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social sciences

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Mixed-Orientation Marriages  
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Even more so than individual gay men or lesbians who come out, the mixed-orientation couple feels pressured to adopt what for them seems to be an alternative lifestyle. Making the process of adjusting to a new relationship even more complicated, they have precious few role models of what a healthy mixed-orientation marriage should be.

Many factors influence a couple's decision to stay together or separate: their ages; personalities; their level of sexual openness; the degree to which they are invested in each other financially, emotionally, and psychologically; and their belief systems or religious views.

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Mixed-orientation couples must learn to understand the special circumstances that arise when a person comes out and identifies as a homosexual. The gay or lesbian partner must also evaluate his or her relationship to the larger glbtq community.

Many of the thousands of heterosexually married individuals who identify as homosexual do not want to lead what they think of (sometimes based on stereotypes) as a gay or lesbian lifestyle.

Many of these people are hetero-emotional. Although they are attracted sexually to members of their same sex, they are romantically oriented toward the opposite sex and cannot imagine themselves in a deeply romantic homosexual relationship. Moreover, many of them delight in the domestic pleasures of married life and the partnerships they have formed with their spouses, and cannot bear the thought of losing the companionship and nurturance of their partners.


Many couples in mixed-orientation marriages decide to stay together and make their marriage work. They frequently make various kinds of accommodations for the gay or lesbian spouse.

They may allow the gay spouse to be sexually open but emotionally closed to others, feeling that the real danger to their marriage comes from a possible emotional commitment to someone else. They may experiment with "open" relationships for both partners.

Some couples become part of the glbtq community as a couple. More often, the gay or lesbian partner participates in the community on a limited basis, permitted, for example, a night out each week.

Some couples agree to a so-called "Closed-Loop Relationship" in which the gay husband or lesbian wife agrees to have a monogamous relationship with one same-sex partner, thus avoiding the risks of promiscuous sex.

Sometimes, if the gay or lesbian partner is functionally bisexual, the married couple continues their own sexual relationship. Other couples live together as friends rather than lovers.

Often, however, despite their deep friendship for each other, couples in mixed-orientation marriages eventually divorce.

A Family Affair: How--and When--Is It Best to Tell the Children?

Once the issues of staying together or divorcing are considered and a decision reached, the couple has to decide how, when, and what to tell others, including children, friends, therapists, clergy, and extended family members. Resolving the situation is truly a family affair.

Studies show that most children of gay or lesbian parents do not regard having a gay parent, by itself, as a negative factor in their lives. In fact, divorce is often much harder on children than discovering that a parent is gay or lesbian. (Still, couples in mixed-orientation marriages should not stay together because of the children; such a choice puts undue pressure on the children.)

The decision whether to reveal the nature of the mixed-orientation marriage (or the reason for a divorce) to children is very personal. What to say, and when to say it, depends on many factors including the children's ages and personalities. Many children can handle the truth if it is presented sensitively.

Homophobia and prejudice often pose real difficulties for children of openly gay parents. In addition, children who have a gay or lesbian parent often feel pressured to question their own orientation more than they would ordinarily, especially if the parent is of the same gender. Such questioning will not, however, induce them to become gay or lesbian.

Moving Forward: The Marriage that Never Really Ends

Even after a marriage ends, the love between ex-spouses in a mixed-orientation union often remains unconditional, especially if they are able to avoid a bitter divorce.

In many cases, the ties of the ex-spouses to each other continue, sometimes in touching ways. For example, one lesbian with three children came out of the closet and amicably divorced her husband. After some years, she and her lesbian partner wanted to have a child together. She asked her ex-husband to be the sperm donor so that their child would be a full sibling to their other three children and he agreed.

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