thing that often troubles a person who has or had a relationship with a gay, lesbian or bisexual person
is the pressure from family and friends to ‘get over it’. They’re
undoubtedly well-meaning because they want you to move on to a happier state of
mind but they lack insight into how difficult that can be and the many hurdles that you face in this unique situation. After all, straight
relationships end every day and people seem to start over again, in time, and
find new partners.
However a mixed-orientation relationship can wreak terrible damage to the straight partner's self-esteem, which is one reason why the recovery process can take much longer. The other reason is the lack of support services for straight partners in the UK and the ensuing sense of isolation.
of any relationship is like the death of a loved one in many ways and each partner has to move
through a grieving process before they can come to the point of acceptance. In a mixed-orientation relationship, the gay, lesbian, or bisexual partner usually has had time to accept their sexual orientation which the straight partner simply has not had.
1970s, Elizabeth Kubler Rosswrote about the five stages of
grieving through which terminally ill patients and their families progress. Her model is also used
to describe the stages of mourning when a loved one dies.The end of a
relationship is akin to a death: a loss of plans and dreams, a loss of companionship, a loss of security, a loss of everything upon which you had built your world. Bonnie Kayehas taken the Kubler Ross model and applied it to mixed orientation relationships; the following extract is based, with permission, on a passage from Bonnie's book Gay Husbands/Straight Wives: A Mutation of
Before continuing, please note that you won’t necessarily
move from one stage to the next in a logical, 'from point A to point B' way. Your progress
may be more like a spiral, where you move back and forth between stages. On dark days you'll doubt that you're making any progress at all, but rest assured that you are!
Stage 1: Denial and Shock
Every person goes through denial and shock when they learn that their partner
is gay, lesbian or bisexual. You can’t believe it is happening or if you stumble upon information or evidence,
you’re sure it’s not true. You refuse to believe the evidence even when it
stares you in the face. Your partner may deny your suspicions and produce a
'logical ' explanation, no matter how far-fetched, and initially you feel a perverse sense of relief
because it’s much easier to believe them.
in denial and your mind is simply unable to absorb the enormity of what’s happening. During this stage denial is a natural psychological defence. Once your mind accepts the truth, you enter a phase where you function physically and fulfil your
day-to-day tasks, but your mind is in shock. It is an existence of sorts, but
you are unable to deal with the maelstrom of your emotions so you distance yourself from them.
Some partners don't admit to being gay, lesbian, or bisexual - a situation which compounds the straight partner's denial and shock. Those people whose partners admit they're gay, lesbian, or bisexual will still go
through this stage. We tell ourselves that they'll get over it, it’s just a stage they're going through, they are under a lot of pressure at work. Even if they leave you, you still hope that they'll soon realise that they were mistaken. If your partner is honest, you may progress through this stage relatively
quickly because at least you know what you are dealing with. The truth hurts,
of course, but at least it's the truth.
if your partner doesn’t admit the truth, you may linger in this stage for much
longer; you bounce back and forth between denial and shock because you desperately want
to believe that the problem will go away so that your life can return to normality. Your partner, perhaps feeling guilty and frightened, may demonstrate renewed
love and attention, so it becomes easy to lull yourself and deny that which you know is
true. Even so, your suspicions never quite go away, no matter how deeply you
bury them in yoursubconscious.
Some people are so frightened of asking their partner for the truth that they keep gathering evidence and waiting for the right time to confront him. This is OK, so
long as you're gathering evidence as confirmation for yourself, and not a delaying tactic. Don't let your detective work become an end in itself. Gay, lesbian, or bisexual people can only ever admit the truth to others if they've admitted it to themselves first. And some will never reach that point. However there comes
a time when you have to confront your partner with the facts that you've uncovered,
and by this time you should be mentally prepared to deal with the situation.
Stage 2: Anger and Resentment
passing through denial and shock, you then move to stage 2, which is anger and resentment. Your mind becomes
a battleground of constant questions and accusations:
How could my partner have done this to me?
Why didn’t he/she tell me this before we got
He/she really didn’t love me at all
He/she used me and our children as smokescreens
He/she is a coward and a fraud
He/she is completely unworthy of my love and the love of our children
I don't deserve this when I've tried hard to make him/her happy
Doesn’t he/she care about our children and how
this will affect their lives
He/she obviously doesn't respect me because he/she has cheated and lied
How could he/she expose me to health risks?
And that's just a small sample!
angry is natural because you feel profoundly betrayed. You think that even if the lie wasn’t intentional, and even if your partner hadn’t come to terms
with their sexual orientation before you got together, they must have known they had gay or lesbian
feelings long before they came out. You believe that if your partner truly loved you then he/she wouldn't have married you in the first place, or that he/she would have been honest much sooner.
to blame somebody and vacillate about where to place the blame. You blame your partner for consciously and deliberately betraying you, you blame yourself for not being intelligent enough to see
the truth, you blame others who confess afterwards that they had
suspicions but were afraid to speak up. You blame his/her parents
for ‘making’ their son or daughter this way. If he/she has a lover, you blame them for ‘turning’ your partner. You blame yourself because you believe that gay men and lesbian women don't fall in love with straight people and they certainly can't make love with them. Therefore, you must have done something (or not done something) to make him/her gay or lesbian. You blame God, all gays and lesbians, and anybody or anything else available.
this stage it’s important to express your anger and find support. If
you suppress it, you might not be able to move ahead. Feeling irrational anger
and placing the blame everywhere is OK in the short term but it’s important to deal with it and channel it appropriately. If not, you may become bitter.
Anger is often perceived as a very negative emotion but Dina
Hamer puts a very
positive spin on it. She says that anger signals that you’re standing
up and fighting for yourself:
anger is a mandatory step toward recovery as it liberates one from the earlier
stages of shock, denial, internalisation, and self-blame. By admitting anger,
one engages in reality-testing and shifts the blame from oneself to the real
cause and beyond. It implies a regaining of control as opposed to acceptance and inactivity. That said, anger will trigger awareness which
ultimately will be the tool for self-actualisation and re-building; however
remaining in the anger stage indefinitely can ultimately prove to be equally
self-destructive. As with any emotional stage of grief, it should be transitory
and viewed as a catalyst towards the next step in growth: regaining oneself.’
Stage 3: Bargaining
surprised if you try to strike a bargain with yourself and/or your partner:
If only I could be a better partner, he/she wouldn't feel the need for a man or a woman
If only I could loose weight/stop smoking/look younger/be more attractive/earn more money then he/she will be attracted to me again
If only I was more intelligent, he/she would find my company more interesting
so afraid of losing what you had (or thought you had) that you’re
willing to use every ‘if only’ in the book as a bargaining chip. You think that if you can
change yourself in some way, you will change your partner’s sexual orientation. No amount of effort from you will change it because being gay, lesbian or bisexual isn't a lifestyle choice, but that doesn’t
stop you from trying especially if you had what you thought was a happy
Some people bargain by coming up with ‘I can live with that’ plans for their gay, lesbian, or bisexual partner:
If you satisfy your urges by looking at
gay or lesbian pictures, films, or websites, I can live with that
If you slip out occasionally to satisfy your urges and I never know, I can live with that
If you promise to always have safe sex, I can live with that
If you promise never to lie or cheat on me, I can
live with that
partner may agree to anything, particularly if they feel guilty and fearful. He/she may
give you their personal assurance that they'll never stray and you’ll be eager to
accept this, but remember this: by making a bargain you'll sentence yourself to life under a cloak of perpetual suspicion. Perhaps they will eventually act on their urges, perhaps they won't. Are you prepared to live with that uncertainty?
Bargaining may give you hope, but the
real problem is prolonged bargaining, which will further erode your fragile sense of self-worth.
Fundamentally you're blaming yourself that your relationship has failed and that you have the power to fix it yourself.
You’re hoping that if you can change yourself enough then your partner will change his/her sexual orientation and not have gay or lesbian urges anymore. Or you're hoping that if you strike the right bargain, your relationship will be saved. His/her sexual orientation will never change, anymore than yours would. Being gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual isn't a lifestyle choice, any more than being straight is a lifestyle choice.
Stage 4: Withdrawal and Depression
realise that nothing will change your partner's sexual orientation, you may go through a
stage of withdrawal and depression where you isolate yourself from
family and friends, to one degree or another. During this stage you’re considering how your
future will change drastically and how your shared dreams have been destroyed. You’re able to face reality and think about the obstacles
that confront you. For some people that means becoming a single parent and/or
financial instability, whilst others will have lost confidence to trust their own judgement and fear that they’re unable to survive alone. It's rarely true that you would be unable to survive alone - all
of us were single at one time before we settled down. Our
circumstances may change but you can still create a
positive and fulfilling life for yourself even though it may be financially
Those people whose partners have no intention of leaving the relationship feel
trapped; others are so mentally downtrodden that they endure the
relationship as a kind of life sentence. This only causes deep
depression and utter hopelessness. There is always a way out, even if it can’t be achieved in the short term.
You may remember that this model looks at the grieving process when mourning the death of a loved one, and so far the model applies to both situations. However, this stage represents something different for straight partners because closure may take a very long time to achieve. When mourning a death, you can
remember and reflect on happy times you shared. With a gay, lesbian or bisexual partner you’re
forced to deal with an extra set of issues that you never anticipated:
You have to sift through your feelings of
betrayal and rage
You have to deal with feeling completely rejected as a woman or a man, to the core of your being
You have to unravel your feelings of self-blame
You may have to work through the issue of
raising your children knowing that your partner’s new lifestyle is one to
which you may not want the children to be exposed
You may have to confront your own latent homophobia
You have to work on a range of personal
issues that went haywire during your relationship such as self-esteem,
sexual esteem, and trust in your own judgement
If you're a single parent you must
learn how to juggle your time and finances
During this stage, you may be resentful because you perceive your partner has adjusted to his/her changed circumstances and
is apparently enjoying their new life with gusto. You perceive that your happy and secure world has crashed down while their life is
moving ahead at your expense. The realisation that they may be experiencing a bumpy transition to living as a gay, lesbian or bisexual person doesn't really help, because it's not just about your partner anymore.
Stage 5: Acceptance
understand that your partner's sexual orientation and the failure of your relationship
isn’t your fault, you’re able to move on emotionally. If the relationship was abusive (and many homosexual/straight relationships are on many levels, whilst others apparently are not) the
change is for the best; for others who
could never understand why there was something missing in their relationship, the change is also
However some people perceive that the relationship was wonderful and
can’t understand what changed. Acceptance sometimes takes
longer because they keep questioning why a relationship that had seemed satisfying
to both of them was an illusion. These people must grapple with the knowledge that they didn't know their partners as well as they thought.
Stage 6: Outreach
Kayehas added an extra stage to the Kubler Ross model. Reaching out to others who are in a similar
position in order to offer support can help to form good friendships and
a spirit of camaraderie. Helping others will help to reassure yourself
that you’re healing and re-building your life. After all, no one can
understand the emotional turmoil better than someone who has lived through it. People who once felt isolated and alone, as if they were the only person in the
world suffering this problem, now see that they’re not an oddity but part of a
very large group that cuts across age, creed, social class, and nationality.
1. Elizabeth Kubler Ross (1973) On Death and Dying, Routledge
2. Bonnie Kaye (2003) Gay Husbands/Straight Wives: A Mutation of Life, 1st Books.