“We are still married”

Email from a young woman:  “Do you ever write about women still married to men struggling with SSA?” (Same-Sex Attraction)

There are a couple of reasons I haven’t, to date.  The obvious one is that I don’t know many women who are knowingly married to men with SSA. And of those whom I do know, roughly 1/2 have ended up divorced.  One of the still-married ones is going to talk with me soon (after some family member’s surgery is completed and life slows down a bit for her) — and I expect to learn a lot from her.  Yes, the conversation will be made available here when we’ve had it.

The other reason is that I’m pretty sure my attitude isn’t one people want to hear. Why?

Well, in order to be successfully married, both parties have to be fully committed to the marriage:  the creation of a new family unit, the intimacy and the bonding and interdependency with this other person. Both have to take the responsibilities of their role in the marital union deadly seriously.

Now, my experience is that men with SSA have a hard time with responsibility and self-denial.  And self-denial is 100% of the nature of marriage, for both the spouses:  we serve the good of our spouse, not our own. We embrace a wholly new identity as the “one flesh” creation with our spouse. SSA men, in particular, have a hard time with this.  The SSA spouse has to be willing to suspend his own biases and prejudices in favor of this mystical reality of the nature of marriage. He has to reject the onslaught of messages that he’s “entitled” to gratification, or having his needs met, or that he’s somehow a privileged class because of his SSA.

Moreover, the SSA spouse has to be determined to renounce his “right” to have sex whenever and with whomever he wishes; he has to be fully engaged in  his volitional decision to be faithful to his marriage vows.  It’s been the experience of my friends and acquaintance whose husbands were ambivalent, who even flirted with ambivalence — they end up separating/divorcing as the husbands yield to the same-sex attraction. And the unhappiness and difficulties that precede that separation are just heart-breaking.  I believe a divorce from a SSA spouse is a lot more complicated than a regular divorce between OSA couples, especially when children are involved.

And when we live in a society that glorifies homosexuality and insists that sexual gratification is the most important part of life, it’s hard to defy those “norms” and to stand for traditional moral values and the sanctity of marriage.

And the straight spouse has to be even stronger, and wiser, and more mature than him. She has to accept the uncertainty that this man she’s giving herself to is going to be serious in his declarations and that he’s sincere in his desire to get well, to grow into a full union with her, spirit and intellect, not just the perfunctory sexual obligations.  She lives daily with the risk that he’s going to break over and fall. She lives with risks to her physical health if that happens.  She lives with enormous risk to her mind and heart, even if he doesn’t break over — because what if he never reaches a point of being able to really, truly, love her with a mature man’s love?

SSA men are deeply wounded. We might well call it a catastrophic wound, it goes so deep.  His sense of himself as a man, emotionally and spiritually and psychologically, far more than physically, is poor. He’s probably been belittled, he’s almost certainly been exploited by older men exploiting his need for affirmation in his maleness in order to gratify their lusts.  Emotionally, psychologically, his development is compromised, even more than an alcoholic’s (an alcoholic’s emotional maturation is arrested at the age he begins drinking). The behaviors  and the persona that help him get along within the distortions of the gay community are not authentically masculine but a false mix of the masculine and feminine.

He is probably very fragile, psychologically and emotionally. I keep hearing of anxiety disorder, depression, and narcissism being rampant in the gay community, and common among SSA men married to women.  Now, as women, it is our nature to care for others, to help, to serve. . . but often our care is exactly what our SSA husbands would resent.  They are afraid of failure, of their inadequacy . . .  but when we try to make things easier for them, when we try to “help” them, they hear only the amplification of their own self-doubts:  I am not good enough, I have to have a woman do all this for me.  I am weak and worthless. 

The hardest thing for a woman to do in the face of such hurt and fear is to stand back and to say, with firm conviction, “You can handle this. You’ve got this.”  Because, frankly, when we see him so anxious and uncertain, we don’t know whether he can or not. A straight man? No doubt! but the SSA man is somehow a more tender and fragile plant and our instincts move us to want to cushion this boy-man from the cold hard world and treat him more like an orchid when he needs to be exercising and developing some hardier stuff.

And when those instincts kick in and dictate the wife’s behavior, she’s met with his resentment and an even deeper threat that he’ll break over and go (back) to the gay lifestyle. Because he resents the echoes he hears in her of all the insults and belittlements of his lifetime. She’s supposed to be his #1 ally? but instead she’s as convinced of his helplessness as all the others in his life . . . and he will despise her as much as, or more even than himself.

So the straight wife has to be a diplomat and a therapist and have wisdom and flexibility and clarity of understanding . . . and I think it’s a helluva lot to expect of anyone. Especially when children enter the picture.  Which is fodder for another post.

God bless y’all.

 

 

 

On Love, Part Three

In my last post, I pointed out that loving turns a spotlight on us.

My marriage to TFP was a desert, emotionally. Sometimes I would try to contort myself into odd configurations to try to get his attention and make him take me seriously.  Sometimes I just fought him. All the things I was told a Christian marriage was supposed to be simply were not there for us, and I was resentful of his scorn and derision of those ideals, as well as of me.

When I was dating my second husband, a bad alcoholic and probably an undiagnosed bipolar, there were a lot of good things going on. What TFP had criticized and ridiculed about me, H2 found cheerful and welcoming and enjoyable.  When I cooked a meal, H2 appreciated it and told me so (and he ate with a hearty appetite).  When I re-arranged the furniture, he said it looked nice — not, “Why did you do that?”  There was a neglected, wounded domestic side to my nature, and H2 seemed to enjoy the fruits of my efforts in that direction, which flattered my feminine ego. The rest of my personality. . .  I was convinced (by TFP, in part) that my complexity was at least partially to blame for my inability to be happy; I was ready to narrow my life down, I thought, in order not to be alone.

But human nature won’t be narrowed down. H2 and I weren’t “equally yoked.”  H2 was straight, he thought I was bright and funny, he told me I was beautiful and he made me laugh and we had a lot of fun together — fishing, camping, and so on.  But I was better educated than he was, and after we were married, the flattery changed to complaining about the “junk” that marked some of the things I like best about myself:  my books, music, art.  He had bragged on how smart I was, before we were married, but afterward he found that threatening — he resented the clutter of my library and writing, in a temper would talk about backing a truck up to the back door and hauling off “all that junk.”  He decided he disliked my friends, even my blue-collar friends like himself, friends I’d had since high school; he only wanted to socialize with his family and friends. He was very demanding in that regard, and I lost touch with people whose company I had enjoyed, before. We had different religious and political values — again, revealed only after we were married.

So — you see, although I had a sort of love for H2, it wasn’t a mature or healthy sort of love for marriage. It was more along the lines of what C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, refers to as storge — an affection given to one’s family, or to a dependent or inferior.  It is, he said, the sort of affection a dog might have for the cat doing figure-8s around its legs, “although no self-respecting dog would ever confess to it.”  — or something along those lines; I don’t have the book in front of me.  It’s not at all the sort of respect-based love a woman ought to have for her husband.

Which brings me back to loving, and to what loving DF has taught me about the nature of love — and about myself. Love devoid of respect and esteem might do in some passing and mediocre, inessential relationships, but not in our most intimate, our deepest friendships. Let the romantic element of love be unrequited or unfelt in life’s various challenges; the respect and esteem can still stand strong and vigorous and healthy in the face of all things.

This is important. After the demoralizing experience of having been married to a man who couldn’t appreciate our femininity, who scorned us for being women — after trying to adapt to the impossible in hopes of becoming lovable in his sight — we need the experience of loving, and even more than of being loved, in order to be healed.  Loving wakes us up. It makes us whole. It reveals to us what is real and important about ourselves.  It shows us our dignity, our strength, our beauty, and our worth. It affirms our authenticity while leaving us free to discover just who we are.

After the destructiveness of past self-denial, loving gives us back to ourselves.

 

My Affirmation

I have said it before:  The suffering we experience, being married to a gay man, does not define us. It does not limit us.  It does not reflect who we are, or our worth.

I have said, and I repeat:  there is nothing that can happen to us that God can’t use for our greater good and for His greater glory.

It is not God’s will that we suffer these abusive relationships, but part of the manifestation of His love for us, and His power, is that he uses them — defies them! turns them inside out and upside down! — to open doors of beauty and goodness that surpass our greatest imaginings. Our lives, our world, become bigger, and more filled with beauty, than we could anticipate, even before our sorrows.

Forgiveness Is the Key

We’ve heard clever explanations of hanging on to a grudge, such as letting someone live rent-free in your head. That’s okay, so far as it goes –

But let’s take it further:  do you spend a lot of time thinking and/or talking about the bad hand you’ve been dealt by the Fates? the wrongs you’ve suffered? how unappreciated you are?  how you suffer?

We all know people who do. I know several on social media who rarely post anything other than the attention-seeking whining and complaining.  It’s boring.  And you know, I just don’t see how they can be happy people.

You want to be happy?  You want to be at peace?
1.  Give your whole life to God, and walk with Him.  That’s worthy of a series of posts, right there, because it’s important to understand Who God Is and what He requires of us as we live for Him and reflect His Divine Nature to the rest of the world. But nothin’, and I mean NOTHIN’! is better than that!

2.  Forgive the people who have hurt you.  Yeah it’l come round to taunt you from time to time.  Some times it’s a torment and it might not even be easy to recognize what’s going on.  It took me weeks, this winter, to figure out I was still living under the shadow of my parents’ choices.  But keep trying!

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the past or pretending it doesn’t matter (things that hurt you at the core of your being matter a lot).  I think of it as letting go of the very human desire to be avenged.  To get even. To persuade the person who hurt you to see the hurt and regret it and to make amends. Tha’s out of your hands and you’ll drive yourself batty, obsessing about it. God will rightly judge and hand out penalties in the Judgment (yes, I believe in Purgatory, and it’s a good, healthy place); our job is to release our need to be made right to and to go on living. Yes, 70×7 for the same offenses.

Learn, if you’re still stuck, to get out of being the victim or someone’s emotional punching bag. Or rescuer or one to hide behind. Forgiveness is NOT about letting other people willfully and viciously use and hurt us!  Become strong!  Learn to value yourself (get counselling if you find this difficult — not for the rest of your life, but for a few weeks/months while you find yourself)

3. Choose to be happy.  Count your blessings.  Can’t find any?  Start a notebook.  You got a roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Food in your belly? Start there.  Recognize daily beauty — the song of a mockingbird or the flash of blue of a bluebird, or the serene ambling across your yard of a doe and fawn — and make a note of it.  Note the brilliant colors you encounter in Nature.  Find beauty all around you.  Put a pot of flowers on the table (heading into spring, I splurged when I really couldn’t afford it on bunches of tulips from our local grocery store.  My spirit needed them more than my body needed the food, and I can’t begin to say how much they lifted my spirits, what pleasure they gave me for a week at a time).

Study other people.  Who do you admire and respect? Why? Reach for those qualities in yourself.
Who makes you feel happier for being around them? Why? Emulate them!

Do you have friends? Be grateful for them. Look for ways to be a blessing to them.

Is there someone you know who needs help? Help her. Take the neighbor to the doctor and the grocery store when she’s not able to drive.  Pick up an extra bunch of tulips to cheer her up, too — or, this time of year, it’s little pots of miniature roses that are so beautiful.

Cultivate the habit of smiling at people.

Discipline yourself to stop bellyaching over every little thing. Everyone knows your sufferings by now; no need to belabor the point.  Now let them see your more cheerful and good-natured side.

Find one thing nice to say to everyone.

Get out of yourself.  Yes, take some time to rest and to be quiet and alone. But — bit by bit — “This week I will do this one thing” — get out of the rut.  It really won’t take long before you really have found some unexpected peace and joy and have become, very truly, your better self.

I wonder . . .

Did our upbringing and/or our family dynamics contribute in any way to our being attracted to an SSA (Same-Sex Attracted) man?

I’ve seen indication that women on oral contraceptives tend to shun more traditionally masculine men in favor of more feminized men; I was on OCPs for a couple of years, in my teens, as a “treatment” for what turned out to be endometriosis.

Is there something that shapes us to be attracted to men who can’t really love us?

I’d sure like to hear other women’s stories. Do we follow some sort of pattern?

More to Life

 

The arrival of spring invites us to reflect on how wonderful the seasonal changes are. My Gratitude Journal has been filled primarily with a record of the horticultural indicators that winter really is ended and spring is at hand — important when our temps are still a bit below average, right now.

The natural year and its seasons finds their match in our interior lives as well. The winter of our souls comes to an end, for a time, at least, as well, as the lengthening and warming days revives our energy levels.  And we discover that winter, with its cold, dark, starkly bleak days, is a time of hidden growth, a preparation for the fruitfulness of the coming summer. Winter isn’t only about rest from heavy productivity, it’s also a time of living off of resources, processing what we harvested before, of being still and quiet in preparation for an outburst of glory, with the lengthening of days and the warming of our lives.  Winter is when soil rebuilds itself. Winter is the season that makes us wise. Winter is the time when we go deep.

But at last it’s spring. Days are much longer, and for the most part a bit warmer, too. A lot of the trees and flowers have been blooming for the past month or so, and after this week my area is forecast to be out of the freezing temps for our nighttime low, even though our daytime temps are still running a bit below average. My energetic neighbors have long since planted their early gardens: potatoes, onions, sweet peas, cabbages, etc. Now that Easter is at hand, they’re looking at getting the warm-weather vegetables in the ground, too.

This is also a season when my neighbors are burning brush pruned earlier in the year, or “prescribed burning” the undergrowth or wood or yard debris of prior years. It’s a time to clean up – not just to make things tidy and manageable in appearance; it removes the fuel for out-of-control wildfires, such as the ones that swept through this region and destroyed so many homes a little more than fifty years ago.

A new season of productivity is at hand, in our minds and hearts as well as in the natural world. I’m spring cleaning. I have joint issues, so it’s going embarrassingly slowly; what might take a friend or family member an hour to accomplish, in a whirlwind of activity, I took a four-day weekend to do, this week, one step at a time. But the results are satisfying. “Brick by brick,” that’s how Rome was built, and it’s how my life is being rebuilt, too.

Like my neighbor burning brush cuttings last week, I’ve been trying to purge household debris that makes it harder for me to navigate the life and work God has given me. I’ve been living out of plastic bins for too many years; this weekend those bins and a metal cabinet went to the trash bin and a lovely wooden cabinet replaced them. Those bins were cheap and they were adequate, but the new cupboard, an old wardrobe fitted out with shelves, not only holds more, it’s also beautiful. We need beauty.

I got other things done as well, that aren’t so immediately visible, but also are satisfying. Writing work, administrative work for an organization I volunteer with. Music prep for Eastertide.

It’s a time to re-evaluate all sorts of activity. I told a friend Sunday evening that I really need to cut back on my social media time; it isn’t just a time suck, it has also left me habituated to the quick sound bite and short bursts of “conversation” that become a habit, a habit that makes it harder to focus for these longer (!) efforts like a blog post — much more so, an article or book.

Cutting back — reducing or ejecting — the clutter and debris. Cultivating the things we decide matter most — the relationships we value, or the skills that God has given us to use in His service —

Cultivating our own character: resolving to purge weaknesses, faults, defects and to cultivate virtue.

This is a season for renewal.

 

 

Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)