THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 15
Infidelity and the bisexual married man.
In the Times (T2) of today 22nd July 2002 there are several very interesting articles under the heading ‘Infidelity – why couples who are unfaithful have better marriages’. The articles have been sparked off by the publication of a book (‘The 50-mile rule – Your guide to Infidelity and Extramarital Etiquette’ by Judith Brandt). The thrust of these articles is that an extra-marital affair can actually help a marriage, can invigorate it and can provide what is needed to prevent the marriage unraveling and ending in divorce. Divorce is seen by the writers as perhaps the most injurious thing that can happen in the lives of children.
No doubt the book and its reviews will be the cause of much discussion, with people from all the generations weighing in. Some of those from the older generation may perhaps see the idea as yet another step along the road to destruction. Middle-aged people may perhaps see something in it, if they are in the middle years of marriage with all the pressures and problems that marriage entails. The younger generation, perhaps, may idealistically want to think that the ideal marriage state should never admit of infidelity – but of course they have yet to learn that there is a very well-known gap between the practical and the ideal. No doubt most church people will deplore the whole idea.
The article mentions that it is thought by some that at least fifty percent of marriages experience infidelity by one or other partner. And that figure may be on the increase. There is much to be said for recognizing reality.
As I read, it suddenly struck me that this book and article had an even greater relevance to one particular set of people than it does to the ordinary married couple. Surely it has a potent message for the bisexual married man? And the more I think about it the more I see how we need to air this set of ideas alongside those that apply to the heterosexual marriage – hence the rush. This article looks at some of the moral issues and I will hope to return to these, and the spiritual dimension, at a future date.
The bisexual married man (BMM for short) may love his wife dearly, and love and care for his children. He may wish to preserve his marriage at all costs, and his wife may truly be the number one person in his life. Yet he has the same roving disposition as the heterosexual man – only more so as I will show.
The basic problem for the BMM is that, although he may truly love his wife and family, there is a strong or very strong need in him for relationship with another man. That longing may take all sorts of forms, and he may attempt to satisfy that need in all sorts of ways – but the reality of the need and the impossibility of it being satisfied by his wife is a basic fact of human life.
That need may so drive the man – especially if he cannot satisfy it – that eventually he will divorce his wife. The problem between them (the man being basically unsatisfied in one of his deepest drives) is such that the marriage begins to suffer under the strain and eventually divorce ensues. This driving need may be dismissed by many heterosexual people – “Why can’t he control himself?” they may ask. But this ignores a basic fact – that the nature of a homosexual man cleaves to the nature of another homosexual man. Their union is not marriage and cannot be called that – the term marriage being reserved at present for the union between a man and a woman. But there is a deep psychological need, apart from emotional need, physical need and desire. And while that is denied the BMM will seek satisfaction in alternative ways – or deny a basic part of his being.
Of course if a BMM does enter into a friendship – and perhaps a deeper relationship in one way or another – with another gay man, then there is less likelihood of the break up of his marriage. This is because firstly, there is no logical need for the wife to see the friendship with the other man as a threat to her marriage. Secondly, the man himself can love his wife dearly, and still have a relationship with another man without upsetting that love. Thirdly, because once the homosexual need has been satisfied (and that may or may not include physical relationship) then the husband will be a better not a worse husband. It will satisfy the driving need in him, leaving him more able to be the husband he wants to be with the wife he truly loves.
Is it infidelity if a husband has a deep friendship with another man? It certainly isn’t adultery. Does it make a difference whether that deep friendship becomes a relationship with a sexual dimension? There are those who would say that an emotional attachment is worse than a purely physical, i.e. a sexual fling. Maybe the answer to that question must depend on the parties involved.
Perhaps one of the key elements to consider is the matter of secrecy. If the relationship between the two men is to be kept secret – for example from the man’s wife (or wives if both men are married) – then this is a burden on both men. That burden might also affect the wife (or wives) and family, for no man guards a secret without it affecting those around him. The question arises – is the burden of such secrecy a worse problem than the frustration and its results created in the husband if he has no outlet for his homosexuality? Again, the answer may have to depend on the people concerned. There are so many permutations – for example: are the couple Christians? Does the married couple have good sexual relations? Do they love each other? I hope to explore this aspect in a later article.
Turning now to the wife’s part in all of this – accepting that the man and his wife are in love, spiritually and emotionally united – does a relationship between the husband and another man have to destroy the marriage? The answer in part depends on the wife’s view of their marriage. If she sees any deep relationship by her husband with another person (male or female) as a threat, then the likelihood is that it may well wreck the marriage. The attitude of the wife is very understandable. Probably she had no idea of the gay side to her husband when she married him (he may not have known either!) and so she expected to have her husband ‘to herself’ throughout marriage, barring an affair with another woman which might split them up. My contention in this article, in part, is that an ‘affair’ with another man is unlike an ‘affair’ with another woman, because it answers a deep need in the husband that the wife cannot meet. And that such a relationship with another man need not worsen – indeed it may improve – the marriage. In other words the desire of a man for a woman other than his wife can be resisted without danger, but the need of a homosexual man for a gay relationship is a necessity without which the marriage may well break up.
Put another way – a gay man may marry successfully, but his gay needs remain and these are not comparable to a heterosexual man’s desire for other women.
Finally, the wife may feel betrayed. She will almost certainly feel this if her husband has an affair with another woman. She may equate a relationship with another man as being the same as a relationship with another woman. But is she right to feel this? It is hardly a question of right and wrong – it is what she will feel, having entered into a marriage where she believed that each of them would be ‘true’ to the other. If she can regard the other man, not as a threat to the marriage, but as a necessary solution to her husband’s gay needs which she cannot satisfy, then maybe the marriage will continue – indeed, be stronger. Her attitude to homosexuality and her understanding of its true nature is crucial here. If she truly loves her husband she may be able to try to understand his attitude and needs, rather than just condemn him.
So how can we sum up in this very contentious area? Naturally I expect most upholders of moral rules and systems to disagree with the suggestions I am putting forward. They may well be an abomination for them! But what I am saying is not actually so revolutionary – as per the article in the Times today. If infidelity can be seen (by some!) as having a beneficial effect on a marriage, how much more can a gay relationship for a BMM be seen, not only as a safety valve, but also as possibly having a positive effect on the marriage of two people who love each other.
Hopefully these initial ideas prompted by today’s Times will stimulate debate. And equally certainly, as we are in a period of transition in these matters, no great change in thinking or attitude is going to happen suddenly. But hopefully with the new understanding of homosexuality acquired over these last fifty years, a new approach to the place of bisexual married people in marriage can be actually worked out. I hope to return to this subject on another occasion.
If only the churches would take their heads out of the sand and start to address these real issues relating to homosexuality and marriage, then ignorant people like me would not have to venture into print like this!