My wife and I decided to co-write a three-part blog post detailing our individual experiences navigating life in a mixed orientation marriage. As with the previous post, my wife’s words are written in bold font, mine are in regular font. We received many, many comments and questions from readers after part one of this series (read part one here). It has been refreshing to gain insights from your comments and we have been uplifted by understanding your perspective. Together we are finding commonalities in our journeys. Please continue to share your thoughts and ask your questions; we are an open book and invite you to be honest and bold. Every well written story has a beginning, middle and end. I can’t promise you that with this blog post. It really is just a culmination of our thoughts and feelings. It is random, like us.
Our intention with this post (and opening the door to our personal life) is twofold. First, we are trying our best to heal and find strength. We are learning that as we become more open and vulnerable we find power and understanding. Our experience should not be considered the encyclopedia of Mormon SSA Matrimony and we hope that by sharing our experiences you can begin writing your new chapter. We want you to discover your own words, your own paragraphs and your own chapter headings. Second, is to emphasize the fact that living life with a same sex attraction is not a disease or something that disqualifies the individual. The husband and wife in a mixed orientation marriage are powerful and beautiful in so many ways. We understand how unique and far from mainstream our marriage is. We are also learning that it is not impossible to find lasting happiness and satisfaction in marriage. We have come to know that by including the gospel, the Atonement, endowing promises, testimonies, the Holy Ghost and personal revelation into our relationship then a mixed orientation marriage is becomes very possible–and worth the effort.
I also wanted to reiterate the fact that our journey is not trouble-free and it’s absolutely not the perfect course for everyone. As I mentioned earlier, it has not been easy sharing our personal and private life so openly. However, we feel it is necessary to begin a conversation. Our experience is not going to mimic yours– I get that-really I do. Had my wife not exposed my secret and forced me to be honest, I would have fought, lied and pretended to live happily between both worlds. In reality I wouldn’t have told my wife about my SSA–but I so desperately wanted to. I realize how selfish that statement is but that was what I thought was necessary. There will come a time (by either force or by your own choice) when you will see the need to move past your secrets to find your next level of progression. And now my wife knows. She knows everything, this is my new reality, and this is my new normal.
Wow. Is this really my life? Sometimes I feel like I’m floating around being a spectator to a very strange way of living. I tend to read other people’s posts as if I’m not experiencing the same situation in my marriage. I feel sorry for them. And then it hits me, this is my life.
We are so new to this (or at least I am) so we are certainly not experts. I have learned what terms like SSA, MOM and P & M mean, I am diving into a world that I had no interest in exploring. I have brief moments of wishing this had never happened–that I never found out that my husband is attracted to men. I have to remind myself of how lucky I am to have an opportunity to make this marriage work, to make it stronger and make it into something that it’s never been before. I’m also looking forward to the time that Dave and I may have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of people around us. I’m almost excited for the time that this topic will come up in my social circle, church or with my family because I know that I can add a well informed perspective and possibly influence the way that people view same sex attraction.
It’s so easy to sit down and say, “Why can’t I just forget about my SSA and move on with life?” This is a question that I have asked myself since I was very young–probably as far back as 12 or 13 years of age. Now, all these years later the question of ‘why?’ is still impossible to answer. I always compared SSA to breathing. My attraction is as natural and real to me as taking a deep breath. Without thinking of it, or forcing it, breathing and SSA are natural and necessary functions of my life. There is a difference between a regular breath of air and DEEP BREATHING. You see, normal breaths are necessary to sustain life, deep breaths are different. They don’t happen as often, they usually follow as a response to an experience like running, adrenaline, shock, a trigger etc. And that is how I can explain my SSA. It exists; it is real and for me, it’s natural, but it doesn’t sustain my life. I am not afraid of having a same sex attraction, but I am afraid that I will use my SSA to justify pornography, promiscuity and the violation of the covenants I have made to my wife and to God.
This post has been a struggle to write mainly because we don’t exactly know what our new normal is. Some days we face hard struggles, some days we don’t like each other very much, some days we wish we could hide in a bubble and not face the world. We don’t want to sound negative and depressing, but we need to be real. It has been work. The first few weeks after finding out about Dave’s SSA were actually pretty great. I felt like I was on the verge of breaking down at all times, but I didn’t! I was okay! I loved the nightly talks where I was getting to know my husband. The honesty that we experienced together was ethereal. I love this man with my whole soul and I will learn to love this part of him just as much.
We have read helpful blogs and books (this is a big deal for someone like me that HATES reading) and watched Voices of Hope videos. We shared our deepest thoughts and had amazing discussions. We talked about all of the promising changes that we were both going to make. I felt the atonement working in my life, and my relationship with my Father in Heaven grew immensely. Dave and I were totally in sync. Then something happened, life. Dave still has to go to work, I still have children that need so much from me. In the evenings my husband enjoys spending time on his phone and I enjoy watching appalling reality shows. I stay up super late, he wakes up early. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to finding some balance in our relationship. We haven’t been complete failures at putting some of our original ideas to work. We have been diligent about scheduling date night early on so that it won’t be skipped another week, month or more. We are being more attentive to our spouses needs and trying to put them first. It is working! Maybe we aren’t perfect at doing everything that we should all at once, but the little changes are actually making a positive impact. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in everything Dave or I aren’t accomplishing that I fail to see the beautiful life we’re living right in front of my face. It’s important to remember how diverse every marriage is. I’m not going to go through my list of changes that should be made in your life to strengthen your marriage because frankly I don’t know. My hope is that you’ll try to make a positive change in your own life, even if it’s a tiny change. It’s as simple as trying to be a better person today, than you were yesterday. What “better” means to you is incredibly individualized and the list of ways to better ourselves is endless. Will your marriage survive, can you beat the odds, is it worth all of the work?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I am willing to work on my marriage. I hope my marriage can survive, I hope we can beat the odds, I know that it will be worth all of the work. Even if our marriage falls apart, there is no harm in working to become a better person myself.
I try to concentrate on working on my own life, but I often turn to Dave for answers to my questions regarding same sex attraction. He is the only person I know that is experiencing SSA. He is also the only person in my life that knows what we are going through as a couple. I feel so out of the loop on this topic. I have been pretty ignorant to struggles that other people in this world are facing and I selfishly usually only worry about my own struggles. I have been taking the time to do my own research, pondering, praying and using my husband as a tool to discover more about SSA.
Know that you and your husband will not have all the answers. I don’t expect my wife to fully understand the view from my windows. There is so much about SSA that I don’t understand and will probably never understand in this life. I think it is safe to answer some questions with “I don’t know.” To the wife, remember there shouldn’t be resentments and mistrust when your husband can’t fully express how SSA is intertwined so delicately into his life. I have become so comfortable living my life with SSA that I rarely notice that it is peculiar or different. I don’t know what life is like as a 100% straight man, but what I do know is that I want an eternal family and I want to live the tenets of the gospel. How I get from my earthy life with SSA to exaltation is part of my journey. This is absolutely a line upon line, precept upon precept experience.
It’s hard not getting the answers that I want. I am an expert in asking questions so that they are answered in my favor. In the past Dave has been so good to try and answer my questions just the way I want to hear them. This has been a little detrimental to our relationship. He is learning how to answer truthfully, and I’m learning that the truth I so desperately want, can hurt. Be patient with one another when it comes to asking questions. Accept the “I don’t know” answer, accept the one word answer, and accept the answers that you may disagree with. Husbands, you will have to accept the fact that the same questions might be asked over and over and over again, that’s okay.
So what are we doing on a daily basis to make things work? Pretty much the same normal routine that has become our married life, but we have new elements. We talk so much more. For years we have heard that every successful marriage needs open and honest communication—imagine my surprise when I found out the experts were right! Some days we talk for a few minutes and other days we talk for what seems like…days. Sometimes we talk so much we’d make a therapist yawn.
We are learning to yield to uncomfortable things. For my wife, she feels compelled to ask uncomfortable questions about triggers, about how I am doing emotionally and how she can help. She has also become proficient at smartphone inspections. For me I pretty much hate all of those uncomfortable things, but I am willing to yield to the uncomfortable moments to achieve a lasting happiness.
I wish there was a book or a manual written specifically for the wife of a husband who experiences SSA and likewise I’d love to find SSA for Dummies on Amazon. Books like this could be so helpful and beneficial to a couple. Without additional resources, we are opening up about our experiences.
These are examples of our real life conversations, some are embarrassing and candid, yet each are beneficial to both of us. The bold paragraphs are written by my wife and given as advice from what she has learned as a result of our process:
TO THE HUSBAND: Avoid saying, “I’ll never be able to love you like a straight man, 100 %, or the way that you deserve.”
There is nothing positive that comes from statements like this. Even if you feel it to be true, what is the point in saying it? As a wife, statements like these hurt my feelings. I don’t need to worry about the love another man can give me, just the love you have for me. I’d much rather hear how it is that you do love me, that you’re loving me as much as you can, that you’ve never loved another the way you love me. These statements can build up confidence, contrary to the first ones that can shatter hearts.
TO THE WIFE: Avoid saying, “Are you lying to me. Did you lie?” or any other variation.
Statements like this don’t come from love and understanding. Also, lying is kind of a broad term. For example; I may consider it a “lie” when my husband doesn’t tell me the details about a conversation he had via text with a friend. So asking if he is lying is just not helpful, because in that case I’m “lying” to him as well. It would be more effective to have an open dialogue where questions are asked straight forward, not being passive aggressive. If you want to know if he experienced any triggers today, ask. If you want to know if he relapsed, ask. If you want to read the text messages he sent today, ask. There really is no way of knowing if someone is telling the truth.
TO BOTH SPOUSES: Avoid saying, “You’ll never understand.”
Obviously! No two people can completely understand each other. Men and women are so different and so complicated to each other. Saying, “you’ll never understand” is one way to end a conversation in a bad place. Try instead to take the time to answer your spouse’s questions and genuinely listen to their concerns. Try to be sympathetic, even when you can’t be empathetic because you’ve never been in their position.
Wives please don’t expect us to have all the answers. We don’t know all the resolutions and we don’t have always have a clear understanding of how we can “fix” the situation. I think it is safe to say if we knew any of the answers to those perplexities we would have fixed them long ago.
I have spoken with many men who experience a SSA, most men would prefer to live normal, straight lives; lives where they weren’t the anomaly. Support your husband for who he is. Support him for the person he can become. What difference could we make in each other’s lives if we saw our spouse as Heavenly Father see us? I know I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “you know, I think I want to be gay. I want to destroy my marriage, I want to feel unwelcome by segments of church and society, I want to enjoy the pain and suffering that is associated with homosexual sin.” If having a same sex attraction were a choice, I’d be interested in seeing how many would choose it.
TO THE WIFE:
SSA IS NOT A SIN: It’s not the SSA that’s the problem; it’s how we react to the attraction that leads us into temptations. Speaking strictly from my experiences, I have learned to live reasonably with an attraction to men. The problems come when I focus on nourishing the sexual desire. I become laser focused on fulfilling that curiosity and desire. It is that focus that leads to pornography, lust and the myriad of experiences that will surely follow. I am constantly trying to find ways to direct the tension, energy and built up pressures of that sexual desire. At times I am successful, more often it is a struggle. This is why some men call SSA a struggle; the attraction becomes synonymous with a sin because they are so delicately intertwined. I could say with almost universal certainty that if your husband experiences SSA he most likely has turned to pornography. Turning to pornography allowed me the opportunity to extinguish the “needs” of my sexual attraction. Porn for me was a vent…it was never to undermine the love and sexual desire I have for my wife. Porn allowed me to get my “gay fix”, release that pressure and move on with my day. Today it is difficult to find a replacement to that release, but I know that pornography isn’t healthy and I am happy to rid my life of it.
ATTRACTION: I wish the wives could know with a certainty that it isn’t a lack of beauty, a lack of personality, a thinner body or purple hair that would make them more ‘appealing’ to their SSA’d husband. To me it has nothing to do with becoming “more” of anything; we chose you as a wife for reasons greater than personality, beauty and for some of us, sexual attraction. I have an infatuation problem, not an appeal problem. Somewhere, somehow and deep inside of our core is the realization that our sexual desires are different and we are working hard to create a healthy relationship with you.
JUST FOCUS ON SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND MAKE SSA GO AWAY: SSA is not a light switch, it doesn’t go on and off, it’s always on. Embarrassment and shame are very real principles and will factor into your discussions. Many of the things you and your husband will discuss are embarrassing and carry the heavy burden of shame. As much as we try to enter the conversation from a position of trust and understanding, it is reasonable to be disappointed, shocked and overwhelmed. Again, this is a great opportunity to just listen, withhold judgment and scorn and acknowledge your appreciation that your husband is communicating openly about his experiences. Your husband will be gauging your reactions during every step of the conversation. As I have mentioned before, this will be a line upon line experience. If a relationship of trust and understanding is developed then the healing can begin in earnest.
FRIENDS: A healthy relationship based on strict gospel principles will be a benefit to your husband. If you mutually agree, encourage your husband to develop friendships with men who can empathize and help him to progress. NorthStarLDS.org, the Voices of Hope project and an Addiction Recovery Program are all great resources to find other brothers who are positive influences and share in your desire to make your marriage and eternal progression a success. Inviting your wife to meet your SSA friends and share in their journey will help her to build a bond with the men in your life. I think a key to having positive relationships with other SSA men is transparency and openness. You’ve spent a lifetime hiding your SSA, now is the time to open up and enjoy the light.
We have covered a lot of ground, and yes it was sporadic and hard to follow. We invite you to sit down with your spouse and have a deeper conversation. Find an area to focus on and improve. If we can do it, anyone can. After all, this is our new normal.