Tell me about it: Picking up the pieces after spilling the beans about my gay husband
Q I suspect that my husband of 10 years is secretly gay. Well, truth be told, I know deep down that my husband is gay. I’ve known it for a long time, and I’m mostly okay with it.
Without going into graphic detail, his preferences in the bedroom run strongly, nay exclusively, towards practices usually associated with gay sex. But I’m nothing if not versatile, and have had no problem receiving and giving him what he needs in that department. I don’t feel degraded as some women might; in fact, I really do enjoy it most of the time. He’s caring and sensitive enough to know when I’m not in the mood for that and never pushes it or pressurises me. He was also versatile enough to revert to a more conventional approach for a while when we were trying to conceive each of our two beautiful children. Other than that, my battery-powered friend takes up the slack when necessary, with his agreement, so I’m not in the least frustrated.
He’s a great father, an excellent provider for our family, and a true friend and partner to me in every way. So if it ain’t broke . . .
On a recent girls’ night out with a few of my oldest friends, we all had way too much to drink, everyone was oversharing about their bedroom issues (husbands starting to shirk their conjugal duties and so on). Stupidly, I ended up confiding for the first time about my situation. The problem is that, since then, they simply won’t drop the subject. They warn me that he’s probably cruising and putting my health at risk of STIs. They berate me for enabling him to live an inauthentic life, actually forcing him to maintain the deception by not setting him free to be true to himself. They question the impact it’ll have on our two boys when it all inevitably comes out. They paint a nuclear scenario that involves him eventually abandoning us for another man. They make their pity and distaste so painfully obvious.
The uncharitable part of me suspects they’re projecting their anxieties about their own husbands’ waning prowess and/or lack of interest. Unconventional our situation may be but, as I said, my needs are not unattended to. He has no problem, just not by thinking about me, or any other woman for that matter. Or so I suspect, anyway.
Are they doing me a service by trying to shake me out of my complacency? Should I just tell them to butt out and mind their own business if they want to keep me as a friend? Am I delusional to be fine with all this?
A Looking back, you probably wish you hadn’t let your secret spill out on a boozy night, but your impulse to “come out” to your friends shows your need to share it. I’m sorry that your friends hurt you with their unhelpful and judgmental responses, even if they meant well. None of us wants “pity and distaste” from our friends. Your husband seems to have got more sympathy from them than you have.
Even on the simplest level, STIs, they don’t seem to realise that heterosexual husbands could easily get HIV if they were unfaithful through casual sex. The stereotype that to be gay is to be diseased expresses, as you have sensed, their disapproval.
But you say you have a loving relationship with your husband, who cares about your needs and your children’s welfare. This makes it all the more painful to address the issue of his sexuality and where it might lead.
You are convinced “deep down” your husband is gay. However, I sense that you haven’t openly discussed his sexual orientation with him, so how do you know for sure?
Psychotherapist Maggie O’Haire advises you not to make assumptions: “There may be several signs that point in that direction, but until she knows for sure, do not assume. She will be putting unnecessary strain on herself, family and friends.”
But you have asked me to look at this from the perspective that your husband is indeed gay. You have made all kinds of accommodations, on the most intimate level, to remain married because of the emotional and, perhaps, financial security it gives you and your children. Healthy mutual reliance tips into co-dependency when one partner supports the existence of a relationship by covering up for the other person.
In your case, this means enabling your husband to remain “in the closet” by presenting a traditional heterosexual marriage to the world. On this point, your friends are right to be concerned, though they shouldn’t blame you. You have adapted as many women have and would in your situation.
While it may be difficult to hear, O’Haire believes: “The bottom line is an after-effect of using ‘closets’ to deal with questions such as ‘Who am I?’ In this case, the husband is in the closet and the wife is the codependent to the husband’s closeted existence. The wife has helped her husband construct a closeted lifestyle that is fundamentally unhealthy for both of them.”
It is difficult to see a situation as “fundamentally unhealthy” when you have invested so much in it and when it has many positives, but are you sure all your needs are really being met?
Not uncommon situation
Yours is “a real and not uncommon situation”, says psychotherapist Christopher Murray. “I have worked with gay men who have lived in heterosexual relationships and, at some point, have come out, usually leading to the ending of the marriage and people going their separate ways. It is a very complex piece to begin to give advice without knowing more about the situation.”
But as your need to find understanding shows, you have had the difficult experience of carrying your suspicions about your partner without support. This “can eat away at self-confidence” as you deal with the pressure of keeping everything together for the sake of children, parents, friends, work and so on, says Murray.
All of us, in various situations, keep things to ourselves in order to maintain the status quo, because the path of least resistance seems easier. But we may reach a point of diminishing returns, especially once the closet door has opened.
“Now that she has talked to her friends, it is becoming harder to contain. It is as if she is wondering whether to ‘come out’ to her husband but doesn’t know if she wants to be shaken out of her complacency,” Murray suggests.
Talking openly with your husband about this is probably the most frightening choice because it could mean upheaval and the prospect of losing the man you love.
Another choice is to do nothing and hope things settle. An inbetween choice, which would require you to do no more than share with someone who can empathise and help, would be short-term counselling, not because there’s something wrong with you psychologically; there isn’t. You just need someone who is there for you and outside the situation.
You can tell your friends to “butt out” more easily if you’re getting support elsewhere. If I were you, I would certainly ask them to keep it to themselves and allow you and your husband to deal with it in your own way.
I understand why you want to stay with him, but remember that, while you feel this way now, you don’t know what process your husband is going through and where it may take him.
You can give yourself a different kind of security by taking control of the situation through addressing it, rather than living with the deep-down insecurity of not knowing.
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