“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.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to a Young Woman in Crisis

Dear Friend,

I am friends with your husband through an internet venue, and he’s told me that things are pretty rocky between the two of you right now. He’s also told me a bit about his past, so I feel so many things I wish we could sit down and talk about, you and I.

First of all, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through this scenario can even begin to guess what it’s like for us. Parents, siblings, best friends. . . unless they’ve been through and experienced our particular, warped dynamic, they just can’t understand. No matter how much they believe they do.

You’re a bit ahead of the game from most of us, because your husband told you, before you were married, what happened to him when he was younger and what a painful wound that has left in his sense of himself. Still, until you lived with him, you couldn’t be sure . . . also, as you told someone else, you felt coerced into the marriage, regardless.  So you felt cornered, then, and you feel cornered now.

So.  Right now you have two choices: to go, or to stay. Sounds and looks simple, but it’s not. No matter which you choose, you’re facing a frightening set of risks.  Let’s talk about those.

First of all, women do choose to stay with a gay/ssa spouse. Sometimes, it’s easier, especially for older women who are not emotionally up to starting from scratch, after years not having to be self-supporting, or who don’t want to see their families fractured into bits. There’s a bit of safety in hanging on to the hurts and disappointments and the unhappiness we already know, rather than facing the hurts and fears and risks we aren’t sure we can survive.

No one will blame you if you stay.

Also, if you stay, you might have a stabilizing and redemptive effect on Hubby, and that’s not a bad thing.

However, if you stay you are going to have to learn not to play passive-aggressive games with your husband to punish him for not being quite who you wanted him to be.  You’re going to have to take the initiative to grow up, to build a life of your own within the marriage that brings you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.  You’re going to have to learn to live your life, not be a passenger being carried where you do or don’t want to go.  You’re going to have to take some risks, and some of your efforts will be disappointing and possibly embarrassing, and you’re just going to have to accept that.

You’re going to have to own your depression and face it and work to master it.  You’re going to need to make choices about independence and self-fullfillment even within the marriage that, so far, you’ve been hiding from making.

If you stay, there are things you will lose.  You will not have the sort of husband you thought you’d one day have; yours has too many scars in too many places, and he has cultural shaping that probably can’t be altered.  You will have to come to accept your husband for who he is, not resent that he’s not who you wanted him to be.  Give your disappointments a proper funeral, mourn them for a day or two, then get over it.  This is your choice, now; you are not a victim of someone else’s choices any longer.

You say you don’t want to have children with a man who has same-sex attraction, so you have opted for a celibate marriage.  You will have to come to terms with that decision, too; it’s a painful one for a woman who’s always dreamed of having a family. Frankly, I think it’s the only responsible choice you can make when you aren’t sure how the ground is going to rumble and roll, next, or what part of your life might possibly collapse around your head. But he’s not happy about it, and he also has rights for marital affection and intimacy — even if it’s only “of a sort.”  You’re going to have to face that conflict head on and there isn’t an easy resolution for it, even using Natural Family Planning diligently. Again, you’re going to have to be an adult, not a dependent.

Of course, many of these issues are going to be with you if you decide to go.

If you go, you can’t just go home and expect your parents to take care of you.  First thing you know, you’ll be finding yourself “coerced” into another marriage, and another man might not have as many good things going for him as DH does now.  Face that.

If you go, you need to prepare sensibly, build yourself up to be self-reliant, and then step out in courage and determination, and deal with things.  You’ll need to face and fight back against your depression.  Granted, SOME of it will probably evaporate when you’re no longer in the ssa-marriage; but some of it will haunt you for the rest of your life and you might as well start learning to get the mastery of it now, before you’re utterly and completely crippled by it.

If you go, you have to own responsibility for making this choice.  It is, after all, your choice.  Don’t blame him – don’t punish him. Simply own your choice as your choice and be done with it.  Because, Dear, face it: under other circumstances, you’d probably like your DH a lot.  There’s a lot about him to like. And to respect. And admire.  So look honestly at who he is and admit you’re going because you want a different sort of life.

No one who has a clue what you’re going through will fault you for going.

And the rest don’t matter. They can take a flying leap.

You’re going to have to be able to grow up enough to be able to say that, by the way, and mean it.  Regardless of your choice.

Dear, you were a child, emotionally, when you went from your parents’ home to your marital home.  You cannot remain a child any longer.  DH has in many ways treated you as a child – I fault him for this, but I fault you for playing into that role.  You’ve both got a lot of growing up to do.

But you can do it, and I want you to know, I am rooting for you. Whatever you choose.

Much love,
E.