THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 34
Infidelity and the bisexual married man. Part Two
Some months ago I wrote an article under this title and promised to return to the subject. Here I want to explore the situation in which the wife and bisexual husband may find themselves once he has recognized that he has the gay side to his nature. We will leave aside discussion about the difference between bisexual and gay - for this article we will consider the man as gay.
First of all lets look about how this situation initially arises. Most men who marry consider themselves to be heterosexual. A very tiny minority marry because they believe that they are gay and want to counterbalance their gay side. A slightly larger number may have intimations that they have leanings towards being gay, but want to assert and make a statement to themselves and everyone else that they are heterosexual, and hence they marry.
Let us take the majority situation: the man does not consider himself gay, and has never discussed it with his wife to be. They marry (or live together) as a perfectly normal couple and look forward to children and a happily married life. Some way into the marriage - it may be after a few years or ten, twenty or even thirty years, the husband starts to feel the pull towards homosexuality. It may happen because of a particular friendship, or when he has to face a situation in which he meets gay people as friends, or in some other way. It may start by strong sexual feelings towards men generally.
However it starts, the husband finds the new feelings a problem. What is he to do with them? They may surprise him! If he is a typical Christian he will probably consider the feelings wrong and try to suppress them. He may be successful in this for a spell - maybe for a long spell. But eventually such feelings bubble over - it is very rare that someone can completely suppress such an inward pressure and not see ill effects in other ways - tension, anxiety or sickness for example.
He probably does not tell his wife about what is happening to him. He will hide it and attempt to carry on as normal. Having a normal stable marriage is a precious thing and much valued by those who enjoy it. He would not want to upset the apple cart, and has no idea how his wife would take the news. After all, he imagines, she would probably see it as a threat and might react badly. He may already know that she dislikes or even detests the very idea of homosexuality.
Thus an element of secrecy creeps in from the beginning, and as the pressure inside him grows, and as he advances in his understanding of his own sexuality, so he starts to live in a world shut off in this respect from his wife. It may be that he thinks to himself that he does not want to trouble his wife with this homosexuality business - we are all masters at deceiving ourselves. We may say that such secrecy is regrettable - but it is very likely to happen unless husband and wife are very close to each other and, if they are Christians, are open before the Lord with each other. Such a state of openness with each other is very desirable - but it does not happen invariably! Their sexual feelings for men is a subject that many men would run a mile from discussing with anyone - even their wives. In the vast majority of cases I guess the situation just develops from there. At some stage the husband will want to start to meet with men who are of like mind. And from there is may only be a short step to a relationship, with all that that may entail. Alternatively he may become aware of various opportunities for fleeting encounters and start to ‘cottage’ - looking for anonymous encounters with other men via public lavatories or places where gay people meet. Or he may surf the web, or look at advertisements in the gay press - or advance along the road to a full gay experience in some other way.
With each new advance into the gay scene, he retreats further from discussing it with his wife or anyone else. He seems to be managing both sides of his life reasonably well - he still loves his wife, but he also finds men attractive. Once he is in a relationship that in itself will militate against full openness with his wife or friends. I believe what I am describing is a far more widespread occurrence than we realise.
We will look at how both parties feel about the situation in a moment, but first let us note that any deficiency in the marriage will propel the whole thing forward. If the husband is feeling rejected by his wife, or if she is too close to another man (or woman) then the husband may well feel in his own mind that he is perfectly justified in pursuing what interests him. And the more the couple drift apart, the more the attraction of being with other men who are also gay and who understand him pulls him into that circle.
I would comment here that I believe it is a fallacy that it only needs will power for the husband to reform himself, put his gay feelings away, and return to his marriage. While as a Christian I believe that God can heal anyone of anything, it is a fact that there are many Christian gay husbands. I also believe that there are many more in the closet, still afraid to show themselves.
I also believe that it is wrong to think that prayer, exorcism or deliverance are appropriate for a gay husband. And it certainly is not demon possession, as some of our African Christians seem to imagine.
The position of the wife
Let us now look at the position of the wife once she knows that her husband has gay tendencies and is pursuing them.
The first and foremost feeling of course may be one of betrayal. They exchanged vows when they got married - perhaps before God and a congregation. They swore to be faithful to each other and here is her husband playing around with someone else in a way that she considers breaks that vow. He is getting intimate with someone else - and that someone else is a man! So in addition to feeling betrayal she may also feel aversion. Maybe she does not agree with homosexuality. Maybe she thinks it is detestable. Maybe she considers it an abomination. If she is a conservative evangelical Christian this is probably the case. So in addition to feeling angry that he is playing around, she will feel disgusted with him for what she supposes he is doing.
Next, she will probably feel isolated. The person she has turned to all her life to discuss things with - her husband - is the one person she cannot now talk to about it. She probably won’t be able to talk to her parents (or his!) because their moral code is more strict than hers, and they would be disgusted too. Can she share with a woman friend? Well, maybe. But if the friend is heterosexual she may well feel the same. Can she share with her pastor or vicar? Well, if she does, the truth is out and however much confidentiality is promised, it may well get rumoured abroad in church circles. Perhaps through a prayer circle? So she feels isolated. And that will be a further cause to feel anger towards her husband, that he should place her in this position.
She will also probably feel confused emotionally. She has loved her husband for many years, and she has had his babies. They have been through much together and the marriage had settled down into a nice comfortable routine - and then suddenly this happens. Does she still love her husband? Can she love someone who loves someone his own sex? Is it safe to have sex with him? Should she banish him to another bedroom? Is there a risk of Aids? What should her attitude to him be? Is all of this a temporary madness on his part - perhaps an obsession?
She may also feel confused in religious terms, and intellectually. On the one hand there are many Christians to tell her how homosexuality is evil and that all who indulge in it are on the road to hell. On the other hand she hears of people like the new Archbishop who appear to feel that God does not condemn being gay. Indeed, there are apparently many Christians (see their web pages) who consider that the church has got it wrong - failed to change its views in line with modern discoveries and thinking. So what is she to think? She knows how she was brought up, but is she being a stick-in-the-mud? Have things changed?
She will also certainly feel aggrieved because she feels taken advantage of. Here she is doing the housework (or earning money for the family purse) and caring for the children as well as for her husband - and here he is, gallivanting off and enjoying himself in what could be called illicit love. What right has he to selfishly grab pleasure like that and cause her so much grief?
Perhaps above all, she will also feel rejected. Is she not good enough for her husband? Has she not performed sufficiently well? Is he still unsatisfied? How can he be so unfeeling and uncaring about her? Has she lost him? Is this the parting of the ways - the end of their marriage? Has she really got to face the huge upheaval consequent on divorce? Does he prefer a man to her?
And of course she will feel very vulnerable. She is no longer in the first flush of youth, and she might not find it easy to marry again. Her trust in men may be fatally damaged. He has placed her in this position - it is not fair! She feels cheated. She will probably feel great anger - just when she thought that life was becoming comfortable, with the children growing up, she is pitch forked into this turmoil.
These are just some of the feelings that a wife may feel once she knows that her husband is actively ‘giving in to’ his gay desires. There are no doubt many other emotions as well - but this list will suffice to show that there is a real crisis developing from the wife’s side. Let us now look at the feelings of the husband.
The position of the husband
Just like his wife, his life is in turmoil. It is a total misconception to think that his life is all plain sailing.
Firstly, he will feel desperate, frustrated and confused. Desperate because his whole life for the past ten or twenty years is collapsing. He loves his wife and they were bringing up their children and he had a good job in order to support the family. Now suddenly a new factor has emerged in his life which throws all of that into question. Suddenly he has discovered that he is gay and he is trying to come to terms with it. He knows that it springs from a deep part of himself that he has not previously acknowledged. But now it is in the open - at least to himself - and he cannot ignore it. He knows that this is no optional extra choice or idle thing. It is something very deep within himself. It is something that brings out a totally new side to his personality and reveals a deep need that previously he did not even know he had.
The frustration he will have stems from the fact that every step he takes towards what he knows he must explore, because it is so real and so fundamental a part of him, is also a step that seems to be separating him from his wife, whom he loves deeply. The frustration is that he has two conflicting dominant compulsions in his life, both of which he wants. He loves his wife, but he also feels compelled down the road to understanding his gayness. He just does not know which to choose (if choose he must) nor how to manage the two simultaneously.
Of course he is also confused - for many years he has sought to be a good heterosexual man, and married his wife on that basis, Then suddenly he discovers all these deep feelings welling up within him and he does not know what to do with them. People might tell him to get a grip on himself, or to exercise some self control. But often those people are making a wrong link between a heterosexual man lusting after a woman, and a gay man wanting to be with another gay man. They are assuming that adultery with a woman is the same thing morally as a man investigating his gay nature. And assuming that his gayness must issue in sexual activity. But of course they are not at all the same thing.
Is it any surprise therefore that he is confused? He does not know which way to turn, and he knows that he is risking losing both the woman he loves, who has also been his best friend over many years, and the new reality which comes through accepting his gay nature.
Second, he will feel ashamed for burdening his wife with this huge problem. Heaven knows, there are enough problems in life - especially if there are teenage children! Now he has caused her great anguish and pain by pursuing what he feels he must pursue, but which she sees as betrayal.
Third, he may feel too embarrassed to share the problem with anyone else. If the confidant were a friend, then he would probably condemn him for upsetting the applecart of the marriage like this. If it were someone from their church, then almost certainly they would trot out the conservative evangelical view that the bible condemns it - even though times have moved on in the last two or three thousand years! Yet he feels more alive and more real than ever before. And if he told someone at work, then there would be a real risk of the confidence being broken, and possible problems in his job. He might be sidelined as unreliable, or passed over because his face no longer fitted.
Then there are the children., That is enough to cause any man to have a headache. They may well be at the stroppy teenage stage - when you could gladly wish them elsewhere for the next few years, until the grow up ! But they are his children. They call him Dad. How is he to tell them that he is gay? What will they think? Will they reject him? And if the wife makes a pitched battle of it all, will they side with ‘poor Mum’? So what is to be done there, he asks himself.
Fourth, He may well feel confused emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Emotionally because he has discovered he can love a man in a way that he never knew before. A whole new world has opened out to him emotionally. Instead of always maintaining a slightly distant relationship with other men, he suddenly can see how a man could actually care deeply for another man. Spiritually he may well have been brainwashed by the church dogma which pertained until very recently. He probably attends a church where there is never any real questioning of the moral line which has held for centuries. All that is happening to him may make him feel unworthy. He may feel more and more that he cannot approach God - that he has gone too far to be accepted by God. Intellectually, he will be confused because there are so many arguments made for and against being gay. What is the truth in any of them?
Fifth, he may well feel, as a consequence, tremendously isolated. The number of young gay men who commit suicide is believed to be considerably higher than average - and it is precisely because of their isolation that they are eventually driven to take the desperate way out.
Sixth, he is being driven by more than a sexual urge. Homosexuality is only very partially about genital sex. Much more it is about an approach to life, a way of seeing and understanding the world, an affinity with other gay people, and a need for same sex company. There will be the sexual urge, of course. That applies to heterosexual men as well as gay men. But what we are talking about is much more than physical sex. This is perhaps the major misunderstanding of heterosexual people.
Seventh, the husband, once he has acknowledged his homosexual leanings to himself, will long for male company. He will long for the company of other gay people. Not for sex, nor necessarily for anything considered morally wrong by others. But merely to be with them - to be with his own kind. This is hardly understood by heterosexual people. They mix with other heterosexual people all the time, but gay people have to make an effort to find and spend time with other gay people.
He will feel guilty because although he loves his wife dearly, he knows that he also needs a man to help him to become a fulfilled person. There may or there may not be a physical relationship - but there will certainly be an emotional one with the gay man that he is relating to. If he does not have any particular gay friend then he is in a more vague position - he knows he wants to be with gay men, enjoys their company, feels fulfilled in a way that he has never felt before - yet he still loves his wife. The end result is that he feels as guilty as hell - feels he is betraying his wife quite apart from anything he is doing. But should he?
All of this may result in him accusing himself of gross sin and pushing him far from God. He may feel that he cannot approach God - that he has gone too far. He may feel rejected by God. The shutter comes down - prayer becomes a dry and desolate experience. The outcome may be that he plunges into more gay activity because he ‘may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb’!
When a heterosexual married man finds another woman attractive then he has to go back to his vows and his commitment to his wife (and to God if he is a Christian). But if a gay man desperately desires to be with another gay man he is not ‘straying’ in the same way. He is simply fulfilling the nature that he has been given in life, which cannot be fulfilled by associating with heterosexuals. He needs to be with a man, not a woman. He can love a woman, he can have sex with a woman. He can be good friends with a woman - which often happens because the woman realises that he is not pursuing her as a heterosexual man might. But a woman cannot satisfy his basic nature in the way that she can for a heterosexual man.
Wouldn’t you be confused in that situation? Which way should he go? Could he go both ways at once? Is he to abandon all he has worked for with his wife over all those years, just for what he now believes is his true nature? If he does not have a special friend, then the fulfilment which is to be found through intimacy with another gay man (not necessarily sexual) is still not realised fully.
Then there is the other man - if he exists. There is a growing attachment with him. A growing understanding between them. They are sharing very deep things together. They may be physically close too. What about his claims on that man’s life? Does he have any rights? And what about that other man's family, if he has any? The whole situation becomes horrendously complicated and fraught. Do the men have any claim on each other?
Finally, there are people around the edge - like the Church and the parents. Someone at Church may now know about it. The wife may have confided in someone - perhaps the Vicar or Pastor. What are they going to do? Sit idly by while the marriage collapses? They may well get involved - which is another pressure on both husband and wife. Then there are the parents. They love their grandchildren. For the husband to leave the marriage for another woman would probably devastate them. But to leave for another man would be totally against all they could conceive or imagine, and parents sometimes blame themselves (wrongly) for a gay son. With their ‘old fashioned’ morals they would condemn him before he could say a word. He loves them. They love him but he is putting that relationship under great strain. Could they ever receive the boy friend? It is almost unthinkable.
These are some but not by any means all the pressures the husband may face once he starts down the road of exploring his gay feelings. The marriage is in very dangerous waters - can it be saved? We now turn to some suggestions.
What is to be done?
I am going to try to set down some initial thoughts and suggestions but wish to emphasize that they are just initial thoughts and that these may be totally inapplicable in any one particular case. If you are facing these problems I strongly suggest that you seek a wise and experienced counsellor - Courage may be able to help you find someone. But I will set down these initial thoughts because finding a counsellor may not be possible for some reason.
I have found this section of the article the hardest part to write, but my deepest instinct is to affirm that love can redeem. By that I mean not only the endless, inexhaustible love of God in Christ, but also the human love of someone who hopes for and believes in the best in her or his partner.
I would suggest, first of all, that it is important to buy time. By that I mean that both husband and wife should agree on an initial period - say three months - in which no major decision will be made by either of them about the marriage without first discussing it thoroughly together. At the end of that time they can decide for another three months or as appropriate.
If they want to save the marriage then there must be communication. If they both really want to save the marriage then there will surely be a way forward to be found that will be the best compromise possible between two people who still love each other.
It is necessary that both recognize that the other party may feel hurt, betrayed, misunderstood, shut out. And that both, either openly or secretly, may lay a large part of the blame on the other one.
It might be right for each to allow the other an hour or two one evening to explain fully how they feel - why they feel hurt etc. - and to explain all of this without interruption. They could do this on succeeding nights, switching roles - the key being that the partner must listen without responding or arguing. That may open their eyes to how they are hurting each other. And possibly to any element of revenge or vindictiveness that either is nursing.
If there are children both should agree that their future must have high priority in any decisions made. They may also want to decide what (if anything) to tell the children meantime, while a solution is being worked out. It is as well to bear in mind that parents sometimes use the children in their fight with their partners. This should be strictly ruled out by both parents.
Next, it really is important to agree to consult with a third party - a kind of counsellor. It is very important to look outside the local church. An independent and unbiased person is needed. Someone who will start with an open mind.
Both also need to agree on a policy of confidentiality. Each may well wish to confide and share with a friend or two - but whispering to others is out. Neither partner wants to feel that someone they talk to already knows the intimate details of the family life.
A ‘modus operandi’ needs to be agreed. For example it might be agreed that certain family times will be kept - for example that all the family will gather together for Sunday lunch. Also it might be right for the husband and wife to agree to have an evening or two alone together periodically to talk things out and to iron out problems that arise.
Finally - a marriage is not something to be lightly thrown away. It has taken a lot of hard work and some pain to build and if either party loves the other then there is hope for it. Time must be allowed for each party to think things through sufficiently, with all the implications. This may take months. Both parties have to learn patience. It is also very important that the wife should be able to contact with other wives who have been through the experience. Some will have saved their marriages, some will be divorced. Again, Courage may be able to help here with contacts.
It may be that the original sparkle of mutual love and trust can never be fully recaptured - and certainly time will be needed for a healing process to take effect. It remains true that we cannot change the character of our partner - we can only change ourselves. If a wife can begin to see the husband’s gay friend(s) as providing what she, as a heterosexual woman cannot give, and if she can be assured of his constant love for her, cannot then a way forward open up for a happy future relationship without the marriage breaking up? But I will have to expand on this aspect in the next instalment under this subject.