In a radio interview this morning with Kathryn Zox, the Washington DC "social worker with a microphone," a familiar question arose again. "Do any of these mixed-orientation marriages survive?"
Surprisingly, approximately 15% of these couples do stay together for a variety of reasons--social, religious, economic, family pressure. When my husband came out to me, we idealistically tried at first to salvage our relationship with an alternative "open marriage" agreement. When I finally asked myself, "What's in this for me?" we joined the 85% majority and I filed for divorce.
My Husband Is Gay opens with my personal story, but it draws its deeper wisdom from the collective experience of many other women I interviewed. Their histories illustrate identifiable steps toward resolution that are detailed through the core of the book and here in an earlier blog post.
After exploring all those stages leading to understanding and eventual healing, the book's final chapters pull together some profound life lessons, earned and learned through wrenching experience in a gay-straight marriage. Those people who achieved wholeness demonstrataed several common traits or practices that could be useful to men and women in any divorce situation. Here is a brief summary of their insights.
1. Say what you need, clearly and without apology. Even if your partner can't meet those needs, thinking them through and stating them aloud is an important step for your own progress.
2. Live in the present. All the resources we need to live fully are already within us, if we can wake up to our own natural intelligence and simply "be here now." The past and the future are only a thought. Only the present moment is real.
3. Recognize that closure is important. This doesn't mean that memory is erased. Rather, it implies a sense of completion, like closing one chapter and beginning a new one. We have two choices: Either keep replaying the storyline of loss, slipping deeper into bitterness, or start all over and recreate a new life. Let go of old baggage and find new activities and friends. Make conscious changes in many small ways that add up to deep renewal. A quote from A Course In Miracles was my mantra: "All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing."
4. See yourself as complete. One woman I interviewed summarized this perfectly. "I carry my happiness with me," she said. "I'm not looking for anyone to make me whole or full or complete. I'm working on doing that myself . . . . I don't see that I'm less than whole by not being part of a couple; I think being part of a couple is just a bonus."
5. Determine not to be a victim. Those who emerged intact showed not a trace of self-pity in their conversations with me. They have let go of bitterness and see their experience as a teacher, searching for the good that can grow out of pain. One woman said, "I've become again the person I was before I got married--and it feels good. I have transitioned to another place. Things are different and I want to enjoy the difference."
6. Forgive, in order to heal yourself. Protracted anger is suicidal. Release your rage and be free.
These are some of the major lessons I discovered through meeting so many strong men and women while writing two books. As I discovered these themes and threaded them through my writing, I became utterly convinced that our greatest power is to create change in our own lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson summarized it: "The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere." I know deeply that it is possible to endure a painful divorce and emerge whole. I have no regrets.