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social sciences

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Mixed-Orientation Marriages  
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Some straight spouses, however, feel relieved by the knowledge that their husband or wife is gay or lesbian, which they often find explains things about their marriage that they had found perplexing. They may have blamed themselves for the problems in their marriage--especially sexual problems--only to realize now that they were not at fault.

Others are happy to feel released from the obligation of having a sexual relationship with their spouse and grateful to enjoy a continuing emotional, non-sexual relationship.

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Infidelity: From Blame to Accountability--for Both Partners

Most extramarital affairs, whether straight or gay, result from one or both partners' inability to achieve and sustain intimacy. While these factors affect many heterosexual marriages, the gay spouse's predominant motive for "straying" is to find and make authentic his true identity.

Gay and lesbian partners in heterosexual marriages typically cheat or act out because they are living a lie and concealing a secret. Their conflict is about their identity, not about their ability to love and bond with their partner.

Typically, the straight spouse feels as though she or he did something to cause the gay or lesbian spouse to seek out affairs with same-sex partners. The gay partner is sometimes also willing to blame the straight spouse, claiming that he or she was not responsive to their needs.

But both partners should realize that blaming the other is a futile exercise. They should attempt to go beyond retribution to achieve an honest relationship, whether or not they ultimately decide to divorce.

Coming Out as a Couple: Becoming Separate but Equal as a Couple

Both the gay and straight spouse have individual "coming-out" processes to undergo. What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that the couple also has to go through this process as well if they are to stay together. The husband and the wife both need to explore--without blame or defensiveness--their individual motives and options as they assess their marriage and contemplate the future.

For their love to prevail, a couple must honor each other's hurts and goals and, in the process, help each other to explore and express the meaning of their life together.

The four stages of this complex "coming-out" process in mixed-orientation marriages, as developed by Dr. William Wedin, director of Bisexual Psychological Services in New York City, are Humiliation, Honeymoon, Rage, and Resolution.

The Humiliation stage occurs when the gay partner finally reveals his or her secret and both spouses begin to agonize over the news. Typically, the straight spouse blames herself or himself for not being "woman enough" or "man enough" to keep their mate interested. Straight spouses may question whether they ever really participated in the marriage and whether the marriage was ever authentic.

The Honeymoon stage occurs when the partners agree to remain in their mixed-orientation marriage. Typically, gay spouses who want to remain in the marriage do so for one good reason: they love their straight spouses. With both partners feeling loved unconditionally, they renew their marriage vows on an emotional level.

The Rage stage occurs when both partners reach the limits of what is tolerable. The straight spouse may have felt satisfied with the way things were and wants to maintain the marriage as it was, but both partners realize that they cannot retreat back into the closet. At this point, they often feel the same sense of heaviness that descended upon them before the disclosure.

During the Resolution phase, couples consider again whether to stay together or separate. This is a question each partner should ask individually, and the couple should broach it together. They need to express to themselves and to their partner the type of marriage they want. They also need to weigh what they have invested so far against what is at risk if they break up. Other considerations to weigh include the loss of heterosexual privileges for both of them.

Does Coming Out Have to Mean Getting Out? Deciding Whether to Stay Married

Professional therapists rarely present couples in mixed-orientation marriages the option of staying together, even though this is often a workable scenario. Most therapists consider divorce the only option for these couples, and indeed it is believed that more than 80 per cent of these marriages end in divorce.

However, before deciding on any course of action, a couple should clarify what is important to each of them personally and also what they most value jointly, as they negotiate whether it is possible to integrate the gay spouse's homosexuality into their relationship.

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