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.