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.