In a mixed-orientation marriage, one spouse is straight and the other is gay or bisexual. The Straight Spouse Network (www.ssnetwk.org) cites that there are more than two million mixed orientation couples. Therapists will often coach the lesbian or gay spouse to end the marriages but this isn’t always the couple’s best option.
Mixed Orientation Marriage Stage 1
Each partner may feel a significant amount of shame arising from the coming out process. The gay or lesbian spouse feels humiliated about being gay, while their straight partners feel humiliated that they weren’t “man enough” or “woman enough” to hold their mate’s sexual interest. During this stage, many report that they had no idea that their partner was gay. They may question whether they can trust anything that seemed valid in the past regarding the marriage or their partner. Many in mixed orientation marriages agonize over what they did wrong or why they didn’t perceive that their spouse was gay before it was “too late.”
Mixed Orientation Marriage Stage 2
Some gay spouses who come out feel so grateful to their partners’ still loving and accepting them unconditionally that they want to stay married. The more straight spouses maintain genuine loving feelings and empathizes with what their gay spouse is going through, the more the gay spouses —due to their need for closeness, attachment, and comfort—will be drawn to the straight partner. Often, however, they also feel overwhelmed that the straight spouse might want to stay. For a period of time, the emotional distress softens in them both, and they will share some hope for their mixed orientation marriage. Feelings of shame often diminish. Each hopes that perhaps things can go back to the way they were before the disclosure.
Mixed Orientation Marriage Stage 3
Eventually, however, both partners recognize that things will never be the same: The gay husband or wife can’t retreat back into the closet, and the straight spouse can’t deny the recent distance between them. Straight spouses often start to interpret every negative feeling as evidence that their partner is unhappy with them, while gay spouses often respond to their partner’s inquiries by becoming avoidant or overly emotional. The distance present before—or directly after—the disclosure of the mixed orientation marriage returns. The straight spouse—or both partners—turn to anger and rage to distract themselves from feeling the intense pain of their loss.
Mixed Orientation Marriage Stage 4
Once both partners understand that coming out is about issues of identity, not dissatisfaction with the straight spouse or their marriage, mutual blaming ends. The straight spouse no longer needs to interpret any sexual or romantic acting-out as a personal affront. The gay spouse can begin treating the straight spouse as a partner, rather than as an adversary. Each can then begin to deal with the impacts and implications of their mixed orientation marriage.
During this stage, each partner determines whether he or she wants to stay together or move to work out another type of relationship. They must consider various factors such as children, social considerations, their underlying belief systems and personalities, and the ongoing degree of openness between them. If they stay together, they must negotiate—and often compromise—about the role that one’s homosexuality will play in the marriage. They have to determine boundaries regarding sexual behaviors and coming out to others. They need to decide what homo-social activities are acceptable to both, and what to tell children, extended family, and friends.
It takes lots of strength, courage and maturity to work through a mixed orientation marriage, but each partner will emerge stronger, braver, and more mature.