Meeting James was the best thing that ever happened in my entire life. I had a good career, my own home and seemed to know where my life was headed. James and I became friends and he eventually became the best buddy I ever had in my entire life. We loved the same things and seemed to have the same values in life. Eventually, that friendship grew into a wonderful love. I had never planned to marry as I felt that I was very independent and had never focused at all in that direction, not even in my wildest dreams. But as we all know, love is one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Yes, I was bitten by the love bug and after a two year relationship, we became engaged to be married a year later.
Our story is not any different than most married couples, we bought our dream house and worked hard to have all the things to make us comfortable. We both always had good paying jobs with good benefits and we had our faith in God, which was the foundation of our relationship and marriage.
Eventually, two wonderful children became the focus of our lives and raising them was certainly a challenge. It was very rewarding to see them grow into wonderful young men.
After more than 20 years of marriage, James was still focused on his career and providing his family with the necessities of life. He was not only a hard worker; I would call him a perfectionist too. He worked long hours and I knew that the stress of his job was not good for him. But like all professionals, he felt that was the only way to get ahead and he was and always has been a very good provider. Of course, that left me at home with the boys and all the trials and tribulations of raising them.
During our 20 plus years of marriage, we have always been there to support each other through any obstacle that either one of us encountered. However, about a year and a half ago I started to notice James’ total withdrawal from the family. He no longer wanted to deal with the children’s issues, large or small. He avoided wanting to be around his brothers, sister and parents. Also, our sex life seemed to be diminishing. I always had to initiate sex and felt that it was something he just participated in because he was felt obligated to please me sexually. Sex had always been great for us, but it was not what our relationship had been built on, so again, I just put that out of my mind, again blaming his long hours and constant battle to survive in the corporate world as the reason for his disinterest.
I began to see significant changes taking place in James. He lost a massive amount of weight, started going to the health spa, exercising in excess, and began to focus only on his appearance. I must admit, he became very attractive looking and appeared much younger that his actual age. When I questioned him about his focus on himself and not the family, he would become very defensive and it would be very difficult to communicate with him. Of course, the first thing a wife would think of is my husband must be seeing another woman on the side. But that was never the way James’ valuing system was. He had never believed in unfaithfulness, so I didn’t feel this was a viable possibility.
James and I always knew where each other was at any time and never had been unfaithful in our relationship. During our entire marriage, we never even went on separate vacations. We did everything together. But my mind kept going back to the fact that I could not understand the total changes I was seeing. He was like a completely different person. I felt like I was living with a stranger most of the time. Then again, I’d always heard about how men go through that phase called “mid-life crisis”. That must be what was causing these changes, so again, I was able to rationalize what was happening. I thought I would be able to get through this rough spot as easily as all the others we had been challenged with throughout our many years of marriage. Just give it time and it would all be okay again.
But I found that things were not getting better. They seemed to be getting worse. When the children started saying things and coming to me with such statements like they thought dad was cheating on me and how he spent such long hours away from home, I started to be doubly concerned. Of course, I had to be strong and keep my concerns hidden, reassuring them that dad was not cheating on me and that his hours away from home were the result of his job. Dad was just putting in a lot of hours at work to give us the things we wanted. I also explained to the children that he had to relieve his job-related stress, so he had to spend more time at the health club working his stress off. They seemed to buy it. Why not? I did. It seemed reasonable at the time. I didn’t want to think anything was wrong with our marriage. The children stopped questioning when they understood that I was not concerned.
My heart became troubled as James and I had always been able to find support and comfort in talking about anything that was troubling us. We no longer were able to accomplish what had always been a part of our relationship — communication.
Finally, I guess it got the best of me one Saturday night when my younger son questioned why dad wasn’t home yet. I guess I was at the point that I couldn’t take giving the excuses anymore. I started to doubt whether I could believe the excuses that I was giving the children. The stress of not really knowing the “why” of it all was just too much to handle.
So for the first time in my life I started searching for anything I could find to confirm that he was cheating on me. Why else would he be avoiding me in every way imaginable? I found a key that unlocked a file cabinet where I knew he filed private and sensitive materials such as tax information, bills, etc. Since James handled all our personal finances, I never went into that file.
Well, I was absolutely shocked with what I found. There was a book that he had been reading on how to “come out of the closet” to a spouse and other educational related materials on homosexuality. There was also a copy of a magazine containing sexually explicit pictures of males having sex with each other. I was in total denial of this ever happening. I became furious! I took this material to our bedroom and hid it under my pillow. I did not know how or what I was going to do when he came home. I was so upset I really don’t think I thought about it at all. When he came home about 9pm I just told him I needed to have a talk with him. He said he wasn’t in the mood right now and we could talk tomorrow. I became very demanding and told him that I had had enough of his behavior and that he was my husband and I wanted to talk to him in the bedroom right now. The children were not home so the timing was good.
We went into the bedroom, closed the door and sat on the bed. I remember telling him that I loved him with all my heart and I was very concerned about his behavior and no matter what was wrong, we had to talk about it. I then pulled out all the materials I had found and confronted him with it asking him what was the meaning of all this. James was very much in control as he quietly told me that he had been trying to educate himself on what he thought he had been feeling during the past year. He said he thought he was gay and didn’t know how to tell me, so he started researching and reading everything he could get his hands on to learn more about homosexuality.
Well, that was the start of my two-week nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on any wife. We talked for over six hours. James, expressing his feelings from his heart, and me, crying and crying and crying, asking why, why, why? James, pouring out his new found feelings, expressed his concern for me and the boys, and stated that not hurting his family was the most important thing in the world to him. I felt that because of his love for us, he put himself through twice the suffering he should have ever had to endure. I wish he had never had to experience this by himself. We had always shared everything together and this was something he could share with no one. He didn’t even understand it himself.
I cried rivers of tears every day hoping that the boys would not find me. I felt so alone, and yet I tried to remember that James was suffering too. I imagined myself all alone with my children to raise. I loved James with my whole body and soul and in a flash before my eyes, I felt like it was all gone. I could not imagine my best friend and confidant not being in my life.
James said that he felt he had found a place where he could get some healing for himself and that spouses were also welcome. That place was PFLAG. He had been to two meetings and said the people there had been so much comfort to him. He had spoken to a volunteer there that worked primarily with the straight spouses from their gay/straight spouses support group, and said I could call her to talk anytime. I was hesitant to call her. It was so difficult to talk to anyone about this. I eventually did call her and she gave me a lot of time to share my feelings with her. She said that I was not alone and that my feelings were very normal.
At the end of two weeks of struggling with this newly found revelation, I called James at work one day and asked him to come home immediately. I needed his support and just couldn’t turn off the tears. He came home immediately and saw I was in a very depressed state, just sobbing on the bed. He immediately called his company’s employee referral program and got me an appointment with a therapist.
We made arrangements to go together for the first visit, and within a few days, we found ourselves sitting in her office. I was not able to speak much at this time, so James told our story. To our surprise, she was not as shocked as we thought she would be. She had dealt with many couples in our same situation and felt she could help us. I began to see her alone on a regular basis. Her main concern was what I wanted and needed — what was best for me. While I was seeing my therapist, James asked the referral service to recommend a therapist for him to see. He made an appointment and was very dissatisfied with the session. He advised that therapist that he wanted to make our relationship work. The therapist advised him that his experience showed that this seldom happens and recommended that James move out of the bedroom immediately and start looking for another place to live. This was just the opposite of what James wanted. We have since learned how important it is to find a therapist who works towards helping a couple obtain what they want from their sessions and not lead them in a direction the therapist feels they should travel.
Eventually, my therapist wanted James and I to come in together. These meetings were very helpful because it gave James and I a chance to share our feelings with someone else. The therapist offered her advice during our sessions, and James and I were able to share what we both wanted. We wanted the same thing — to stay together as a couple.
We have renegotiated our marriage vows and are, after over a year, still together and very much committed to each other. To familiarize myself with the gay community, James took me to many of the gay bars, bookstores and video stores he had frequented during his self-discovery stage. He wanted me to see how gay people were normal in every respect, with the exception that they are attracted sexually to people of the same sex. This helped to clarify the many misconceptions I had about the gay community and helped make my acceptance of James’ sexual orientation a little easier.
Currently, we have decided that James does not have to share the fact that he is gay with anyone, including any members of his family. He has come out of the closet to only a few close gay friends and me. He is very comfortable with himself and I am comfortable with who he is.
James has not changed from the person I fell in love with. He is still the very caring, loving person he always had been. In fact, I would say he has become an even greater lover and the communication between us is better than it ever was.
Through my extensive reading, I now know that James’ being gay is not a lifestyle he decided to choose later in life. I now know that he was born with his sexual orientation and that due to the social environment and religion he grew up in, he had no choice but to suppress it. My wish is for him to be the person he needs to be and that I hopefully can always be a part of his new world. It is my wish that we keep the part of our vows we spoke so many years ago when we said “’til death do us part.”
Only James and I can make the decisions that affect our marriage. Every couple will find different paths leading to the eventual resolution of their particular situation. For some, resolution may lead to the dissolution of the marriage. I know that in the beginning, I assumed that was the only solution to our problem. Through counseling and education, I know there are alternatives that can be explored. Couples in my same situation need to become aware of all alternatives before walking down the path to resolution. You can’t worry about what other people may think or say. We have done what works for us and for what makes us happy in the long run.
My Very First PFLAG Meeting
James had attended only two PFLAG meetings when we had our first discussion about his being gay on that memorable Saturday evening. We discussed those meetings together and how he felt that he had found a valuable place to help him understand his sexual orientation. He mentioned how there were many people attending in support of their gay loved ones. We ultimately attended the next meeting together. My main concern was running into someone we knew. I was very relieved to find there was not a person there either one of us knew. From the time I walked in the door everyone was very receptive. I never felt like I was being checked over to see why I was there.
After the evening’s guest speaker had finished his short program, we went into our respective support groups, ours being the gay/straight spouses group. Here, I found that I was the only straight spouse that was in attendance that night who had stayed for the support group portion of the meeting. I found myself sitting with five gay men who were either currently married or previously married and who had children. I soon found myself asking them questions and listening to how they had survived their finding themselves gay and how they had and were dealing with their own families. I found that these men were very personable, well educated, loved and respected their spouses and supported their children monetarily and with much love. I laughed with them and cried with them. I was very surprised to find so much support from them in regards to my husband and I wanting to keep our marriage working. Listening to their ups and downs, I found that anything that my husband and I had experienced since his coming out was all very normal. One of the men who was also attending for the first night was not sure of all the feelings he had been experiencing and therefore had not yet confided his feelings to his spouse. I feel we helped each other because by the end of the meeting he said he couldn’t wait to have his wife meet me and hear my story.
Since my first meeting, almost a year ago, I have attended every meeting but one. I continue to look forward to attending and listening to all the great programs each month. The programs usually consist of people speaking who have walked this hard path with such dignity and have survived to become a person in their own right. I look forward to seeing the people I have come to know and also hope to have new people join us to share their stories so we can give them the love and support they so desperately need.
Today I feel like my husband and I have benefited so much from this support group. We are now back to communicating like we used to. It has created more awareness to every word we say and we listen to each other’s words and respond to each other’s needs more effectively. I find that I am not so quick to criticize other’s actions and I accept people for who they are, homosexual or otherwise. I am definitely more diverse than I’ve ever been.
I have found myself helping spouses who come to the meeting traumatized over learning that their spouses are gay. I know the emotional roller coaster they are going to experience in the upcoming months. Decisions concerning their families are not easy and trying to help them understand that they have loved their spouse for who they are and they are still that same loving person. Learning not to make hasty and quick decisions that they will regret later is a challenge.
Today, I have taken the view that I am a survivor, and I hope I can help them through the challenges they face with their heads held high, feeling like they have worked together, not against their spouse, in helping to keep their relationship a good one for the benefit of all concerned.
I have always believed in a higher being and that there is a reason for everything. Gay people are created equal, but I can honestly admit to you that I did not feel that way until this hit home. I was the most homophobic person you would have probably ever met. Now my eyes have been opened to being able to accept others for who they are. My family put labels on people and I realize I was very critical of others who were not like me. Yes, you will find eccentrics in all walks of life, but we all need to learn to love everyone for who they are.
It is time to give equal opportunity to all and allow people to be who they are in their own right. This is 1998, not the stone age. Every gay person has family and friends and should be able to walk this earth and be loved with the same dignity that we all want.
No, it is not easy, but if everything were easy in this life there would be no challenges left. I am accepting this challenge to make this a better place for all people. What better place to start than with me.
If you are the spouse of a gay person, or a brother, sister, mom or dad, or son or daughter, do not close the door on your gay loved one. Open your arms and your heart wider than you could ever imagine. Be open to options. Life can be good.
[Note: To protect their privacy and that of their children, the names “Emma” and “James” have been used in place of their real names. We extend our deep appreciation that they were willing to share their personal and private story with us.]