Thursday, October 11, 2007

Marital Trust

As I read and get to know many in the Moho blogging world, there are lots of categories for me: the openly gay and the closeted gay, the fervent and the doubtful, the marrieds and the singles, the old (would 'mature' sound better?) and the young, etc., etc. Regardless, we're all family and I value all viewpoints and experiences that people share. Among my particular subset, the active LDS and married, there are even two groups: those who are open with their wives, and those who are not.

Going through much turmoil over the past seven years, I'm glad that my relationship with my wife is now one of the strong pillars of support I have to keep me true to the faith and my family. We don't have a perfect and peaceful relationship--there are plenty of things about her that annoy me and vice versa. What is better though, is that we're more open about the marriage. We talk about hurts and feelings and what isn't right. We talk about my SSA. We talk about her weight problem and her lack of conformance to her diabetic needs. There are no secrets. I'm feeling understood, loved and supported. Some things are changing to the better, some things are not changing, but at least we're dealing with it more honestly.

I'm sharing all this for a couple reasons. It's good just to acknowledge where I'm at in my blog, every now and then. After all, I'm using this as a journal of sorts. And I bring it up because marital trust and relationship isn't a topic that is discussed much among my particular Moho subset. It's whined about a little bit, but it isn't chewed on and elaborated. Why not? Is it too personal? Too painful? Can we help each other here?

I'm particularly concerned about my married SSA brothers who are struggling with coming to open terms with their wives. Having gone through more than a little grief with this, but now on the other side of the forest, I would wish for them to take the risk and start opening up, because I see how it's helped me.

I offer this overarching advice: marriage has to work both ways. First, strengthen your friendship and understanding with her, support her in her trials, and you are preparing for the day when you can include her into your deepest trials. You may need the assistance of professional or ecclesiastical help, to act as a mutually agreed upon moderator of what is right for both. Hopefully, you will one day tell her that you have been and will remain loyal and faithful to her alone, and that you love her still--those are the most important things she really wants to know, even if you are SSA. Letting her understand your trials will eventually draw you closer together, if you are honest and open with her, and if she truly loves you.

My wife hungers for intimacy, for inclusion; SSA is inherently a disconnect to that need. Because of my shame, embarrassment and the reality that I would naturally be more comfortable with a man, it is difficult to be intimate with her without honesty. It is my challenge therefore to go beyond what's natural or comfortable for me, to leave my isolation, and to trust in her and the Lord. This change in my behavior has brought challenges and blessings to our relationship. A year ago I finally came to the point where I determined I had to do this or not survive emotionally and spiritually in my family and the church. I knew my emotional health and salvation that was at stake, and I was doing this for me as well as for her. Asking her to go the distance, because she already knew about my SSA, but to do more than sweep it under the rug, to embrace me with my flaws, to be open and talk about this whenever I needed, to be able to accept and love me as is--this is what I required of her. And in return I would make concerted effort to be more loving, more forgiving, less critical, less self-centered. She rose to the occasion, and I responded with more love, and we are happier than ever. Burdens and stress are so difficult to handle alone; we are not meant to do that in our marriages; sharing our trials and overcoming together is part of the plan.

You cannot control your wife and how she will respond to your disclosures. You can hope for a particular outcome, you can pray and be on solid ground yourself, you can invite her to join you in the middle and continue down the path of eternal companionship. But in the end, we each must decide for ourselves what is best. This may be scary, but to be willing to let her do that is a sign of deep love and respect for her. Acceptance of all possible outcomes in the spirit of humility and charity is the place to get to one day. I've been impressed with Elbow's account, even though it had an outcome feared by some, but their honesty and love for each other led to what they felt was best. I wish for him the best. I wish for all of us tangible trust in our most important relationships.


Abelard Enigma said...

I would wish for them to take the risk and start opening up, because I see how it's helped me.

I am one who told my wife about my same sex attractions late into our marriage (January of 2007, to be exact, after 27 years). My wife and I are still working through this and are gradually becoming more open about it. At this point, I don't know if I'll ever tell my children. Although, I am envious of the open relationship you have with your wife, and particularly with your children.

However, I think it is a mistake to think that because it has worked for you then it will, therefore, work for others. My wife has told me on several occasions that, had I told her about this while our children were young, she doesn't think she would have been able to handle it. So, for us, it seems that waiting until our children were grown was best. Some of the MoHo's who are struggling with telling their wives may still have young children at home. Their wives may be like my wife in that they would not be able to handle such news at this point in their lives. That is why they need to rely on the holy spirit who will guide them to the right time and place.

So, in general, I agree that there should be mutual trust in a marriage; however, to say that there should not be any secrets in a marriage is an oversimplification of a very complex relationship. For example, a man may love his wife deeply, but not find her physically attractive. Nothing could ever be gained by divulging such a secret; if he is smart then he will carry that secret to his grave

GeckoMan said...

Abelard, thanks for pointing out some key elements to this topic.

It is true that some things are better left unsaid. However, our SSA issues must at some point be put on the table with our wives. I agree with you that choosing when and how to disclose orientation issues is an individual and personal choice to be guided by the Spirit.

Every marriage is as unique as the persons involved. My desire in bringing up this topic is not to tell others what to do, but rather to share the what and whys of my experience. I hope that others will think about the when and hows for their own circumstances, that there might not be extended suffering or exposure for either side of the marital equation.

Like many, I tend to put off tasks that are unknown, risky or charged with added accountability. When it came to truly working out things with my wife, I let the SSA issue slide for 25 years. Maybe I was holding back because I wasn't sure how I understood the complexities for myself, let alone trying to explain what was affecting me. Having this forum in the bloggosphere to compare notes with others should speed up the understanding that can be obtained, to reach a reasonable and defensible personal position. And now that I've done it, I have to wonder why I took so long. I think we could have both been spared some grief had I acted more decisively and with greater faith.

All I'm trying to say is our righteous desires should be guiding our prayers and actions, and that openness continues to help me cope better than ever.

Anonymous said...

bravo, abelard.

when my wife is ready, she'll ask.... and i'll answer

Beck said...

I agree with Abelard... It is a very personal thing to open up to your wife and we (me included) should be careful of how we advise, interpreting our situation as the same for others. I encouraged Abelard to be open and "out" to his wife. I encouraged Elbow to confront his wife. I have encouraged others to face their fears and be open as you have here.

But, it has to be done at the right time and understanding circumstances that make such a revelation appropriate and taken in the right spirit.

I am a hypocrite of sorts because even though I am "out" to my wife, I still don't let her into my world of my blog. This may be wrong, but for me right now, I need this space to myself to sort things out. I'm a very slow learner and it takes me a while to grow into things... Maybe my growth would be faster with my wife at my side, freeing me up to have open dialogue of all things at all times... Right now I don't feel it is the time to do that. Having her know that I have attraction issues and thoughts and still wanting and choosing to be with and remain with me is enough. Do I really need to tell her everything I think and do when in reality I don't even understand why I feel the way I do?

I'm still needing more time to figure these things out and doing so alone seems appropriate at the moment (even though it may be very counter-intuitive to others).

GeckoMan said...

Beck--thanks for commenting. I was hoping you would. I totally respect your position. I don't disagree or wish to place any judgement on you or others. I simply wanted to express my feelings and experience, throw out some questions, and hope for some dialog on the subject.

Again, why don't we talk about this kind of stuff more? There seems to be talk about pros and cons of coming out of the closet, but we married guys rarely talk about the spousal relationship and coping with SSA.

Ron Schow said...

I sometimes wonder how many heterosexual men (or women) are attracted to their wives when the couple is young (both 20) but when they are 50 or 60 much of that attraction is gone. Couples often age differently. How many straight men would feel obliged to share such a change in attraction with a spouse? Would it ever be helpful? Hopefully, many other things about the relationship would fill in for that missing attraction and could be stressed if the matter were to come up for discussion. But should it really or does it really need to be discussed? Is that a substantially different question than the one under discussion here?

-L- said...

At the most core level, I think absolute trust and understanding is desirable in a marriage (and necessary for a celestial relationship). But, it's something that will take a lot of progress to develop. Just throwing caution to the wind and sharing everything immediately is not likely to be helpful. It make take decades. It may take more than a lifetime.

I think the burden of being gay is something that should be shared with a spouse (in a category separate than just morphing sexual issues over a lifetime as Ron interestingly compared). It may need to be through a counseling situation to get everybody to the maturity level and commitment level to handle the change in paradigm, or it may take something else. But I think it's a worthy goal. And I think it's a necessary thing (eventually) for real one-ness.

GeckoMan said...

Ron--thanks for your comment. You bring up a fascinating point of comparison to the heterosexual relationship, which I hadn't considered. True, there may be little gained by full disclosure of a lack of sexual attraction to a spouse, if that is all there is to it; but perhaps the larger question is how is this condition impacting the relationship and individual faithfulness? Is there a stress burden on either partner to warrant dialog? If the partner no longer sexually attracted to spouse is at risk to using pornography or promiscuity to satisfy sexual attractions, then keeping silent is not helpful. Fostering a marital environment of oneness and openness would surely facilitate discussion, in either a hetero or mixed orientation marriage. My wife does not want to know all the details of my SSA; however, she wants to trust me that I'm honest and repentant. The information I disclose to her to satisfy those requirements is crucial, and probably not much different than in a normal marriage.

I think raising a heterosexual benchmark is interesting, but I think there are some order of magnitude differences in the equation: a lack of openness in a mixed orientation marriage carries deeper consequences of betrayal and risk to the marriage covenant than simply a lack of sexual attraction between hetero partners. I think it is more likely that SSA exists throughout a marriage, rather than being a change in attraction intensity later on. The withholding of orientation issues forces the gay partner into isolation and deception, and the straight partner into self-doubt, insecurity and confusion about what's wrong. So yes, even though adultery by either homosexual or heterosexual activity carries the same consequences, I think there is a substantially different process at play here.

L--thanks for commenting. I really like your idea that both partners in a mixed orientation marriage need to be at similar maturity and commitment levels in order to work positively through the problem to the best solution (hopefully, that's saving the marriage). I certainly don't advocate a reckless or naive attitude of 'whatever happens is OK' in coming to orientation terms with a spouse; we need to understand the ground we stand on; we all have vested interests in family and faith in eternal salvation when these matters are properly considered.

Anonymous said...

I find the comments about maturity and commitment interesting and accurate. I “dropped the bomb” on my wife about a year ago being in our 6th year of marriage. I wasn’t caught or “found out”, but we were in an extended dispute and she asked why I was always so angry- and I caved. I don’t even remember if I really considered the consequences of telling her, but the boiling point had been reached and I couldn’t bear being closed off from her anymore. Though I was able to admit that I had never acted upon my attractions for men, she was angry, fearful, and unconsoled -it was like an atomic bomb had been dropped on my home. A real mess.

It has taken months to rebuild- and I’m lucky to report that we’re actually rebuilding together. It will take much more time in order to understand one another- just as I assume that it takes a lifetime to understand any individual- but we’ve arrived at a place where we can depend on our love for one another for the time being. I’m certain that our immaturity played a significant role in our inability to forgive one another and understand each other’s unmet needs. Thankfully we had a commitment significant enough (just barely) to hold our eternal family together long enough for the dust to settle and control the damage set in motion by our fearful words and actions.

Being on the other side of the storm, I’m glad I broke down and brought her into my pain- not that I want or wanted her to feel my pain and/or sympathize with me- but to have a marriage that felt real. It wouldn’t be real to me unless she knew. In this existence where so little of what we do, say, see, experience isn’t even real, I am grateful for a relationship that has the promise of understanding and acceptance. It’s not perfect- not even pretty sometimes- but it’s the start of something real for me.

So far, though it has been an impossible challenge and a curse to bear, if and when I can see the blessings of humility, acceptance, and the sympathetic heart I am acquiring through all of this, I will be the Man that Heaven had hoped I’d be. THAT might be worth the suffering I have endured thus far. Perhaps my sweet family will receive the same blessing if I bring them along with me. That’s why I did it.

GeckoMan said...

I like what you said, "It’s not perfect- not even pretty sometimes- but it’s the start of something real for me." REAL is where it's all at for me. Thanks for sharing your story here.

Conflict isn't fun and can be quite destructive, but the aftermath can be instructive as we review our behavior and words. If we're willing to learn from conflict, recognize its roots, our own failings, and empathize from each other's pain, we can change to a better conformity to truth and commitment, if we so choose to live by faith and hope in each other and in the future.