I was recently invited to participate in a private Facebook group for straight spouses in Australia. Since I live in the United States and most of my contacts are in this country, it has been interesting to read accounts from “down under” of people dealing with mixed orientation relationships. Most of the FB participants are women in the early stages of recovery after their husbands have come out.
Many are mothers with children still at home, others are middle-aged or older. They share day-to-day disappointments and progress, as well as moments of despair or hope—the mixed bag of emotions familiar to all straight spouses, no matter where they live. They ask and answer questions about depression, anger, spousal abuse or subterfuge, finances, health concerns, how to help their children understand, and on and on. They live in different cities, but they support each other effectively via their Internet friendships.
The similarity of their experience to that of Americans is real and not surprising. In matters of love and betrayal, we are much alike. I expected that parallel, but the Aussies’ raw openness is different. They share daily detailed accounts of emotional wounds with utter candor, with no hesitation or embarrassment. They share deeply and don’t mince words. They celebrate small wins--“I got a new haircut, shorter than my husband liked.” They also reveal rage and despair—“This is not worth the effort.”
Through the years, straight spouses from three continents have contacted me, seeking reassurance and guidance as they regain their balance and sense of self. Regardless of their religion, culture, native language, or home country, there is a recognizable pattern in their experience. With some individual variation, they move through the phases of recovery described in an earlier post on this Website (“Stages of Recovery,” May 28, 2008). After the initial shock of disclosure, they may have an odd sense of relief (Whew! It wasn’t me!), followed by a mixture of denial and confusion that may include elements of self-blame, as well as sympathy for the gay partner’s pain. After facing their new reality, the next stage is fraught with danger: Anger or rage, grief, and despair. In extreme cases, violence or self-harm occur. Some spouses give up completely; a few succumb to addictions or choose suicide. These typical reactions have occurred over and over, colored by the particular culture of the country.
Hope is not lost, however. Though the painful earlier stages are all part of the process of recovery, occurring and recurring in a maddening cycle, they are not interminable. A trigger event usually creates a turning point that leads to acceptance of what cannot be changed. Recognition of their new reality opens the ground for eventual forgiveness and discovery of new meaning beyond one’s small self.
None of this process is guaranteed, nor is it a mechanical evolution with certain closure. In order to move through it successfully, support from knowledgeable, understanding peers is almost essential I cannot imagine surviving my own transition into independence and a rewarding new career without the early encouragement of a straight spouse peer group. In face-to-face meetings, I found comfort and reassurance that I was not alone. I discovered that straight spouses are legion. We exist in every country and somehow find individual pathways toward healing.
Now that the Internet is pervasive, our virtual contact through social media seems to work as well. The Australian Facebook community for straight spouses is one excellent example. This is therefore an enthusiastic endorsement of peer support and the power of our own words to heal ourselves and each other. Keep talking, people! You can get through this!