Dear Dr. Olson,
I was married to a “bi” man for over twenty years. We never told our son until we separated and were divorcing. He wanted to know why we were divorcing, so his dad told him. Our son was a teenager when my ex-husband disclosed this. How does keeping the sexual orientation of a parent secret from a child affect a child/teen/man psychologically? My ex had sex with only men besides me before and during our marriage and identified as openly gay after our divorce.
You have asked a good question that does not have an easy answer. First of all, it depends upon the child’s level of maturity and experience in the world.
Also, in your particular case, a lot depends upon the kind of relationship your ex had with your son before the disclosure. Most teens will have some level of understanding about sexuality and gay relationships and will have had some exposure to the subject from others.
If I were to ask my kids this question, I am quite sure they would say that it was harder to accept the divorce than my sexuality. Kids don’t want to see their parents divorce. They dream of a happy family life “forever after.”
The answer also depends to some degree upon how the child perceives the parents to be handling the situation. Many women in your position struggle with feeling angry and betrayed, questioning their own sexual desirability. These feelings are typical and expected, but it’s important for you to begin looking toward the future, a time when you can heal, forgive, and begin to explore a new life. Forgiveness isn’t easy. It doesn’t mean that you approve of your husband’s behavior; it means that you choose not to hurt him back for having hurt you. Forgiveness isn’t about setting him free; it is about setting you free.
There is never a good or easy time to tell children, and I believe that your son will most likely understand why you delayed telling him. I don’t think when he was told will be the biggest issue for him. We have to tell our kids that sometimes as parents we don’t always know how to deal with tough situations and even so, we try to make the best decisions we can at the time. In retrospect, sometimes a decision may not seem like the best one, but if it was made out of love, it doesn’t necessarily have to be “right.”