“He flung himself from the room, flung himself on his horse, and rode madly off in all directions.”
Stephen Leacock, Literary Lapses, 1910.
When your spouse comes out, it’s a dramatic, confusing, often traumatic time. There is no certainty, no obvious direction. What’s your next step? How will this event affect your future? Desperately seeking answers, your efforts are scattered. Like Leacock’s character, you fling yourself onto the nearest horse and “ride madly off in all directions.”
Where is a consoling sense of well-being to be found? What action will lead to renewed security and self-esteem? There is no single answer because every straight spouse is a unique individual in a particular situation. Still, the basic facts are the same: One is gay, one is straight, and the discovery of that difference is a significant game-changer. For most couples, it means parting and subsequently reconfiguring separate lives. Based on the experience of many mixed-orientation couples, some guidelines do emerge to move more confidently into the next stage and even discover joy on the way.
Defy defeat! After the initial trauma of separation, look at all possible options for yourself as a single person. A mate coming out is only one event in one's life, though a major one. It is not the end. You still have a future. Approach that future with strong determination to overcome this catastrophe and to discover something even better.
Armed with a firm sense of purpose, take a mental step back and look objectively at your entire situation. It is essential to examine every aspect, with no distortion from emotion or resentment. When you feel calmer, compile three lists of the bare facts. The first is your list of ongoing resources and assets. Do you have a home? A car? A job or other stream of income? Do you have a support group of family or friends? What are your sources of security as a single person?
The second list defines your obvious external needs and obligations. Consider your finances, employment, housing, health issues, insurance, transportation, and so on. Will you stay in the family home? Go back to school? Find a new job? Move out of state? Get help from relatives? What about the kids? Try to list all of your commitments, needs, and responsibilities that relate to others. With this list in hand, determine a first step and formulate a preliminary plan. Examining the reality of your predicament as dispassionately as possible lays groundwork for constructive action.
The final list is equally important for transitioning into a new life: Your emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. This inventory may be the most difficult, for it requires honest soul-searching, a thorough examination of your deepest inner life. Ask yourself questions like these: What makes me feel most content? What are my core beliefs? What fundamental values do I hold? On a scale of one to ten, what is most important to me? What would it take for me to feel fulfilled and satisfied?
Seed of Success
These long lists may feel overwhelming at first, with a daunting array of necessary responsibilities. The whole situation may seem hopeless—but it is not! You are more than the roles you’ve played in the past for mate, family, co-workers, and friends. You have within the power to overcome your challenges. Deep in your mind and heart, you have untapped strength. An innate knowing is your seed of success. It is your connection to a greater whole—the entire community of other straight spouses who have survived this drama and achieved even better lives. After the initial hurt subsides, a new reality can be realized. Many former “victims” say that their mate’s coming out was life-changing--a catalyst for something much better. Perhaps it is a new career, a happier marriage, a calmer home life, or improved self-esteem. Going through the fire opened new possibilities for many.
Aspiration for Joy
Survival is one thing, joy is quite another. But joy is within your reach. Focus now on yourself. What would make you happy today? Let go of the life you’d planned and reimagine your new one. Dream the life you really want! Determine what is required to achieve it and devise a strategy to move toward it. Though your eye is on the ultimate goal, it’s encouraging to remember that glimpses of happiness needn’t be deferred. Aspire to the top, but treasure the surprises of taking each step in that direction. Savor the journey. Open your eyes to beauty and goodness in ordinary moments of each day. Meet each revelation with gratitude as you seek to discover your bliss.
You’re Not Alone
Perhaps the major lesson from the straight spouse experience is the discovery that there is nothing truly unique about your situation. You are not the only one who has experienced this “detour,” nor will you be the last. Knowing that you have comrades on this path offers tremendous relief and hope. If others have lived it, learned from it, and gone on to happier times, why not you? You can get through to the other side—wiser and stronger. For some real-life examples of this point, watch the short video prepared for the Straight Spouse Network by Ken Rinehart. (Click the link at the end of this article.) It demonstrates the importance of peer support.
Though a mixed-orientation marriage presents unexpected challenges for both partners, inevitable changes that follow need not ruin either spouse’s life. Armed with accurate information, an open mind, and realistic goals, protected by strong determination and clear-seeing wisdom, both partners can let go of the past and devise a new direction. Unlike Leacock's crazed horseman, flying off in all directions, you'll have a clear path to follow. On that journey, may all discover joy!
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For a realistic affirmation that there is reason for hope, please watch Ken Rinehart’s new video. https://vimeo.com/89183091