This blog is from the heart, informed by having been married to a closeted gay man and understanding how that experience changed the trajectory of my life, both as a woman and as a psychotherapist. Please add to the conversation and "Follow" if you're so inclined; all voices are welcome!

Monday, October 7, 2013

A gay husband's story

Larry is someone whose friendship and counsel I have come to treasure over the past year. He is also a gay man. A formerly married gay man. The enemy, right?

Not at all. As Larry and I have gotten to know one another, I have spoken with him often about the straight spouse issue, and even dragged him along to a showing of the documentary "I Thought It Was Forever." While I think much of it has been eye-opening for him, I have also experienced his willingness to understand "the other side." He truly had no idea of the damage done to so many people.

Our Str8 experiences have been the same AND different. As one person very eloquently described it, "It's a death. Some are car crashes and some died in their sleep." Some of us have experienced absolute emotional and financial torture, and others, like Larry's ex, have experienced caring and genuine remorse.

So, fellow Str8s, I am asking you to read Larry's guest blog post with as much objectivity as you can muster. He is not the enemy. And his experience might help inform ours.






“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do.
The hard part is doing it.”    -- H. Norman Schwarzkopf

I met my wife at work.  We had a pretty instant connection.  By the time I proposed all of our co-workers knew we would be married, they were just waiting on us to figure it out.  Our wedding ROCKED!  Our friends and family still talk about how much fun that day was, and how much joy was shared.  I still count it as one of the two best days ever in my life.  We waited 5 years to start our family; taking the time to build our relationship, and enjoy life as a couple.  The birth of our daughter is the other best day ever in my life.

Yes. I loved her.  Genuinely.  Affectionately.  Deeply.  And honestly.  There was absolutely no deception.

So…what happened?  

In the fall of 2003, I met Mark.  He was engaging, smart, sophisticated, educated, and he made me laugh.  I loved making him laugh because he had this amazing smile that would also light up his eyes.  We talked about religion, politics, social issues, pop culture, the works.  I wanted to be around him as much as possible.  In short, Mark is the first man I fell in love with.  And I fell HARD. 

How did I fall in love with another man?  Why?  Why at 38 years old?  Why did I not feel that kind of attraction before?  What do I do now?  I could only answer the last question:  Therapy. 

I started seeing a counselor very quickly.   Couples therapy?  No.  I knew the problem wasn't with our relationship, it was with me. I’m practical that way. My wife didn't know what the problem was at all, just that something was wrong with her marriage and her husband.  But a couple months after I started therapy, she asked me, “Would it be OK if I saw a counselor on my own?”

Yes.  A thousand times yes.  Of course she should be able to speak with someone.  Why should anyone be forced to suffer alone?  I immediately gave her the insurance information so she could call for a referral to a therapist. 

Married men make a lot of different choices when they get to this point.  Some try bury the experience as a ‘one-time thing’.  Some will continue to explore their same-sex attraction on the side while still trying to uphold the façade as a married man.  For me, both of those options would be deceitful.  That’s something that my wife didn’t deserve, and I couldn’t live with. 

We were in the family room one night sitting on opposite ends of the sofa; dinner was over, the dishes cleaned, and our daughter had been tucked in for the night.  I picked up the remote control and turned off the television.  I turned my body so I was sitting cross-legged sideways to face her.  “I know you’ve been wanting to know what’s going on with me,” I said.  I was ready for disclosure.  But before I could get the next word out, she spoke up and said, “Yes.  But I’m not ready to hear it yet.”

It would be another two months before we had the conversation we both knew was coming.  What I would discover later is that her counselor had her running through scenarios.  “What if your husband _______?”  Then they would discuss what possible outcomes might be.  One of those scenarios was in fact, “What if your husband says he’s gay?” 

Our separation and divorce were not unlike many others in the same situation.  I will say, however, that the journey we both went through, although painful, may have been mitigated because of the help my wife received BEFORE I made my announcement.  My pronunciation was not the utter shock experienced by many wives.  Oh yes, there was hurt, there was grief, there was stress, there was shame, there was a sense of loss, and there was anger that would manifest and surface years after our separation.  But the road we traveled was much less rocky because we BOTH were prepared for the journey ahead.

Every married couple who faces this situation will face circumstances that are unique to them.  No two people are the same, and no two married couples are alike.  Your journey through this pain is real, and unique to you.  But if I may offer experience as guidance, I would say these two things to any gay spouse considering coming out:

First, it’s not all about you.  You’re about to make a significant change in your life, but if you think it only affects you, you’re delusional.  You had better be considering his or her feelings and the emotional toll of your actions.  While it’s easy to get lost in your own issues, the fact remains that you are also only ½ of a partnership.  One is not any more important to consider than the other. 

Second, be as supportive of your straight wife/husband as you want them to be of you.  Do not walk away from his/her hurt in order to focus solely on yours.  You are only hurting yourself more in the long run when you withdraw and isolate yourself from your spouse.  You may not yet be able to come out, but you CAN, and should, converse with your spouse.  Tell him/her that you’re unhappy.  Tell him/her that you’re discussing it with your counselor.  Tell him/her that you’re not ready to reveal the issue, but promise you will.  And encourage him/her to reach out for support if they feel it would be beneficial.

You still have a responsibility to fulfill.  Recognizing that fact and facilitating support for the other half of your relationship is simply the right thing to do.

To you, the straight spouse, I offer the reassurance that you are not alone.  I did love my wife very much.  I tried to do the “right thing” as much as was humanly possible.  I did not always succeed.  It was not easy.  But seeking out help and support was absolutely the key. 


Whatever comes your way, whatever your outcomes, I hope all of you in a mixed-orientation marriage will find genuine peace and happiness.  

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.




Friday, May 10, 2013

Straight Spouse radio -- May 12, 2013 at 10 pm EST

I will be Bonnie Kaye's guest on her internet radio talk show Sunday evening, May 12th at 10 pm EST. We will be talking about the healing journey of straight spouses. Please call in and join the conversation; all voices are welcome!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bonnielkaye/2013/05/13/straight-wives-talk-show


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand hurts

We have a little members-only virtual clubhouse where fellow str8s meet to swap stories; vent frustrations; share the devastating pain of an unwanted, unplanned divorce; tell the occasional off-color joke; give and receive virtual hugs; commiserate about learning to date again; and generally just hang out and talk about the shared experience of having unknowingly married a closeted LGBT person. With a membership of over 450 people, it's certain that most of us will never meet face to face. But the bond isn't any less strong simply because of the electronic venue; in fact, our common str8 experience makes for an immediate sense of "knowing", like running into another American in Greece and suddenly that person is your new best friend. No backstory needed; I know you.

Today people posted pictures of themselves and their spouses, pre-divorce. I'm not sure who started it, but by the end of the evening there were over fifty pictures posted, including one of my favorite photos from my own wedding day. Lots of happy, smiling faces. Wedding photos, recommitment ceremonies, vacations, new babies, father-daughter dances...they could be pictures of any family, anywhere. Except for the accompanying captions:

"This was taken one week before she left me for another woman."

"At a friend's wedding. Found out later he hooked up with one of the waiters at the reception."                       

"He liked to take pictures with everyone; I was just another casual person to take a picture with."

"This was on our honeymoon. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world."

"With our daughter before a dance. He had been dating his boyfriend for three months at that point, unbeknownst to me."

"Holding our baby. I found out right before I gave birth that he had been soliciting sex from men online."

"This was during a short-lived happy period. He lost a damn good woman."

"This was on my graduation day. He came out less than a month later."

"This is the picture he used to meet men online."

"I took this picture on a romantic lunch date. He used it on a gay dating site less than three weeks later."


And my own description of that favorite photo: "It's interesting...I'm kissing HIM, while his hands are not touching me at all."


I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was exactly about the photo-sharing that got to me. It's not about TGT (that's "the gay thing" in str8 shorthand). I understand the closet, I feel deep compassion for the struggle, I appreciate the desire to live the "acceptable" life and have the husband/wife, the 2.3 kids and the golden retriever. I really do get that, and work hard in both my personal and professional lives to promote equality. No one should have to pretend to be someone or something that they aren't.

That said, I found myself feeling emotionally triggered as I scrolled through the pictures again and again. As I sat here struggling to find just the right words to describe what I was feeling, another club member beat me to it with her very honest and to-the-point post:

"It is really interesting to see all the photos, but it is also sad because not one of you in those pics thought that the person you fell in love with would one day end up gay. Right now I am angry at him and all of them for the hurt and the pain that they have put us through. I am angry that so many of us are struggling financially because of their [behavior]. I am angry because so many of us are on meds because of the sh*t we have gone through. I am angry because many of us were made to feel sexually inadequate because of their inability to be honest with themselves. Lastly, I am angry because so many children have been hurt by this. We also deserve happiness and peace in our lives."

And that, for far too many members of our not-so-little club, is a pretty clear snapshot of the other side of this unhappy closet.

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Piece by peace

by guest blogger Ken Rinehart
Last weekend I bought a mandolin. For about two months I have been coveting this beautiful work of art. Saturday the guy in the combo department at the local music store decided he wanted to deal.
The significance it represents in my life is daunting. This August it will be two years since my wife walked out of my life and started her new life with another woman. At one point I had $15 to my name, so I sold my prized possession    my mandolin    for $75.
Since August of 2011 I have experienced the death of my father and the death of my sheepdog. I lost faith in my church and beliefs I held strongly about my purpose on this earth. I lost some of my dear friends, lost close contact with much of my extended family. The world and my understanding of it was squarely upside-down. I sold most of my possessions, or at least the ones I could get some quick cash for.

I had no choice but to just look up. Looking down took me to an even more crippling place. In some strange way it was learning to totally reconstruct my life in ways I had never imagined or even knew existed or knew how to start.
Ironic as it may seem, I am grateful for that experience. Truly grateful.
The trial of forgiveness is something that has never been challenged in my life. No one has ever taken everything I have given and piled it up in my room and said "no thanks" so briskly and rapidly as they exited my life without explanation or seeming concern about my well-being. I would like to say I understand. I would like to say "all is forgiven."
Phrases have come with this journey:
   Everything happens for a reason.
   You got a lot on your plate.
   God doesn't give us anything we can't handle.
Those are from people that don't know or understand what this felt like. Just as I will never know the grief of losing a child. What it's like to suffer some traumatic loss. To truly know you have to experience it, heart and mind.
I asked someone early on how is it possible to be a victim in this without adopting a victim mentality. She said, "Being a victim is a state of mind you put yourself in." "Being a victim of circumstance is just a fact in this scenario."
Many things have happened. Numerous things have unfolded. Unconditional love from strangers that I never had experienced before nor thought was possible. Development of inner strength that to this day is surprising and disarming. Falling in love again, only this time feeling more like an adolescent with higher stakes.
All of these things and more only started to unfold when I lost the story of "someone did something to me." Life changed. I am not entitled to know the story that someone doesn't want to honestly and openly tell me. It's silly to expect someone to act the same toward you who is preoccupied with their new truths unfolding, truths that go deep into the recesses of denying their sexuality. I have found it is true of only a few of extraordinary people. The honesty, the openness of moving through and out of a marriage with kindness and compassion toward one another. It's hard enough with two people without the twist of same sex attraction.
Weeks ago my new love was having a heart procedure. Side by side her gay husband and I stood  in the hospital waiting room, waiting to get an update. Our mutual love for her and our deep friendship is something that is hard to not share with those that don't understand anything outside of a "traditional family." What was and is true is that we don’t need to. We know what this is.
I bought the mandolin. I walked out of the hospital with my new family. I am surrounded by so much love from friends I can hug daily, and those I have never met.
For this, too, I am grateful. Truly grateful. 
To those that reflected back to me who I really am. To those who have graced the path with their stories, their experiences, guidance, and wisdom. To those who allowed me into their lives when they were at their weakest points. To my true love who appeared and blindsided me when I wasn't looking, and embraced me in that parking lot in Chicago where life changed on its axis. To the god within and without that never abandoned me even when I thought I lost faith in the ever-present light and goodness.
Although I never thought I would say or write these words, I am grateful to my ex-wife for loving me the best way she knew how, and starting me on this journey as she started hers. I hope and pray that one day we will be able to talk about both of our journeys with each other, in peace.

**Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com. For a support group, either in person or online, contact the Straight Spouse Network at www.straightspouse.org.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sunday on the radio with Bonnie...

...with apologies to Stephen Sondheim.

On Sunday, March 24th, I was a guest on Bonnie Kaye's Blog Talk Radio show, "Straight Wives Talk Show." In preparation for the show, I had the opportunity to spend nearly an hour on the phone chatting with Bonnie, who is a fellow therapist and straight spouse. She has been offering therapy services to straight spouses since 1984; ironically, that is the same year I met my ex. I can't tell you how invigorating it is to talk with other str8 therapists who are doing this work; it's a small but powerful sorority.

Just like running into a fellow American in another country, when communicating with other str8s there is a certain knowledge of that other person, a connection that is immediate and unspoken. I. Know.You. No explanations, no painful questions, no raised eyebrows. 

Then the questions come: How long have you been doing this work? When did your husband come out? Have you remarried? Do you tell clients your story? What do think about this? What do you believe about that? 

Back in the Stone Age when my ex-husband came out, there were no internet groups, no str8 face-to-face support groups, no therapists that I knew of who had ever heard of such a thing, no anything. In the words of Jean Gochros Schaar, PhD, in her 1989 book "When Husbands Come Out of the Closet", there was only profound isolation, or what she so eloquently calls "a terrible sense of lonely uniqueness."

I hope that you will listen to my chat with Bonnie, and let us know if we can be of help, whether it's through resources and referrals, professional expertise, or simply hard-won wisdom. Your thoughts or comments are welcomed. The show can be heard at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bonnielkaye/2013/03/25/straight-wives-talk-show.

Remember, you don't have to go through this experience alone. 

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime/Skype session with Kimberly Brooks, LPC, please go to my website at www.kimberlybrookslpc.com. For a support group, either in person or online, contact the Straight Spouse Network at www.straightspouse.org.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A letter to my gay husband

Recently, I was inspired to include voices of other straight spouses on my blog. I became aware that sharing our stories with each other, while helpful, just isn't enough. We already know all too well the pain and devastation of a spouse coming out. My hope is that you, the reader, will share this with others. Believe me, whether you know it or not, you have a straight spouse in your life. 


                                                                   Letter to my Gay Husband

The moment is both crystal clear and a haze of emotions. That moment. That moment at 8 am on an August morning when you hesitated and took a breath for a millisecond after telling me what bills you had paid and how D’s college tuition was being covered. The moment that is the bridge between the safe and comfortable world that I knew and the one that I live in now.  The moment that preceded the 9 words that shattered my dreams for the future and my memories of the past.  “And, I need to tell you that I’m gay.” 

Those words were the gateway to the many months I spent walking through fog in an upside down world, holding all known emotions side by side in my heart - anger, compassion, sadness, love, devastation, strength, resolve, darkness, self-love, self-loathing, fury, and peace. At the time, of course, I believed that had you been more thoughtful in your disclosure, or had you better anticipated what I might need and want, it would have “felt” better. In hindsight, I know that nothing could have diminished the pain and disorientation I have come to embrace as my own as a result of your truth.

We have talked more intimately in the past 6 months than we had during our 28 years of marriage; hundreds of hours by my estimation.  Almost certainly it is because of my need to know the watershed of thoughts, feelings and experiences that you kept hidden for all of these years. I wanted to know that part of you too. I have heard all of the things you have shared. Some of them have helped me believe that you truly love me, in your way. Some of them have helped me understand the myriad of forces that enable men like you to live a life-time trying to suppress or manage their same-sex attractions for the sake of normalcy. But when all is said and done, while you transition to living your life authentically, I still have a broken heart.  You focus on happy years we had together. I focus on this less; I didn't want a marriage that was going to end. I am trying to forgive you. I am trying to let go of the anger.   I am trying to give primacy to the love we still share. It is hard.

In Senegal’s Maison des Esclaves (The House of Slaves) the door to the quarters of captured slaves is known as “Goree”, The Door of No Return.  That is our door. Every possible path to the relationship we knew is blocked. Although we have tried and tried to navigate around this, to see what we can work out, in reality there’s no way back.  

I can’t imagine having survived the past 6 months without the support of other str8 spouses that are ahead of me in this journey. Sadly, there are hundreds of us.  We, collectively, can validate the feelings of pain, betrayal, deceit, loss that each of us experience as we let go of the person we loved so deeply but could not keep.

I know that you are sorry. I thank you for having been so present for me as I process where we are.  You have stayed with me and with our 4 boys.  But in the end, none of it matters.  I love you. I always will.  I only wish that you had loved me enough to have been more careful with my heart.   ~ Anonymous

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Distance

Here are some wise words, posted by a fellow straight spouse. 

Some of these suggestions are the exact opposite of what we want to do, what we're drawn to do.

Remaining engaged can feel comforting in the short-term, but ultimately it just prolongs the pain, especially if our partners have already moved on.

Distancing is especially important in an emotional relationship gone wrong. 


    Stop asking new personal things of your partner about him/herself.

    Don't give out personal things about yourself to them.  


    Don't bend over backward to help them more than is necessary.

    Don't help them if they or someone else can.

    Don't bend over backward to celebrate any occasions that involve them. 

    Avoid discussions that involve their lives, re: old topics.

    Start to develop new activities that don't involve them.

    Try to make new friends, acquaintances, anything.

    Make small changes in your life: rearrange furniture, change decorations, try new soaps, ride your bike in a different route, eat at a different restaurant, eat different foods, cook them a different way, shop at different stores, rearrange the landscaping, change some of your habits, change the style of clothing you wear, etc.

    If they ask favors of you, tell them you want time to think about it.


                                                                                                           ~ Author unknown                                                                    


      **Please visit our GoFundMe page at www.gofundme/kintsukuroi.com to see how you can help support personal growth and empowerment weekends for straight spouses. Thank you!

      To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime consultation with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi. I can also be reached at kim@straightforwardcounseling.com.