After years of writing about mixed-orientation relationships, I’m still learning. Sometimes the lessons come in curious ways. The latest one came overnight in an extremely vivid and detailed dream.
In the dream, I’m still married to Jim, my gay husband. Our two sons are grown and we are in our late 40’s. We are partners in our successful staffing business, respected leaders in community and church organizations, and immersed in a busy social life. We appear to be the “perfect couple,” though privately I suspect that, behind our glittery public façade, something critical is missing in our marriage. We are great business partners, but Jim seems distracted at home and our intimate relations lack real passion and have become routine. Jim has new friends that I don’t know and takes “solo vacations” occasionally. He goes out at night, sporting flamboyant clothes, driving his expensive new convertible. Sound familiar?
Up to this point, my dream has been a replay of what actually happened before my husband came out of the closet. I was simply replaying real experience in my sleep.
Now comes the curious part. I dream that Jim is having an affair, but not with a man. The break from our real history is that he’s seeing another woman. This is where “the teacher appears” in my dream. I feel nothing but FURY. I’m crazed with anger, hurling curses and insults, feeling utterly betrayed and rejected. I scream and rail and throw Jim out of the house. Then I collapse in exhaustion. I wake up sweating, feeling panicky.
That violent reaction in the dream is nothing like my actual waking experience when my husband told me he’s gay. Hiding behind the nightmare’s ferocity is my quivering, vulnerable, wounded heart, whispering, “You’re not good enough. You aren’t beautiful or sexy or desirable. Jim doesn’t love you because you’re a loser.” I felt like an abandoned child, overcome with a nauseating sense of utter inadequacy. My unbridled anger was born in my broken-hearted dearth of self-worth.
In real life, our history was quite different. Jim haltingly told me that he’s gay, a secret he’d struggled with during our whole time together. He had lived the lie his whole adult life. He felt helpless shame and was torn apart by his own dilemma—to stay and endure an inauthentic old age, or to tell his truth and suffer the consequences. What actually happened is that I responded at that moment with pity and compassion for his pain. Instead of screaming at him, I put my arms around him and cried with him. Even then, I knew that life had changed forever, and I was filled with grief, not fury. I wept for both of us.
As months passed after Jim came out, I learned much more about his double life and struggle to keep his clandestine affairs hidden. I had recurring bouts of anger and despondency through those months. It was the familiar “roller coaster” of feelings—hopeful one day and emotionally destitute the next. Our familiar, comfortable life was falling apart, and I grieved its loss as a death. But my major emotion was sadness, not anger. My real-life response to Jim’s truth was totally different from this illuminating nightmare.
My terrible dream did demonstrate something I never fully realized before. I experienced Jim’s revelation all over again, but my response wasn’t at all like our true history. In my dream, Jim isn’t gay. His lovers are other women. This critical difference attacked my deepest sense of worthiness. It devalued me as a person. “I’m not good enough.” I felt unloved and unlovable--utterly worthless! These devastating feelings caused me to strike back with incredible force.
What makes the nightmare worth sharing here is this: Competing with another woman for my husband’s attention and affection brought forth a violent counter-attack and destructive self-doubt. My self-esteem plummeted and I wanted to fight back. In contrast, I actually responded sympathetically because it wasn’t about me at all. Jim’s homosexuality is not my fault, nor is it his choice. Sexual orientation is inborn, not learned or chosen. If your mate is gay, it says nothing at all about your desirability or your worth. It is simply fact. You can’t change it, even if you are perfect in all respects. And your spouse can’t change it either.
Understanding this truth may help you avoid internalizing blame and shame and loss of self-respect when your spouse comes out. Your incompatibility with your mate has nothing to do with your own attractiveness or value as a human being. Knowing this at a deep level could open your heart--even to the possibility of empathy, friendship, and eventual forgiveness for the earlier betrayal. It might allow you to let go of a past marred by deception and heal into confident optimism.
Years have passed since my husband told me he’s gay. For most of the time since, I have urged other straight spouses to let go of self-blame. There is nothing anyone can do to change sexual orientation--yours or your spouse’s. Instead, change what you can in your unique situation, accept what you have no control over, and move toward the next stage of your life in the most positive way you can manage. Time can heal even deep wounds. If you can eventually forgive the hurt you’ve endured, you truly are restored and whole.