Mixed-orientation marriages, a marriage between partners of different sexual orientations, are becoming more visible throughout society. “Love is always complicated,” writes best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert in the biographical memoir Eat, Pray, Love. That book chronicled the end of her first marriage and the start of her romance with her second husband. But her premise was really proven a decade later when Gilbert announced the end of that marriage. She had fallen in love with her best friend, a woman, named Rayya Elias.
Their story is not unique. In 2017, a Google data scientist revealed that the word “gay” is 10% more likely to complete searches that begin with “is my husband…” than the second-place word, “cheating.” Many heterosexual relationships end because one spouse’s sexual identity is revealed or is changed over time. It can happen to same-sex couples as well. And it’s not limited to sexual orientation. Finding out that your spouse is changing their gender identity can shake a marriage to its core.
The reactions can, understandably, be similar to finding out that your spouse has been cheating. One can feel deceived, betrayed, rejected, confused. And initially, it may feel like there is no hope of salvaging a marriage or family considering the news. But research shows something different. Mixed orientation marriages can be long-term and successful. Research shows one-third of marriages end immediately when the bisexual, homosexual or transgender spouse reveals his or her sexual orientation. Another third ended after a short period of time.
In an article published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform, Amity Pierce Buxton Ph.D., the founder of Straight Spouse Network (SSN), described her experience after her husband came out as gay 20 years into the marriage. Buxton states, “A spouse’s coming out within a marriage is not an individual event. It impacts everyone in the family circle. The straight husband or wife and their children go through their own struggle to understand and accept the revealed information from their perspective. They, too, are affected by the social stigmatization and heterosexist expectations that helped influence their partners to marry.”
Although not all mixed-orientation marriages may end in divorce, it will affect the family dynamic. A study found on GLBTQ Archive revealed that many times, the dilemma of partners in mixed-orientation marriages is centered mostly around love. Because many of these couples have been married for decades, have built lives together, and have children, they have a deep connection with one another. In many cases, neither partner may have fallen out of love, yet their lives have changed by virtue of one of the spouse’s discoveries of their authentic orientation.
In a blogpost shared in StraightSpouse.org, one user details how not everyone opts for divorce, and some are even supportive of their LGBT spouse and remain married, or at least live within a legal marriage. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t need real support and understanding for their own feelings and questions.”
According to the American Psychological Association, while psychologists are encouraged to recognize the challenges LGBT people may face in coming out, it’s also important to recognize that the spouses and their families may require therapeutic support. Once both partners understand that coming out is about issues of self-identity and not dissatisfaction within the marriage or the straight spouse, there can be a mutual understanding of the situation.
Any sexual or romantic acting-out no longer must be interpreted as a personal attack by the straight spouse. Instead of perceiving the straight spouse as an enemy, the gay spouse can start treating him or her as a partner. After that, each person can begin to deal with the effects and consequences of their mixed-orientation marriage. Although working through a mixed-orientation marriage takes a lot of maturity, courage, and bravery, it is still possible, and once you have reached that point, you both will be more understanding and will emerge stronger than ever.
By Debra Schoenberg