How to come out as gay, bi, or trans, is a question that so many married people find themselves asking.
Some come out when young, others when they are not so young, while others may come out when they have been in a heterosexual relationship for some time.
If you’ve been in a heterosexual marriage, or in an unmarried but lengthy relationship, the first conversation needs to be with your spouse or partner.
This will likely be difficult for both of you, but clear communication will be important as you plan your future, either apart or together. Be clear, be honest, and be respectful, of your spouse or partner and of yourself.
Perhaps you thought your spouse or partner suspected your orientation, but often this is not the case. Your spouse or partner may very well feel angry, betrayed, rejected, and confused — and it’s likely that many of these emotions will be directed toward you.
Be compassionate, but stand your ground. It is also important to reassure them that it is not their fault, as some partners might feel they are in some way responsible, or believe that they may have ‘turned you gay’.
It’s possible your spouse or partner will have a lot of questions; it’s also possible that she or he will need time apart to process the many ways this will change life for both of you. It may take several conversations to work through all the issues that your revelation will create, and it may be helpful to schedule a few joint sessions with a counselor or therapist.
Remember that you’ve taken some time to figure out who you are; your spouse or partner will need time, too. Many will choose divorce or permanent separation as the way forward, and this can be a difficult process for all concerned. The best possible outcome is that, though divorced or separated, you remain friends with your ex-spouse or ex-partner.
For some, this will not be possible, and a clean break may be best. If this is the case, do your best to separate as amicably as possible.
Not all couples choose to separate or divorce immediately, or at all. They may choose to stay together in order to better care for their children, for the companionship that they already share, or even for sex. Provided couples are looking for the same things and are clear on the parameters of the revised relationship, divorce is not necessarily mandatory.
But staying together isn’t easy, and doing it in order to linger in the closet or to spare you or your spouse embarrassment are unhealthy reasons to remain married or partnered, and unfair to both of you.
This is a time when an outside professional can be extremely helpful in determining the best, most honest way for both of you to move into the future.
If children are involved, your second conversation might be with them, depending on their ages and what you as a couple decide is most helpful. Although divorce has become, sadly, commonplace, this doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult for children, so focus on them, on the ways your family will change, and on the things that will remain the same, including your love for them.
This is a life-changing announcement for all of you, and emotions are bound to run high. If you as a couple can present a united front, your children will fare better in the long run. It may be a conversation that stretches over days, weeks, or months, one that will demand respect for the feelings of everyone involved.
It is also important to remember, especially for those who are knowingly struggling with their sexual or gender identity, that heterosexual marriage will not ‘cure’ this. Other people are not meant to be used in a futile attempt to convert or to hide a lifestyle. It is not fair or healthy to use another person in this way.
If you decide to come out when you’re married or partnered, be sure to do so in a way that you can look back on without shame or unnecessary guilt.
It may be a difficult time for you and for all involved, but with a clear head and a healthy dose of compassion and understanding, it can be something that will move everyone forward in the best possible way.
Peter Field is a British psychotherapist and author of How To Be Gay and Happy. He is Director of Rainbow Champions, an organization that provides assertive life skills and confident communication training for LGBT people in companies and organizations across the UK and Europe.
How To Be Gay and Happy is available now on Amazon.