How to Cope When Your Spouse Comes Out as Gay

Upset couple at home
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Perhaps you've had your suspicions. You're in a heterosexual relationship but maybe you've noticed your partner looking at people of the same gender in a different way or something feels "off" in your relationship. Then you discover that your spouse or partner is, in fact, gay. You might be left feeling like your relationship has been turned upside down, and as your partner comes out, you find yourself reeling. You may be left feeling alone, isolated, and unsure of what it means for your future.

How to Recognize Your Spouse Is Gay

Unless your spouse shares their sexual orientation with you, there is no way to know for sure if they are gay. So-called "signs" like how your spouse talks, walks, dresses, or looks are not indications of sexual orientation. Nor are sexual preferences, including oral and anal sex.

Rather than making assumptions, the best way to know for sure is to have an open dialogue with your spouse. While the following signs may relate to your spouse's sexual orientation, they can also be attributed to other problems in their life or your marriage:

  • You notice your spouse has lost interest in sex or has trouble engaging in sex.
  • You notice your spouse has a sense of confusion about themselves.
  • You notice pop-ups of gay pornography or gay dating sites on their devices.
  • You notice a new group of friends on their social media, many of whom are openly gay.
  • You notice them talking more about gay people in conversation, either in a positive light or derogatory manner.

Statistics Concerning Mixed Orientation Couples

Mixed orientation couples are those in which the partners do not share the same sexual orientation. Examples of mixed orientation couples include partnerships in which one partner is straight and the other is not, but could also include relationships in which one partner identifies as lesbian and the other identifies as bisexual, for example.

According to one study, there are up to two million couples in which one member identifies as straight and the other does not. Among these couples, when the gay, lesbian, or bisexual partner comes out, a third of the couples break up immediately; another third stay together for one to two years and then split; the remaining third try to make their marriages work. Of these, half split up, while the other half stay together for three or more years.

Key Issues Facing a Straight Spouse

There's no question that learning your partner is gay when you believed them to be straight can be extremely difficult. Among the things you may feel:

  • Sexual rejection
  • Damaged sexual self-esteem
  • Wondering things like "what did I do to cause this?" or "am I not masculine/feminine enough?"
  • Low self-image and a high level of self-doubt
  • Concern about the children: How will they handle the news? How will it affect them?
  • Feeling like your life has been shattered and you were living a lie
  • Confusion about your relationship or marriage
  • Fear of having your family torn apart
  • Hurt over feeling that you have been lied to
  • Bitterness, fear, shock, despair, devastation, hurt, and anger
  • Shame, secrecy, and a fear of lack of acceptance
  • Anxiety about whether your partner or spouse has been unfaithful
  • Fear of having been exposed to or having contracted sexually transmitted infections if your partner has been unfaithful (If this is a concern, talk to your partner and get tested.)

Things to Do and Not to Do

Do
  • Decide what you both can and cannot live with.

  • Accept that it takes both of you to make a marriage.

  • Just as in any situation where there is possible infidelity, get checked immediately for sexually transmitted infections, whether or not your partner admits to any sexual infidelity.

  • Take care of yourself as you go through the grieving process. Your relationship has changed. Try to accept this reality and move forward.

  • Be careful about how you tell your children. You may need professional guidance to deal with this. It's important for them to feel loved and secure and to know they're not responsible for the state of your marriage.

Don't
  • Isolate yourself. Seek out a support group or professional help.

  • Assume your marriage is over. Some straight/gay marriages are happy unions. However, studies show that out of 15% of couples who try to make it work, only about 7% make it over the long term.

  • Blame yourself for "turning" your partner gay. No one can turn someone else gay.

  • Let any sense of betrayal or hurt take away from the good times and the positive memories.


A Word From Verywell

The experience of discovering your partner is gay can be overwhelming. It's normal to feel distressed, confused, hurt, or even angry. It is important to also recognize that your partner is likely also experiencing emotional distress.

People do not choose who they are attracted to, so make sure to not direct homophobic backlash towards your partner. But while showing compassion to your partner is important, it's also important to focus on your own needs so you can regain a sense of self and determine the best way forward for yourself and your family.

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  1. Yarhouse MA, Poma H, Ripley JS, Kays JL, Atkinson AN. Characteristics of mixed orientation couples: An empirical study. The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology.