Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dismaying Story #98: After Her Gay Husband Left

Dear Andrew,

I was married for 24 years to a sweet, funny, intellectual guy with lots of talents. We had three children together, we traveled the world, and we were in the Peace Corps together.

Then one day, out of the blue, he told me he was gay. He had thought about it for 5 years and said I would now have plenty of time to get used to the idea. Within two weeks I received a bill for his HIV and syphilis tests (both negative). He began to wear strange clothes and get fancy haircuts. He brought his gay friends home while I was at work (with the kids there). His address book was full of appointments with a man I know to be gay. He wanted to stay married, but he wanted to go forth and be gay.

We stayed together for one miserable year and then divorced. Our last child was in high school and we were the talk of the town. Most of my friends deserted me. Our children suffered terribly. Both boys were often asked if they were gay like their father.

But here's the thing. I divorced this man eleven years ago. I have moved on in every logistical way -- have a job, am self supporting, have good relationships, and am close to my children. I understand he is gay and I think I have forgiven him. But on some level, I am still grieving. I ruminate about this and think of him every day with sadness and anger. I am often depressed. I can't even imagine a relationship with another man. He told me last year he felt he was not a part of the family, even though he is invited to everything we do. I blew up and wrote him a letter that must have scorched his mailbox.

Shouldn't I be over this by now? What else can I do to get over it? By the way, he is now HIV positive, to my sorrow and anger. Why would a man sell everything of value for gay sex, or is that the issue? How could a man place that over the value of a family, a long history, family unity, and everything else? I would appreciate any comments.

Signed, Still Grieving

Dear Still Grieving,

I’m sorry to hear of your pain. Everyone has their own pace for grieving and healing, so you shouldn’t feel bad because you have not yet found a way to resolve this within yourself.

There are multiple issues involved in his departure from your life. The first is garden-variety rejection, which is devastating all by itself. He wanted you, enough to spend many years with you and create a family ... and now he doesn’t want you anymore. He wants someone else, maybe even several someones. That hurts.

Your ex-husband has gone further by saying he isn’t part of the family, even though he is still father to your children. This is another loss for you. Many divorced folks continue to co-parent, even when one is gay or lesbian. This strikes me as either (a) selfish on his part, (b) a reaction to extreme stress on his part as he searches to understand his own identity, or (c) a combination of both. I suspect (c) is most likely the case. Whatever the reason, it adds to your emotional burden.

Then there is the revelation that he is gay. This is difficult for many people to understand and I believe this is the primary reason you have not been able to come to a full resolution, even after several years have passed.

Focusing on sex is a common reaction when someone close to you comes out of the closet. After all, many people identify this as the one aspect of the gay lifestyle that would be most unfathomable for themselves. In your case you might be able to imagine yourself having dinner with another woman, sharing an apartment, or even walking down the street holding hands. You may have done all of the above with a roommate or relative. But the thought of stripping off your clothes and getting hot and sweaty with someone of the same gender? Many heterosexual people find that image foreign to say the least.

Sex can be a powerful motivator for some people, and I have no way of knowing how much of a factor it was (or is) for your husband. Clearly, though, identifying yourself as gay is about much more than sex.

Turn the situation around and ask yourself this: was sex the primary reason you chose to get married? Or was it a combination of companionship, physical attraction (which includes sex but also more), desire to have a family, and a wish to share a bond of togetherness with someone to whom you are attracted? Of course; it was a combination of factors. The same is true for gays and lesbians. Since sex is not the primary defining characteristic for your relationships, it seems unreasonable to assume it is for others.

This is not simply a matter of him choosing fleeting pleasures over the things you believe to be important in life. Rather, it is analogous to the yearning you would feel if you were raised in a society of lesbians and you came to realize you would rather be married to a man.

That doesn’t explain or excuse his choices to act on the yearning while you still have a child in school (some people might have chosen to wait, others would have found the wait excruciating) or to isolate himself from your family, but hopefully it helps you understand how he could yearn to make the change.

To help quell your feelings of grief, I suggest you examine your judgments about the two lifestyles. You clearly think of his former family life as valuable and good, while his current lifestyle seems less so. You need to recognize that you are making judgments from your viewpoint, which is different from his. To him, his new lifestyle offers such significant advantages that he was willing to endure significant costs to achieve it. (Don’t for a second think is was easy for him to admit that he was gay or to make such radical changes to his life.) Even if you can’t understand those advantages (and admittedly, his HIV positive status likely makes it more difficult and sad for you to do so), you should try to accept that they are real and valuable to him.

You may never get to a place where you are completely comfortable with his choices, but hopefully these realizations can help diminish the constant anguish and wondering that you are going through. Perhaps a greater understanding from his point of view might help stop that never-ending loop playing the question “Why?” in your head.

You might also try reading a book such as the one I feature at the top of this article (the image is linked to Amazon). I wish you the best of luck finding a greater measure of peace over this issue.

With warmest regards,


  1. This woman cannot reconcile her loss. She and her husband had invested more than 24 years in what she thought was a relationship without duplicity and the one person to which she had trusted her life betrayed her. Adding insult to injury, he proceeded to flaunt his personal (and selfish) choices in front of her and their children. She forgives him for being gay, but I think that she is confusing his gayness with the very real irritant of his spinelessly poor decision making. I think she rightfully realizes and even more importantly accepts that there is nothing he can do about being gay. She is okay with that. She is not okay with betrayal and all that it entails.

    I think that while you bring up very good and reasonable points to ponder, you have missed the boat as well. It doesn't matter how confused he might be (or have been). It doesn't matter that he is searching for his own identity. It doesn't matter what pain or turmoil he has chosen to endure. It doesn't even matter that he is gay. What does matter is his sense of responsibility both to himself, to his wife, and most importantly to his children, and his utter lack of respect for the relationships he had spent his life building. That is damnable.

    He can be as confused as he wants to be. If he didn't realize that he was gay until he had been in a committed relationship for 20 years, so be it. That does not excuse the fact that he endangered the health of his wife for extramarital, high risk sex. That does not excuse the fact that he brought his "lovers" around the house specifically when his spouse was not home and the children were. Both extremely poor choices. This man deserves nothing.

    He did not even have the strength of character to say, "I have been living a Lie. Goodbye." After eleven years She can't get over the feeling of betrayal and the utter waste her husband has made of their lives. Maybe she has trouble moving on, but don't make excuses for the husband's behavior. This issue isn't about being gay.

  2. I confess that I to minimize the complexity of coming out because I grew up in a family and a religious environment that considered gay to be within the range of normal. I live in the South; I know in theory how bad it can be, although I have to own that I'll never be able to appreciate it fully since I'm straight.

    I have to agree with minder9, though, that I find it pretty hard to excuse exposing one's spouse and children to the physical and emotional risks of extramarital sex (which applies to straight people, too). I had a blog post about something resembling this a few months ago; unfortunately, the NY Times article I linked now has to be purchased, darn them. I cannot imagine how his children must feel now that he has removed himself from the family and is HIV positive. What child would not feel rejected and betrayed by that, regardless of the orientation of the parent?

  3. I would personally be pissed off if I found out 20 years down the road that my partner was gay after such a long period of time.
    This brings up my ex.
    Before me she was married for ten years.
    She thought she was happy,
    He had a flower shop and she had a successful fashion business.
    After ten years of marriage she came home to find the locks changed and her husband serving a social worker coffee while wearing her dress.
    Unknown to her, his business was going worse than he let on and went bankrupt.
    Then she finds him in her knickers and not in the pleasant sense of the term.
    In the short time of a day, she learned his business was gone; he was gay, wanted a divorce, the kids and her home became the dress shop.
    His goal from the beginning as admitted to her years later but knew he wouldn’t find someone to have kids with him if they knew he was gay.
    If fact this was his second marriage, the first was annulled because she found out within 3 months of being married to him that he was gay
    It’s about the time I met her.
    In the beginning she was madder that a rattler but as time went on she learned to accept it and that it was water under the bridge, they still had two kids to raise.
    He ended up keeping the kids because she worked and as far as I know they have been getting along just great once the ugliness is out in the open and everyone moved on in the direction they are meant to go.

    What he did was wrong and inexcusable but life still has to move forward for everyone.
    Maybe “Still Grieving” really hasn’t accepted it deep down inside and the betrayal must still burn.
    Time for her to move on and find someone she can trust.

  4. I feel for this woman. Not only did her husband cheat on her, but he cheated on her with another man. I don't know if I could ever get over something like that.