still loved me and wanted to stay married, and that, I could find an "insignificant other", just as long as I kept things in perspective.
Things have evolved to the point where we can watch Queer as Folk together -- I've learned we have the same taste in men. And she'll e-mail me articles on gay-related issues and politics.
Third Response. I'm from a very small town . . . and have been "out" to my wife for many years. She was always afraid that I would find someone and "fall in love" and leave her. Well, I did fall in love, and after a season I told her about him. She came to love him very much. However, he totally freaked out. He and I have now been together for a really long time....and he has gotten over his "whatever". . . but it was scary for a time. He and her now have a very close and warm relationship. Hang in there...it can happen!
The following is quoted from When Husbands Come Out of the Closet by Jean Schaar Gochros (Harrington Park Press, 1989). Ms Gochros holds a doctorate in social work. Her book is based on extensive interviews with women whose husbands are gay. Ms Gochros’ general advice is encapsulated in a comment that she quotes from one of her interviewees: "Tell my husband I'm trying to understand. But I don't know what he thinks or how he feels. Tell him not to shut me out. Tell him to talk to me!"
In Chapter 10, Ms Gochros provides advice to wives and husbands and summarizes the general conclusions of her study.
Advice to Husbands
- There is no pat rule for whether to tell or when to tell a wife about homosexual needs and either past or present activity. Honesty is usually (though not always) the best policy. Usually, the sooner you talk with your wife, the less "betrayed" she will feel.
- "Honesty" should not become equated with "cruelty" and must be tempered with sensitivity.
- Try to make your disclosures as positive as possible in your timing and sensitivity to your wife's feelings.
- Do your best to avoid making promises that you do not intend or may not be able to keep, and be scrupulously honest in obeying both the spirit and the letter of any contracts you make.
- You need to be prepared for and willing to suffer through your wife's anger, grief, and hurt. Try to meet her feelings with empathy and understanding.
- Help her cope with stigma. It is as real a problem for her as it has been and will be for you.
- Try not to feel railroaded by others into choosing between marriage and homosexual expression. You have options. If you and your wife can work out a mutually satisfying contract, there is no reason why you should not do so. If you cannot honestly commit yourself to and be happy in a heterosexual relationship, don't string your wife along.
Advice to Wives
- Having company in one's misery doesn't necessarily make one happy, but it does help to relieve the sense of isolation. So try to remember that you are not alone. You are in an extremely large crowd.
- Try to remember that you are not alone in the kinds of feelings you have had, presently have, or may have in the future. Whether those feelings are positive, negative, or simply confused and ever changing they have been shared by others.
- If you have just learned of the homosexuality, try not to panic, and avoid hasty, impulsive decision. Your marriage is not necessarily doomed, and it may well improve. You have many options.
- Try not to blame yourself and don't accept others blaming you for your husband's homosexual thoughts or behaviours. You did not cause either his homosexual feelings or actions.
- Avoid letting this issue take over your life.
- Shutting the door and pretending the homosexuality doesn't exist is not helpful to you in the long run. You need to confront the issues squarely.
- Be prepared for periods of confusion, anger, depression, discouragement, turmoil, stress, and mood changes.
- Be patient with yourself. The situation you are facing can be complex and confusing.
- Try to look beyond the homosexuality in assessing your options and in how you solve both big and little problems in your marriage. You also need to stand up for your own rights, ask the questions you need to ask, and insist on the same flexibility, consideration, and understanding from your husband that he asks and expects from you.
- Don't blame yourself for your choice of husband. You probably had good reason. Now you need to examine those reasons. Do they still exist? Are the qualities you liked before still there?
- You may need to explore new sexual options. Can you accept the possibility of an open-sexual contract that allows for extramarital sex? If so, what ground rules can you set.?
- Don't try to struggle with this situation alone. It simply becomes too confusing. Get professional counselling quickly before confusion sets in. Try not to isolate yourself. Talk with others and to learn the art of coping with stigma. But be cautious in dealing with straight society.