As a married bisexual man, I was extremely fortunate that when I decided to tell my wife about my bisexuality. She was, if not happy about it, at least understanding of the fact that I had made no choices in the matter.
I was also fortunate that at the time I told her our children were well adjusted and successful adults with children of their own.
Because of these things, the impact on our strong, long-term marriage was slight. That is not to say there was no impact. There were things that impacted her and things that impacted me. Interestingly enough the things that affected us were feelings rather than facts. She had trouble adjusting to the feeling that I might decide I'd rather live with my buddy than with her. I had trouble accepting that she could be so understanding. I worried about the pain she might be feeling but not expressing.
At about the same time I told my wife about my bisexuality, two of my close married friends were having to adjust to the self realization they were not married bisexual men but married homosexual men. Each of them initially tried to mitigate the impact of this realization by vowing to stay in their respective marriages until their children were out of high school. In both cases it simply did not work. In both cases, it was their youngest daughters who finally asked them when they were going to get a divorce. Both daughters had observed the increasing malice each marriage partner had for the other and they certainly observed first hand the shouting, the anger and the fighting.
In all of my talks with married non-straight men, I have found there is always an excuse why divorce is not possible. What I have never seen is a valid excuse. The reality is no matter how many times one partner threatens to divorce the other, many times it is a power play and a misguided attempt to gain concessions from the other spouse.
In particular, almost any marriage counselor will confirm most women will never really pursue a divorce until they have someplace to go, either to another man or to a career that will support them and their children. The same marriage counselor will confirm that many men will not leave until they are forced out my their wives. Men are often content to live with the fighting and the bickering. The truth is they can often more effectively block it out than can their wives. For men, the devil they know is often preferable to the devil they don't know. Every man has a fear of growing old all alone. Their marriages may be shams but at least they are not alone.
But no matter the circumstances, a failed and broken marriage can seldom be hidden from the children. They almost always have an idea of what is going on.
The following article is reprinted from a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. It is must reading and must thinking for every couple who fight.
Keeping Marital Secrets Closeted
By JANE ISAY
Published: November 24, 2011
THIS summer, soon after gay marriage became legal in New York, my sons held a wedding for my former husband and his partner of over 30 years. The grandchildren were flower girl and ring bearers. The wedding thrust me back to the time when we faced a terrible choice and decided to stay married for the children. That’s what motivated my then husband and me to carry on our incomplete marriage for its last nine years, and that’s how we explained our actions after the divorce. It was a convenient truth, and also a self-serving one.
The year was 1980. I was waiting for my husband of 15 years to return from the last party of a psychiatry convention. I could hear voices from down the hall, happy men enjoying their time together. When he came in, his face was grave. He sat down on the bed and said, “I have something I need to tell you.” He took a deep breath. “I’m homosexual.” At that moment I saw my future collapse before my eyes. I got the chills and ran to take a hot bath. It gave me time to think and warmed me, but not for long. We spent the night talking and lamenting. On the plane home, we held each other and sobbed and planned. By the time we landed, we had decided to keep his sexual orientation a secret and stay married for the sake of the children.
Of course we both wanted to protect our sons, who were 10 and 14. Divorce was not uncommon then, but the circumstances surrounding our relationship were controversial and would have created a scandal in our small university town, so staying married for the children helped us both feel better about ourselves and our lies. We thought they didn’t notice any change, and we were mistaken. Secrets have a way of seeping into the atmosphere. Kids are natural observers. They watch parents like hawks, and they know when something is wrong, even if they don’t know what. I desperately wanted the charade to work at home — we were doing this for the children. So covering for my husband on his two nights a week out, and his two vacations a year became second nature — he was a busy man with many meetings.
I paid a price for my silence with my closest friends, because a secret of this magnitude builds barriers. I just couldn’t bear to show them the spot I was in. And I was leery of advice. When I felt so alone, I could always remind myself what a good person I was being, sacrificing for the children.
The other reasons for staying married were not so charming. If I had thought, I’m staying for the money, I might have questioned the lies I told my sons about where their father was on the nights he spent with his future husband. Or if he had thought, I’m staying to promote my career as a psychoanalyst, he might have felt a little heavy on the ambition scale. Or if we both had realized that we were just too scared to face the world alone, I might have given up some of the pretending, and he might have realized the gravity of his original secret.
But never mind. We had an explanation that made people admire us when we finally went public. Other truths might have evoked pity or suspicion: what’s the matter with her radar? How could she accept a half a marriage instead of a whole one? Who is she, really? To say we stayed married for the children put an end to uncomfortable questions.
If I had faced the other reasons to stay in the marriage, the burden of our lies would probably have been harder to bear. But the burden on our sons might also have been lightened. It’s not so great for kids to be told they are the cause of their parents’ behavior, especially when that’s only part of the story. When they finally learned the truth, our sons were more disturbed by our deception than by the facts. Our reasons didn’t seem to matter anymore. Truth trumps lies every time.
The phrase “we stayed married for the children” is like a silk duvet on a complicated and imperfect marriage bed. Nobody really wants to turn back the covers, the unhappy spouses least of all.