Shared life, shared bed, shared closet. A spouse coming out changes all of that. It might seem a little crazy, but when you're a gay person in a heterosexual marriage, you're both coming out of the closet.
His side: jeans, ratty T-shirts, the mandatory sport coat, a few shoes, and of course the duffel bag the ever-frequent trips to the gym.
Her side: jeans, T-shirts that go from casual to office wear, suits, skirts, cocktail dresses, brunch dresses, Friday night dresses, and of course the sacred homage to footwear that covers an entire 8' x 10,' floor-to-ceiling wall.
His and hers closets. Similar, and yet so different. Metaphorically speaking, both have closets to come out of when he or she admits that "I'm gay!" Two words, uttered in under five seconds, that have the power to bring the shrine of shoes crumbling down, leaving a miss-mash of flats paired with sling backs, and Mary Janes paired with platform stilettos. All of a sudden, you're hyper aware of the person you are — and the image you're presenting to the world. No stylist, personal trainer, make-up artist, or mere living a healthy lifestyle can prepare a spouse for the moment they discover their partner would rather be messing up the sheets, and building a life with "one of their own kind."
Shock, anger, sadness, death all prevail. (Hopefully not literal death). Rather, an honest death of a shared life, a person who suddenly becomes a complete stranger, and a relationship laid to rest. In reality, the "comer outer" has consciously and subconsciously been preparing for this reveal. On the other end of the shockwave, the spouse who had no intentions of coming out, other than from their walk-in closet looking fabulous, is now facing their own truth and ramifications. Their confidence may be just as shaken.
Often times, the "comer outer" is shocked that his or her spouse's reactions. Common thoughts about anger, disappointment, lying, deceit, are verbal bombshells most anticipated by the spouse, but there may be some surprises along the journey. Fortunately, even though the jilted spouse won't recognize it immediately, both parties are on a coming out journey, walking very similar paths. The freshly out person may ask him or herself "was it worth it?" The answer, while hard to believe at times, is yes.
10 Surprising Reactions To A Spouse Coming Out:
1. Therapy the gay away. The denial a spouse will be in will often have him or her believing that couples counseling and individual therapy will magically make the gay disappear. A much better approach is to use marriage therapy for unraveling the relationship in a healthy manner that benefits both parties.
2. Have your cake and eat it too. Really? Yes. More often than you might think, a spouse actually will consider keeping the relationship together and allowing the other spouse to "have your gay flings". In some relationships this works, in others it won't. If and when this conversation turns up, let your spouse talk it through. He or she, has some very solid reasons why they believe they could have this type of relationship. Of course, then you'll need to weigh in on how that would or wouldn't work for you.
3. Be gay but not here! This kind of "out of sight out of mind" approach makes it less real. Here's a parallel: If you've been having same-sex relationships while being in your hetero-normative relationship, you might have been having your liaisons while you’re out of town or at least in the next city or town adjacent to where you live. Often the "not happening here" thought for both you and your spouse makes your "gayness" seem not quite so real. In reality, whether you're gay in Paris or gay in the Castro, you're gay. It's just part of your DNA.
4. They ask, don't tell. Similar to "Don't ask, don't tell," your spouse may demand you not tell anyone within your joint circle of friends, family, acquaintances about your "secret." Realize this is out of embarrassment; it's a personal shield of shame they wear. Funny how that's similar to the shame you had to go through before you finally realized there is no shame.
5. Shhh... don't tell the kids! This is a touchy subject that often divides the couple more than the actual fact that the spouse is gay: Do we tell the kids or not tell the kids? Personally and professionally, I recommend talking with your kids about sexuality at an age-appropriate level that they can understand. I simply cannot advocate a stance that's shown up a couple of times in my practice where the spouse doesn't want anything said to the children until they're 18 and in college.
6. You'll make our kids gay. Take a deep breath and realize this is an uneducated person speaking. In fact, if you haven't armed yourself with articles and support materials for your spouse and kids to read about homosexuality, then shame on you. It also helps in these moments to be solid in your own values and beliefs about being gay.
7. You cheated? Ironically, the infidelity blow can be more painful than the "I'm gay" smack in the face. This is actually a common reaction, even if you haven't cheated. Your spouse may view online gay porn that you've been watching or gay fiction you've been reading as infidelity. This is a signal that fidelity, honesty, truth are high values to them and be now operating as best as you can playing to those values, you may find the ride through the tornado a little more bearable.
8. Fine, but I'm not getting a divorce. This response is rare, and usually shows up in the heat of the moment, so take it for what it might be. However, in some cases, the spouse being shunned for someone of the same sex would prefer to stay married for "appearances" reasons. Hey, if it works and you're both good with it, then go for it. After, the man and his mistress have been around since the dawning of time so why not give this a try too.
9. Break all ties. This request/demand has as many shades of grey as Christian Grey’s playroom. There's a high probability that not only will your spouse ask you to say nothing to anyone, they may even request that you break all ties with mutual friends, their family, and virtually anyone you share in common, even if it is cousin Mildred three times removed. Again, this is a fear response or a control move. Best advice: agree to disagree if the friendships or connection are worth it. Of course, if there are kids involved in your relationship, this just isn't an option.
10. Cool, I always suspected. What? A spouse who's totally cool with their spouse being gay is a complete surprise. There is the rare occasion where the relationship has grown apart for a wide variety of reasons and the coming out is just the icing on the cupcake. Not that the spouse is jumping up and down and marching beside you in the pride parade; it's more of a mutual acceptance that we're not meant for each other and this little tidbit of information just solidified the truth.
Coming out is a life changing experience for all who are touched by the journey. Ironically, when you lay the paths, feelings, emotions, and experiences each person is having side-by-side, what you'll find is mirror images. The spouse and the spouse coming out are both going through the closet door. The only difference is who they are, and who they choose to be once they emerge.
Struggling with coming out? Take advantage of a complimentary, confidential coming out coaching session with Rick Clemons, Certified Life and Coming Out Coach. Schedule now.
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This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: "Homosexuality: Your Coming Out Journey"