He had swirled for months, arguing with himself. Parts of him wanted to stay in his heterosexual marriage, and other parts wanted to experience romance, love, and sex with another man. Torn between two fantasies—one including his family and another with an unknown man—he grasped for any source of helpful data.
Teetering on the thin line between cheating with a man from Grindr and honoring his wedding vows, he sat wondering which direction in life was right for him.
That 40-something family man wanted so desperately to come out to his wife, but he didn’t know what he’d say or how it would affect his marriage and children.
To confound the matter more, he couldn’t determine the label that fit his sexual orientation. A cloud of unending questions swirled around him: Was he truly gay or bi? Would he tear his family apart only to ‘hope’ to find a mature, loving man? And what if he found great sex, but nothing else to replace the love he shared with his wife? His questions, needless to say, left him overwhelmed, feeling powerless.
Mixed orientation marriages (when the sexual orientations’ of both partners do not match; a gay man married to a straight woman, in this example) end up producing different conclusions for each couple. For some, it means accepting that the differences between them are too great, requiring that they grieve their losses and move on. Others, however, make peace with the differences between their sexual orientations and move forward as a bonded unit.
I’ve had the great fortune of watching mixed orientation couples navigate marital red tape, romantic high and lows, as well as coming outs and being left out. While each couple’s circumstances are unique, I have come to recognize common key areas that I encourage every couple to consider. These couples are, after all, confronting major decisions during a season of unbearable stress that will change their lives.
If you find yourself in a mixed orientation marriage, I recommend that you don’t act before taking a careful inventory of your internal desires, the emotional climate of your marriage and the mechanics of your sexual orientation.
Know your desires…both of you.
Mixed orientation marriages are more common than one would think, and many are stable and deeply gratifying. Strong friendships, long histories, and children fill couples with great joy,love, and satisfaction.
For those who want to explore every option of staying in their marriage, I totally recommend both partners take an inventory of their sexual and emotional desires. What do you crave romantically, sexually, or emotionally? Taking an inventory might mean observing your emotional desires and itemizing them so you have awareness as to what you and your body desire. For far too many couples, mixed or not, the routines of life and the habitual inclination to nurture harmony requires that we subdue our desires.
Over time, couples who neither talk of their cravings nor their passions slowly find a rut that brings boredom and complacency, which in turn stokes curiosity for another lover and sexual hunger. Reconnecting to your desires will help both people in the relationship find a new stride or a new wave of thrill, passion, and mutual discovery that can reinvigorate the marriage.
Take Temperature of your Relational Climate
There are many couples who foreclose on the marriage, giving no hope to the potential of reigniting love and thrilling sex. I get it. But I wouldn’t necessarily blame difference in sexual orientation.
Many mixed orientation couples, like any other typeof couple, report feeling relationally dead for years, sometimes decades. Not experiencing any type of intimacy in five distinct domains––emotional, sexual, spiritual, intellectual, social––leaves may partners wanting to exit their role. Faltering or nonexistent intimacy will provoke partners of all sexual orientations to dream of finding love and sex elsewhere.
So before you jump the gun and assume that you have to leave because of a difference in sexuality, be the thermometer of your relational climate. Recreating intimacy within all five domains may bring back your passion, friendship, or closeness.
You may, however, find that you need to leave because your partner is emotionally disengaged and will never return. All this to say, when considering the end of a marriage, don’t blame your sexual orientation right out the gate and don’t forget about emotional intimacy, either.
Get Clear on Your Sexual Orientation
Although sexual orientation is largely determined by visual stimulation and personality compatibility, emotional intimacy is a major player that never gets recognition. The safety of emotional vulnerability is a major—I mean MAJOR—green light for the autonomic nervous system, where sexual orientation lives. So although it may feel like sexual activity or erotica is the only indication of sexual orientation, emotional intimacy can be a stronger guide than both sex and erotica.
For coming out partners, learning about their sexual orientation and finding the courage to talk about their desires and romantic yearnings is a phenomenal practice. Doing so destigmitazes: 1) alternative forms of sex, 2) sexuality at large and 3) romantic and sexual cravings. If you take the time to clarify your sexual orientation, both you and your partner will have more information to make well-informed, educated decisions.
Identify the Unknown
Many people coming out of the closet are guided by fantasies, attractions, and unexplored desires. They haven’t had a sexual encounter with a person of the same gender and their curiosities run painfully wild. The lack of sure-fire experiences can create a lot of tension and helplessness.
For coming out spouses in this situation, the first and most helpful step is to talk openly about your desires. Alongside your partner, you can create boundaries that will allow for self-discovery and honor both of your safety. Some couples agree that gay or lesbian friendships are okay, giving the coming out spouse a chance to integrate into the LGBTQ community. Others determine that a short-term open relationship helps both partners solidify decisions. Regardless of your value system and ethics, boundaries will help facilitate the coming out process and all the steps thereafter.
Have I seen mixed orientation marriages work? Of course. Have I seen couples try their hardest only to seen their marriage eventually end? Yes.
All this to say, let your truth be true. Don’t put pressure to be someone you cannot, but also gather the courage to acknowledge your full capacity—for love, romance, intimacy and sex. Honor yourself and your spouse by making decisions out of courage, not fear. It’s hard, for sure. But in a moment when life as you know it seems to be ending, remember that many other people have walked this path before you. You are not alone.