Partner's Supplemental Workshop Lesson: Same Sex Attraction Part 2
Same Sex Attraction: Part 2This is lesson two on the subject of same sex attraction. It is written for partners who are dealing with the fact that their husbands /partners have had same sex attraction or same sex encounters with others. It is recommended that you read lesson 1 on this subject first. Please note that the suggestions for activities in this lesson are written with the expectation that:
- Both you and your partner are committed to making the relationship work
- Both you and your partner are emotionally stable
- Your partner is actively in recovery
- You each have a desire to gain a greater understanding about each other
- You each have a willingness to listen to and hear each other.
- You are committed to having empathy and compassion
If you try these activities in an emotionally volatile environment it is most likely to be a recipe for disaster. In order to make use of these activities you will need to have each come to a place of stability and enough maturity to want to explore this sensitive and emotionally loaded subject.
Back to FundamentalsPartners often find that as part of the process of coming to terms with their husband's (or partner's) same sex attraction, they go back to fundamentals and evaluate what their own existing views and values are on issues of sexuality. As you do this it will help you develop a solid basis for moving forward yourself and for progressing with rebuilding your relationship. It is recommended that before proceeding with these activities you consider the questions raised under primary issues in lesson one.
In order to work through this subject positively, whilst having the intention to remain together, you will need to jointly decide to make your relationship an emotionally safe place for both of you, to discuss these deeply personal issues about sexuality.
After initially dealing with a whole range of your personal stuff separately, as suggested in part 1 of this lesson. The next stage is to decide what you each need to create a safe sharing and learning environment in order to discuss sexuality. This can be an activity in itself. However it also serves the purpose of being a precursor to later discussions and needs to be engaged in specifically without personal reference to yours or your partner's personal sexuality.Firstly list the key words for what you each require in order to feel that it is safe to share such intimate and potentially emotive information. For example:
- No judgement.....
Then write the needs into agreements for the way you are going to communicate about sexuality. Whilst some core elements for communication will be the same for everyone, there will be variations for each couple. It's important to develop and personalise the list for yourselves.
Here are some needs written as agreements (given as one couples example). Add your own ideas based on your values, your experience and your own needs:
- We will not be judgemental or critical
- We will show courageous honesty and practice courageous listening BUT if it becomes too much for either of us, we will respectfully stop, without blame and try again another day
- We will separate out the past behaviours from the present person
- We will recognise some of what we share will be in the past and some from the present and this will not necessarily remain the same for the future
- We agree that expressing feelings is ok and the other will acknowledge and repeat them back so we can be sure we have each been heard
Choosing to relate like this is risky business, because for the person in recovery it means that he becomes vulnerable exposing that secret inner part of himself that he doesn't necessarily fully understand himself.
“I had hidden that part of me away, locked it in a deep cellar in the dungeons of a castle, it was terrifying unlocking that secret part of me.” Partner in recovery
For you, it means that you are vulnerable to discovering information about your partner that is hard to face: For some, being actively prepared to hear worse and face the worst case scenario is a positive releasing experience:
“I decided that it would have been better to know if he was attracted only to men and not really attracted to me, than for him live a lie that he was straight- if he was not. It has been a journey of discovery for each of us, although sometimes painful, it drew us closer together. Female partner whose husband had sexual contact with men
These activities could be called “Courageous Conversations” it requires courage on the part of both partners, courage to share honestly and openly, courage to face the truth and that can be very challenging - the clause about 'stopping if it becomes too much' is an essential ingredient to these courageous conversations.
Labels and LanguageWhen discussing sexual identity with your husband/ partner there is a danger (and possibly a fear on the husband's part) that putting a label on their sexuality may lead to a certain mindset, which may lead to further behaviours which support and promote that mindset. So if he has engaged in same sex activity and we apply the term 'gay' to him, this may not be an accurate or helpful description. [However, if he chooses this label for himself and tells you that he is coming out as gay that is a different matter altogether.] I am including a quote from Coach Dan who wrote this helpful response to a participant on the forums:
"People with sexual addictions who identify as straight frequently report interest in homosexual sex. Since a sexual addict may act out with members of the same sex, use gay porn, find interest in transvestites, et. al., he or she can experience the kind of confusion you describe. So the questions of "Am I gay?" or "Am I bisexual?" arise.
From a practical standpoint, a sexual addict is confused about his or her own identity generally; it isn't surprising that sexual orientation may be part of the identity confusion. By working on eliminating your sexual addiction and connecting with your values and "true" (or "truer") identity, you are certainly eliminating a lot of the "noise" that is currently creating confusion for you now in your questions of sexual orientation."
Dan highlights that people in recovery may be uncertain and confused about their own sexual identity and which labels that they should use for themselves. The language used to describe issues of sexuality needed to be clarified for both partners if effective communication is to take place, so this forms the next activity.
Activity 2Using resources such as dictionary/thesaurus/internet etc jointly research and agree what each of the following words or phrases mean. Write their definitions down — they will become the basis for your future discussions. They can be jointly modified as you move forward.
- Sexual orientation
- Sexual behaviour
- Same sex attraction
- Sexual identity
- Sexual preference
- Sex/making love.....
Drawing up the definitions and distinctions between each of these concepts, should be done in a non personal way. The aim is to simply establish a common terminology for discussion. Add other words which are relevant to your situation.
What's in a word?As you do activity 2 try being curiously alert to words which cause emotional reactions for either of you. You may find that your partner reacts quite extremely to a word for example: the word 'gay'. If this is the case, then halt the discussion and engage in activity 3 below. This can work for any word or concept that you choose.
This activity highlights the different associations that we make with a particular word, demonstrating that the associations and meaning you make may be extremely different from those your partner makes. This exercise aims to short circuit the misunderstanding and emotional reactions based on different interpretations of a word.
Activity 3For this activity (which can be used as a conversation starter too) you will require:
- some deep and honest talking
- the ability to detach from the situation ie: not get triggered into emotional responses by comments from the other
- a curiosity about language
- a suspending of judgement
- pens and paper!
Object: to openly share your views on what the word 'gay' means to you and to discover the other person's perceptions. (You can use any word you like, which is relevant to your situation).
Take a large piece of paper: draw a line down the middle to divide it into two. Write the word 'gay' in the middle of the page: and then each of you take a pen and write down any words or phrases that describe what gay means to you.. your words on one side and his on the other, you can each use different colours if you like.
Then read each other's comments and phrases out to the other. To remain a productive activity this absolutely MUST be done with attitudes of unconditional acceptance, ie each answer that the other gives is absolutely ok... at this point in time .... because it's not about whether the other person is right or wrong it's about discovering the other's perception and views. To get the full benefit of this it should be done with the absence of judgement and criticism because it is really a fact finding exercise, to help see each other's perspectives. Criticism must be suspended for this activity.
To enhance understanding once all the words are written down - you each read and repeat back the phrases that the other has written, in a kind and loving way to ensure that you have understood the others point of view and ask simple questions to clarify your understanding e.g: “so you think that the word gay holds shame? Can you describe to me how it is related to shame for you?” Express what you find interesting and thank each other for explaining.
You can use this as an activity in itself or a discussion starter. You may find this fascinating and revealing; you may also find that some of the feelings and associations are so deeply seated that the emotional stress of sharing these inner thoughts might require you to stop the activity and return to it later, next day, next week; whatever rate suits you, both to go back to discussing this subject.
Two things to bear in mind when having discussions on same sex attraction:
- Triggers are there for him too. Just as partners can get triggered into emotional response, people in recovery may get triggered into emotional response. If your partner gets triggered, he may display anger, defensiveness or shame. This requires a reassurance that this conversation is safe and you are pursuing the subject because you care for him and deserve his honesty, not because you want to judge and criticise him.
- The discussion opened doors he has closed down. Your partner may find that by discussing this subject, he potentially opens the door again to something he had closed down on; that would feel very scary for him. To move forward positively he will need to feel a sense of security in himself and a validation of his current healthy choices and self identity in order to discuss this. That may require you to validate and affirm him in his honesty and his recovery if you are able to.
These kinds of activities really need to be designed to suit your personal needs as individuals and a couple. You can make up new activities for yourselves depending on your personal situations.
More subjects for discussionTopics that you will need to cover as you explore this subject will arise from your own experiences; a few significant issues are mentioned here:
“Sex with other men is not infidelity!” Your partner may not consider that his same sex experiences were infidelity or adultery since it is was not with another woman! It may be a revelation to him that you perceive it to be infidelity and he does not.
Activity 4: Your greatest fearsIt may be beneficial to explore your greatest fears regarding this situation, together. You will each need a piece of paper. Each of you write on one side what you think the others biggest fear is, regarding sexuality and on the other side, write your own biggest fear. Swap papers and read aloud the others statements. Then explain what you each have written. This can be surprising because you may have expectations which are different from the other, for example a partner shares:
“He was surprised to find that my biggest fear was not 'that he was gay or bisexual' (as he has imagined), but that he would live a lie about his sexuality... His biggest fear was that I would label him gay or bisexual and as a consequence leave.”
This activity can produce a lot of material for discussion and greater understanding:
Activity 5: Understanding the psychology of Same Sex Attraction
Once you have the terminology sorted out, you can focus on consolidating your views about the psychology of same sex attraction. Spend a little time researching the psychology of same sex attraction and sexuality and discuss what you found out and what you each have come to believe about sexuality. Various aspects needed to be taken into account, including how it fits with the religious and moral beliefs you each hold. Work by people such as Alfred Kinsey (the notion of a spectrum of sexuality; a heterosexual- homosexual scale) might be a good place to start. You can draw a diagram to represent what your shared views are.
Activity 6: Mutual goal setting
Each partner expresses what they want individually and together for the relationship in terms of sexual boundaries, sexual behaviours. Developing a set of joint beliefs, values and boundaries regarding:
- sexual preferences ( expression /suppression of sexual identity)
- sexual expression (how you want to see/ hear each others' sexual identity expressed within the relationship)
- sexual acts ( what is and what is not preferable and acceptable to each of you)
There are no right and wrong ways about how you work through the issues of same sex attraction of your partner. The aim of the activities in this and the last lesson have been to assist you in not making assumptions, in creating opportunities for greater communication and better understanding of each other and in encouraging a recovering partnership. You will then be in a more informed position to make choices regarding your future.
A word about other resourcesThere are a growing number of resources on the internet for women who are married to a gay man- many of these resources are based on the assumption that the partners are actively gay and that the wives are continuing with the marriage knowing this ( they are referred to as mixed orientation couples). If you want to build your partnership on fidelity and re-establish a monogamous marriage then these resources will not be for you. A partner comments:
“I was so desperate for support that I made the mistake of joining an on line group for partners, only to discover later that their basic principle was that it was for wives who wanted to stay married, irrelevant of what their husbands continued behaviour was- or how it conflicted with their own values and boundaries. This didn't suit my desire to live a healthy, values based life or to build a healthy intimate marriage.”
So, when seeking resources, please be careful to establish what the bottom line is, and decide how appropriate that is for you, your values and your situation.
If your husband has declared that he is gay and has decided to come out as a gay man then a good resource is: Amity Peirce Buxton's book: “The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families”.