From the Straight Spouse’s Perspective
My husband is having an affair with a man. We have four young children. He moved out quickly after I discovered the relationship. I am worried about him and I don’t know how to make this better for him and for us. His kids miss him. I honestly thought we had a happy and loving marriage. Do you have any advice for me? Or for him?
Thank you for sending your question, and I’ve written a lot about how the gay spouse proceeds through this process. I only occasionally hear from women or men who have been left behind. So in this response, I’m going to focus on you and them.
For you, the major difficulty is being caught between two conflicting emotions: concern for the welfare of your spouse and what he or she is going through, and the realization that the happy and loving marriage you thought you had has been yanked out from under you. I admire your wish to nurture and care for him while he is in such obvious emotional pain, but the reality is that you didn’t cause this to happen and you can’t fix this for him.
I understand your wish to have him become again the man you once knew him to be, a loving husband and good father. That was the ideal you bought into when you married him, and now your life has been upended. The conflict for you, as I see it, is “How can I be angry with someone who is obviously in so much emotional pain?” But anger and concern can coexist.
I would suggest that your first responsibility is to your children. The older ones will be experiencing this same conflict of emotions: “Why isn’t Daddy here for us?” The best response for you is to identify and empathize with their emotions and then offer a sense of hope: “Daddy is going through a tough time right now, and I know how upsetting that is for you and for me. We’re going to get through this together.”
One of the most difficult things for you is feeling alone in this confusion. Your anger is appropriate and can actually be healing for you. But the straight spouse often finds that more support is available for the gay spouse than the straight partner. People may tell you that it’s wonderful he’s finding his “authentic self” while at the same time not seeing how much support you need right now. They may even suggest that you are in some ways responsible for what he’s going through. They may say, “You must have known something.”
For your husband, it is as if he’s going through another adolescence, and remember, we each had to find our own ways through that difficult time. When others suggested how we might do it, we usually rejected their help and said, “Leave me alone!” As hard as this situation is for you, I think now is the time to leave him alone. You can empathize with his pain, but you cannot be the one to find the solutions for him.
For you the task is to figure out how you will go forward with this new reality. It is too early to know how this will all unfold for either of you, but I would urge you to begin to focus on your own needs and how you will meet them. Figure out how you can build a life for yourself that does not depend on being a part of the family you once expected (and had a right to expect) to have.
You are not alone in what you are going through. Many, many others have gone through it or are going through it now. I would encourage you to listen to the podcast from the Straight Spouse Network, “Voices.” Kristin Kalbli, the host, is an excellent interviewer and has some fascinating guests, and I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to be interviewed by her.
The Straight Spouse Network (SSN) was founded many years ago by Amity Pierce Buxton, a woman who found herself in your situation and realized that there were few resources for the straight spouse. The SSN has a wide variety of resources including peer-to-peer counselors. Her book The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families remains one of the best resources for you. (You can read her endorsement of Finally Out here.)
Finding a therapist for yourself would be a good idea, but you should take care to choose the right one. Two things are critical: (1) you “click” with them, and (2) they have some understanding and experience with mixed sexual orientation marriages. Unfortunately, some therapists and counselors are not very helpful in these situations. But you have a right to interview potential therapists before making a commitment to see them. Ask them the tough questions: How do they feel about LGBTQ people? Have they worked with individuals going through these situations? What resources can they refer you to?
Bottom line in all of this: focus on yourself and your children and let your husband find his own answers. If he was a loving and committed father before this crisis happened, I think you have reason to hope that he will return to being involved in your life and your children’s lives, albeit in a way that you and he never expected. Your dreams and his have both been shattered, but many of us who have been through this have been able to reestablish a sense of family in a more broadly defined way.
My last comment is to never let go of hope. I can’t tell you how this new situation will resolve for you, but I can tell you that it will. You can move on to a happy and fulfilling life, but first you must grieve the loss of the life you thought you would have. Then you can begin to imagine a new life for yourself and your children. I am confident that your husband will also find his way.