Relationship Connection: My sister’s husband came out as gay and is leaving her

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Question

For nearly 40 years, my sister has been married to a good man. They have a beautiful family complete with lots of children and grandchildren. They have always been regarded as the happy, model family, where love was abounding and others were welcome. A few months ago, that vision was shattered when my brother-in-law confessed to being bisexual, but predominantly gay. He now plans to leave his wife and pursue his “authentic self.”

Her youngest son, whom she loves and is a delight, has also revealed that he is gay and plans to eventually embrace that lifestyle now that he has gone away to college.

My sister had no clue whatsoever of her husband’s orientation. She was aware that he struggled with pornography some years ago, but she assumed it was girls he was looking at. She is still very much in love with him and was eager to get help to work things out and keep the marriage together. He cares for her too, but after careful consideration, has decided to move forward.

We can see that he is somewhat excited to start this new adventure in his life, and she’s getting in his way. He also seems to be annoyed and less caring of her. Thus, they plan to start divorce proceedings the end of the year.

He has moved to a different state but plans to enjoy the holidays with his family. My sister is a positive, happy, loyal and forgiving person. I’m certain that she will be a survivor, but of course, she carries an enormous ache in her heart. She is trying to be loving and understanding and can’t believe that the man she once regarded as a man of integrity has deceived and betrayed her. Now my sister is trying to carve a new and lonely path. Her husband seems bothered that after several months, she isn’t able to move on.

I was just wondering if you had any counsel to help her through any of this. She is putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to function but suffers greatly inside. They are getting professional counseling to help them through the process, but I particularly value your thoughts and opinion and was just wondered if you had things to add.

Answer

Your sister is going to need years of compassionate support from you and others as she pieces her life back together. This devastating disclosure and subsequent divorce will make her question much about herself and others that it’s important for you to allow her room to sort through all of her questions.

I’m purposefully not going to give her directives and advice, primarily because she’s not asking me for help. And I don’t want you to become another person in her life who is going to tell her what to do. When she’s ready, she’ll ask for the support she needs from you and others. In the meantime, you have a unique and critical role to play in her life.

When something shocking like this happens, everyone seems to have a reflexive opinion and position to share on the matter. Your sister will hear plenty of unhelpful comments and suggestions over the coming weeks and months. However, like most things, this is more complicated than anyone on the outside (or inside, for that matter) can even imagine. It takes time and support to make sense of what happened and what to do.

Since she is seeking professional guidance to get direction, the most helpful thing you and others can do is to give her a nonjudgmental place to sort through her feelings and reactions. She will move through the common grief and loss feelings of shock, anger, sadness, bargaining and eventually acceptance.

She will likely ask hard questions that don’t have answers. She might blame herself. She might blame others. She will have days where she feels hopeful and relieved. Conversely, she will also have days where she can’t see any hope for her future.

With everything changing around her, you can be someone in her life who is a constant. You can stay with her after the gossip and sensationalism has died down and she’s still left trying to make sense of how to move forward.

She will spend years working on setting healthy limits with her soon-to-be ex-husband and creating her new normal with her children and grandchildren. You can be someone she doesn’t have to manage or worry about. The best way you can do this is to avoid the temptation to make things certain for her and become directive. Instead of responding out of your own fear and anxiety for her future, you can listen and respond with loving confidence that she is not alone and that she is enough.

Dr. Omar Minwalla identified 13 areas impacted when there is sexual addiction present in a relationship. Granted, I don’t know if your brother-in-law has a sexual addiction, but these areas of trauma will help illuminate how much work and sorting your sister will need to do over the coming years. The areas of impact are:

  1. Discovery trauma.
  2. Disclosure trauma.
  3. Reality-Ego fragmentation (dealing with the deception and making sense of reality).
  4. Impact to body and medical intersection.
  5. External crisis and cestabilization.
  6. Hypervigilance and re-experiencing.
  7. Dynamics of perpetration, violation and abuse.
  8. Sexual trauma.
  9. Gender wounds and gender-based trauma.
  10. Relational trauma and attachment injuries.
  11. Family, communal and social injuries.
  12. Treatment-induced trauma.
  13. Existential and spiritual trauma.

As you can see, she will be sorting through layers of loss and healing for years. You can position yourself as a long-term resource for listening and understanding as she makes new discoveries and connections. You likely have strong opinions about how he got to this point and why he’s making these choices. I would discourage you from making further evaluations and conjectures. It might help you make sense of things in your own mind, but the most important realizations and conclusions will come from her.

You will be supporting her in this role for many years to come, as the losses will become clearer as time moves forward. Your sister and her family will benefit greatly from your steadiness and compassion. It will be a relief to have a place where she doesn’t have to pretend or have the answers. She will need a place where she doesn’t have to defend herself, reassure you or explain everything she’s doing.

Check on her often, listen, invite her to share, physically hold her and give your deepest devotion and love.

Henri J. M. Nouwen described the challenge of offering compassion to people in great pain:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

Your journey with your sister will expand your ability to feel love and compassion for another person. The answers and direction will come. You don’t have to worry about that. Just don’t leave your sister alone to figure all of this out. She will need you now more than ever.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

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26 Comments

  • iceplant November 21, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Painting the wife as some sort of victim. How very Utah this article is.
    Are these actual stories or is this some imagined scenario made up in a role-playing situation?

  • Latter-daySaintForever November 21, 2018 at 9:28 am

    The wife is not the only victim. Her children and grandchildren will also be impacted the rest of their lives by this mans choices. Satan and his minions are doing their best to destroy families. This evil has reared its ugly head in my family as well. Stay strong in following Jesus Christ and because of the great plan of happiness everything will work out okay in the end. Right now your sister and her family need a whole lot of love and support get through this trial.

    • iceplant November 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm

      People do not CHOOSE to be gay.
      You are either born straight, gay, or bi-sexual. We are all people.
      Sexuality is not a lifestyle choice to anyone other than Mormons and hardcore evangelicals.
      Looks as if you’ve fallen into the typical Mormon trap. Gays = BAD … Straight = GOOD. I pity you, I really do.

      • Comment November 21, 2018 at 6:21 pm

        people can choose to be monogamous or choose to engage in promiscuous sex with many partners. Being gay or bi or whatever is no excuse for bad behavior. By your logic we should excuse rapists because they were born rapists. Not acting out lusts or fantasies in the real world is a choice. The man was married to a woman for 40 year, and one day just up and decides to live a homosexual lifestyle? It’s selfish and degenerate behavior. Being a homosexual is no excuse for this sort of behavior. If they want to be a homewrecking sexual degenerate pervert that is a choice. It’s not an inherent behavior of being a gay or a bi or whatever. And 40 years is a long ol’ time. How many of those 40 did it take for him to realize he was a homosexual I wonder.

        • iceplant November 22, 2018 at 8:38 am

          “By your logic we should excuse rapists because they were born rapists.”

          And this is where I stopped reading your ill-informed opinion. That is NOT my logic. That is yours.

        • bikeandfish November 22, 2018 at 1:29 pm

          Constantly impressed with your well-honed skill of irrational dialoug. I mean you conflate two individuals of similar sexual orientation engaging in consensus sex and rape. Talk about malicious and fallacious.

          We get that you hate homosexuals. You make it clear everytime the subject remotely comes up.

      • ladybugavenger November 21, 2018 at 11:13 pm

        Yes, people choose to be gay, just like people choose to cheat or choose to do drugs.

        There is nothing authentic about those choices just a sinful nature that is fulfilled.

        • iceplant November 22, 2018 at 8:35 am

          Like I said before, sexuality is not a lifestyle choice to anyone other than Mormons and hardcore evangelicals.
          Which one are you? Or are you both? Can you not see your staggering hypocrisy? Did Christ instruct you to be so hateful towards your fellow man? I don’t think so. Maybe a little introspection is in order.

          • ladybugavenger November 22, 2018 at 11:11 am

            Haha! You call me hateful because I said it was a choice (and it is). Lol. You call that hate?

            Happy Thanksgiving

    • Kilroywashere November 22, 2018 at 12:09 am

      Satan and his minions? How about DNA? Back in the late Middle Ages when they burned people for being gay amongst other reasons, and thus possessed by the Devil etc this was the prevailing mentality. Guess this world hasn’t come very far since those days. The evil is in your paradigm. Families seperate for a gillion reasons let alone this particular one. You choose to see it your way and it is all due to an entity called Satan. Guess what? You dont know that in the end things will work out for the better. And people like you, with said beliefs, would have burned an epileptic back in the middle ages for being possessed by Satan. Be careful what you believe, because what you believe becomes real. There is no Satan on this Earth – only ignorance, and from that ignorance, evil is sustained and manifested by the ill begotten behavior of men and women – no more no less.

    • 42214 November 22, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      What if the guy left his wife for the traditional reason, a hot 30 yr old blonde that rocks his world. Would that make it better because he wasn’t gay.

      • Chris November 22, 2018 at 2:10 pm

        sadly enough, the answer is yes (at least in the minds of people like Latter Saint and Comment and ladybug).

        • 42214 November 22, 2018 at 3:24 pm

          I know, it is sad. Religious bigotry at its finest on display.

  • Comment November 21, 2018 at 11:37 am

    So they’ve been married 40 years? So they’re likely close to or over 60? The husband up and decides he wants to start living “the gay lifestyle”? The foundation of “the gay lifestyle” is having promiscuous sex with many men. If he’s as gay as he claims to be he’s most likely had homosexual encounters during this 40 year marriage. He’s decided to live a life of perversion and she’d be best to let him go. Surprising that the marriage lasted as long as it did.

    • bikeandfish November 21, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      I sometimes forget how homophobic your posts can be. Do tell, how do you justify the claim that the “foundation of “the gay lifestyle” is having promiscuous sex with many men”?

    • Chris November 22, 2018 at 2:12 pm

      you are professing an awful lot knowledge about a “lifestyle” you pretend to detest. If your professed “knowledge” were not so completely erroneous, I’d be suspicious.

  • Comment November 21, 2018 at 11:42 am

    And if they decide to get back together make sure he’s tested for STD’s. There are some really nasty ones out there, and many aren’t treatable. Sexually promiscuous gay men have the highest rate of STD’s of any population group by far.

  • KR567 November 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Oh well bye bye ! ….time to move on

  • stevenxfiles November 21, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Just as the monumental problems being experienced with the Catholic church where it’s turning out that up to 20% of the priests are closet homosexuals… the problem is not with being a homosexual – most people could care less what two consenting men do behind closed doors – THE PROBLEM IS LYING ABOUT IT!

    I do agree that the real long term and biggest victims of this man’s selfish identity crisis is his poor kids. God bless them.

    • Comment November 23, 2018 at 2:42 pm

      It’s more than 20%. And that doesn’t include the pedophiles.

  • ladybugavenger November 22, 2018 at 11:18 am

    If I gave into my flesh *what y’all call, authentic self* I would be on drugs, drinking tequila, smoking cigarettes, having sex for money and a house and never work again and call it, all good.

    But that road leads to depression, anxiety, and confusion so I’ll be my authentic self, what God wants for me, and be sober, not a whore, and have peace. (But, the Lord knows I would be good at getting men (it would take more than one) to pay my way through life 😉)

    • ladybugavenger November 22, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      My point is, without God, I would be a mess- would you agree? Good thing I gound God and changed my life around, would you agree? No different than anyone else in the world, including this guy in the story. Sin is Sin.

      • 42214 November 22, 2018 at 5:21 pm

        So God gets all the credit for turning your life around but shares no blame for making you the despicable person you profess to being in the past. How convenient for God. He/She only gets the credit, not the blame.

        • Comment November 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm

          LOL, he’s got a bit of a point there, lba.

  • Red2Blue310 November 22, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Jesus died for us all.

    • 42214 November 22, 2018 at 10:04 pm

      How considerate of him.

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