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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coming Out as Gay While You're in a Heterosexual Marriage

Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can be a challenging process for people who have considered themselves to be heterosexual for most of their lives.  It can be even more challenging and confusing if you're already in a heterosexual marriage.  


"Coming Out" as a Gay Person While You're in a Heterosexual Marriage

The following composite vignette, with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrates some of the challenges as well as hope and new possibilities for someone who "came out" while in a heterosexual marriage:

Martin:
Martin and his wife, Sally, were married for 10 years.  They mutually decided not to have children before they got married.  Before they got married, Martin told Sally that he had a few sexual encounters with men while he was in college.  But he told her that these were just part of his youthful explorations   as a young college student, and he definitely considered himself to be heterosexual.

Sally thought of herself as an open-mind person, and she had no doubt in her mind that Martin was heterosexual.  She believed Martin when he told her that he had no sexual interest in men.

After 10 years of marriage, their sex life had waned,  It was never very passionate, but neither of them minded.  Martin often came home so exhausted from work that he usually fell asleep before Sally.  They spent their weekends either socializing with friends or family or going out together to one of their favorite museums, restaurants or to the theatre.  Overall, they were both happy in their marriage--until Martin met Paul, a new business client at work.

Paul was a very handsome "out" gay man who was well liked by his business associates for his talent in business as well as his outgoing personality.  Martin's boss considered Paul's company to be an important account, and he wanted Martin to make Paul's company a priority.  As a result, Martin was expected to take Paul out from time to time to work on projects.

Martin felt comfortable with Paul.  It didn't matter to Martin that Paul was gay.  He enjoyed working with him and enjoyed his company.  After a few dinners and over more than a few drinks, Paul asked Martin if he had ever been sexual with a man.  When Martin looked  uncomfortable, Paul apologized and said, "I'm sorry.  I hope you don't mind my saying this, but when I first met you, I was sure you were gay. "  Martin told Paul that he was happily married to Sally, and he definitely considered himself to be heterosexual.  Martin made light of the Paul's comment, and then he tactfully changed the subject.

But, as he drove home, Martin was shaken by Paul's comment.  He wasn't as much offended by his remark as he was confused.  He wondered what Paul might have seen in him to make him think he was gay.  When he mentioned Paul's remark to Sally, they both laughed about it.  But Martin found it difficult to fall asleep that night, and he couldn't stop thinking about it for days.

When it was time for Martin to meet Paul again for dinner, Martin felt anxious.  But he also realized that he was looking forward to seeing Paul.  This made him feel uncomfortable.  He wasn't sure what this was all about.  He knew that he had always enjoyed Paul's company in the past, but there was something different about this.  He tried to invite one of his other colleagues to the dinner, but no one was available on such short notice, so he had to see Paul on his own.  He thought of canceling the dinner, but he knew his boss wouldn't like this, so he met Paul for dinner.

They talked about the business project, which had been going well.  All the while, it was beginning to dawn on Martin that he was physically attracted to Paul.  He rationalized to himself that Paul was a very handsome and charming man, so most people, whether they were gay or heterosexual, would find him attractive. But it bothered him that he felt this way.

After they finished talking about work, Paul mentioned that he was in a long-term relationship with his partner, Tom.  He explained that he and Tom were in an open relationship.  They considered themselves to be primary to each other, but they each saw other men from time to time, mostly for sexual encounters.

Martin talked to Paul about his relationship with Sally, but all the while he felt distracted and confused about his growing attraction to Paul.  After a few drinks, Paul placed his hand gently on Martin's hand.  Martin didn't move his hand away.  He was as surprised by Paul's gesture as well as his own reaction to it.   By the end of the evening, Martin, who had drank quite a bit, went back with Paul to his hotel room and they had passionate sex.  It was the most exciting sex he ever had.

Martin was deeply troubled by his sexual encounter with Paul.  He told himself that he loved his wife, he wasn't gay but, for some unknown reason, he was very drawn to Paul.  He told himself it was something in particular about Paul.  He rationalized that he had much too much to drink that night and he wasn't thinking clearly.  But he had to admit that he enjoyed having sex with Paul, and this bothered him a lot.

When he met Paul for dinner the next time, he refused to drink.  He also told Paul that he made a terrible mistake by going back to his hotel with him--that he was a happily married man, he wasn't gay, and he didn't want to cheat on his wife.  But by the end of the evening, Martin allowed himself to be seduced again and he went back to Paul's hotel.

This was the beginning of Martin's sexual affair with Paul.  Whenever he thought about his wife, Martin felt deeply ashamed.  He didn't want to hurt her, and he didn't want to leave her.  He especially didn't want to think of himself as a gay man.  He didn't even want to think of himself as being bisexual. He told Paul that he didn't understand what was happening to him.  But he had to admit to himself that having sex with Paul was the most exciting sex he had ever had in his life.  He told Paul that he didn't want to put any "labels" on what they were doing.  No commitments.  No promises.

After a few months of getting together with Paul nearly every day, Martin was becoming increasingly unhappy and ashamed.  He didn't like that he was leading a secret life and lying to Sally.  His sex life with Sally had come to a complete halt.  He kept telling her that he was too tired to have sex, and she didn't seem to suspect anything.  He felt highly conflicted about what he was doing.  Each time he told himself and Paul that he wouldn't continue with the affair, he broke his own promise to himself.

When Martin found himself spiraling into a depression, he contacted a therapist who specialized in working with men who considered themselves heterosexual but who were sexually involved with gay men.  It wasn't an easy decision, but he knew he needed to do something.  He couldn't keep leading a double life.

Over time in therapy, Martin was able to accept that he really preferred men.  He realized that his sexual attraction to Paul was not just about Paul--it was about all men.  He also realized that his sexual encounters in college frightened and confused him, which caused him to deny his own feelings for men.  He still loved Sally, but he knew he couldn't keep living a lie.

Soon after that, Martin "came out" to Sally.  He told her about the affair he was having with Paul.  Sally was very shocked and upset.  They both cried.  After the initial shock, Sally was remarkably understanding.  She was hurt and angry that Martin cheated on her, but she knew she needed to let him go.  She loved him enough that she wanted him to be happy.

Martin joined a "coming out" group for men in heterosexual marriages.  He found a lot of support in the group.  He also heard stories that were very similar to his own.  He learned that "coming out" would be a process, and he had to take it one day at a time.

Over time, Martin accepted that he preferred men.  He and Paul ended their affair, and Martin met a man online that he fell in love with.  He continued to face challenges in terms of "coming out" to friends, relatives, and colleagues, but these challenges were easier to face with the support of his therapy and his support group.

The Challenges of "Coming Out"
The vignette above is one of many different scenarios that people face when they are "coming out" while in a heterosexual marriage.

Some people continue in their heterosexual marriage and never fully admit that they are gay or bisexual, not even to themselves.  They live painful, compartmentalized lives because they can't come to terms with their sexual orientation.

Other people tell themselves, as Martin did, that they're really not gay--it's just something in a particular person that they're drawn to.  Others have gay affairs all their lives while remaining in a heterosexual marriage.  They live double lives, ashamed and angry with themselves, always fearing that they'll get caught.

Living in a limbo state can be very painful.  Only you can decide what your sexual orientation is, but an experienced mental health practitioner can guide you through the process of self discovery in an unbiased, nonjudgmental way.

Getting Help
If you're in a heterosexual marriage and feeling ambivalent or confused about your sexual orientation, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get professional help with an experienced licensed mental health practitioner.

If you live in NYC, you can find support groups at the NYC LGBT Center

You can also contact the GLBT National Help Center

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who has experience helping adults who are struggling with issues around sexual orientation.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.