Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marriage advice

Our marriage started normally enough. High-stress wedding planning with a variety of mishaps and offended relatives was followed by a wedding we had hoped would take place during a cool sunny time surrounded by content smiling relatives. What we got was packs of sticky crabby children running around uncontrollably in a blistering humid swelter, and a set of adults who look in our photos as if they would rather be at the dentist.

That night I lost my virginity in an experience that could be described variously as wonderful and traumatic. We settled in finding out what each other was really like, and realizing that marriage involves seeing disgusting personal aspects you would otherwise never have to tolerate. We learned over the course of months how to make sex work, and with what I assume is a typical number of spats and apologies we now find ourselves comfortably acclimated to married life.

But there's more to the story than that. Much more.

We went to a marriage counselor before we were even married. I see this as a key decision. We talked through my homosexuality and my wife's willingness to accommodate me. We talked about what was possible, what was fair, what we feared and what we hoped. Our counselor knew very little if anything about our religious values, but he did a commendable job of working through the issues with us realistically.

I've been in personal counseling off and on since before we were married. I don't remember if there was anything in particular that precipitated my first visit. The first time was very difficult. I distinctly remember sitting in the waiting room before my appointment. I felt so self-conscious. I thought everyone must be looking at me wondering what I was doing in the office. Is he a wife-beater? A psycho? Suicidal? I hadn't started medical school yet, so I hadn't enjoyed formal training on mental health and the terrible problems with stigma and misunderstanding that go with counseling, but I consciously recognized in my mind that there was nothing wrong with my getting some professional help despite the strange feeling I was having. It felt like I was weak, but I recognized the self-awareness was actually more indicative of strength. I think it always is.

Over the years I've had a variety of counseling experiences. I've had an LDS therapist in a secular practice, a church employed counselor, phone counseling, student counseling, and couples counseling. Once I filled out all the paperwork in a counselors office and then had an uneasiness that I interpreted to mean I should look elsewhere. So I did. I just told them I changed my mind and walked out.

My wife has also enjoyed seeing a counselor. I don't know what exactly she works through during her sessions, but I know she's happier when she's had the chance to talk through things with a professional. I can think of at least one issue that she probably discusses with some regularity. [ha ha]

I've heard enough counseling horror stories to know that it is not a panacea. You have to be somewhat discriminating in finding a therapist. You have to do a lot of work on your own. And it can be expensive.

But my advice to anyone who is gay (and probably everyone else too) is to get comfortable with the idea of counseling. Get comfortable with the idea that living in this society with that particular issue is difficult no matter how you slice it. Get comfortable with the idea that it is not a sign of weakness but of strength to accept help. This advice is doubly emphatic if you are gay and in a straight marriage. And it's emphatic to the nth degree if you have found yourself happily married for years, but have never been fully honest about your sexuality with your spouse.

To every married person who reads this, I recommend you speak with your spouse to institute the following rule: either partner can request that either partner or both see a therapist and the other will agree without feeling defensive. That's what we've done, and I think we're a pretty damn good example.

8 comments:

Samantha said...

"It felt like I was weak, but I recognized the self-awareness was actually more indicative of strength. I think it always is."

Thanks. I really needed to hear that today.

Even if they're not as crazy as mine, I love your guts, too.

Chris (hurricane) said...

I think this is all really good advice.

c.galen said...

When I married 30+ years ago, I was unsure of my sexuality. Part denial, part ignorance. I didn't know if I was gay, bi, or simply undersexed (which is how I initially though to be the explanation for my failure to salivate over Playboy's centerfold). It wasn't a conscious decision to hide this uncertainty from my wife. She took the default, which assumed me to be straight. We are the poster couple for "don't ask, don't tell." It's easy to say, tell you wife everything and see a counselor. But the reality is different. Your comments however, have created a crack in my wall of denial. It may expand. We are doing okay. Why fix something that isn't broken? Sure, such disclosure may open up new vistas, but it could also cause a breakdown with wide repercussions. It's naive to think that coming out of the closet to my wife (let alone to anyone else) is automatically a win-win. You object: how can a marriage be based on a lie? Well, the marriage is based on love, respect, common interests, values and goals.
I'd say we do better than the couple who have wonderful sexual compatibility but can't stand each others friends, don't read the same books...
Would I do it different? Would I tell her? Would I marry? Now that's the appeal of reincarnation.

truebleu said...

Your right. a good relationship does need communication, but even in the best of relationships need some things that are left alone for the sake of the relationship. Just because I "feel" something at one point doesn't necessarily mean that it will be true for the rest of my life (speaking both temporally and eternally).

I may be SSA but I also have a commitment to my wife and kids. They also lay claim to me. Being SSA, whether one is open to their spouse or not, is just one part of who we are.

Yes, being SSA is difficult and does add some additional issues to a relationship. But even the straight relationships have major problems.

I wouldn't give up my marriage or children for anything. I can healthy relationships with others including men, I just have to be more careful than the straight guy. I suspect that it's no different straight married guy have healthy relationships with other women.

Like L, I've gone to counseling. I liked it. It was good to talk openly. He even helped me work through some issues, though not the SSA/Gay thing. Oh well. I wasn't expecting it.

My wife has gone but for other reasons. She continues tell me return. I was more content.

bottom line: it was good.

Stephen said...

and probably everyone else too

That is well said. I would note that something that comes up again and again in twelve-step programs is that there are things that sharing causes more harm than not sharing.

Anonymous said...

I love reading all the bogs about individuals who say they are gay and also happily married in a heterosexual relationship where they love their wife, their relationship etc.

There is a word for that:

BISEXUAL

It is areal term in which individuals can be attracted to and have a relationship with either sex.

You are not conquering being gay, you are bisexual.

-L- said...

And there is a word for you:

ANNOYING

I'm a Kinsey 6. Not bisexual. But thanks for pretending you know more about me than I know about myself.

Kengo Biddles said...

-L-, you swore! O.o!

I agree about the counselling. I should institute that rule with Miki. I think we could both benefit from having that as an option.

If only fundage were a non-issue.