Friday, April 19, 2013

The Blame Game: Married Bisexual Men and their Wives

When a married man gets caught by his wife watching man-on-man porn he can usually explain why she's misunderstood the situation.  Most of the time, the porn is not his.  It was someone playing a joke.  Or a mistake.  Or some random pop-up thing.

Sometimes denying the porn is his just isn't possible.  When that happens, he was "just curious" or was "trying to figure out why anyone would want to watch that stuff."

Plenty of wives believe these explanations.  Often, that's the easiest way to react.  Who wants to be plunged into marital hell by questioning whether their husband might be turned on by sex with men?

Frequently, after a period of several years, a second incident occurs.  Maybe the wife discovers a secret email account with explicit messages sent to her husband by other men.  Or maybe she reads a text on her husband's cell phone that seems very suspicious.  Or sometimes she simply discovers more man-on-man porn.  Whatever the catalyst, after the second (or third or fourth) incident, the man's explanations fall flat.  When that happens, and whether he likes it or not, some honesty is required. And so he confesses that...maybe...possibly...he might be...just a little bit...bisexual.

What happens next?  Is his wife accepting?  Or does she immediately file for divorce?

When a husband first admits to his wife that he might be bisexual, he usually tells her how miserable he is about it.  He tells her how ashamed he is, how he wishes - more than anything - that he could be 100% straight.  Many men break down and cry because they're overwhelmed by the emotions they've kept bottled up for years.  When that happens, wives almost always respond with compassion and empathy.  Even if they're angry about whatever their husband has done, they can't help but be moved by their husband's heart-breaking show of grief.  Instinctively they offer love and support.  Men are surprised by that reaction.  They expected to be cursed and rejected but instead they're comforted and reassured.  Who could have guessed such a reaction was possible?!

Coming out conversations that play out in this way inevitably end with a passionate round of love-making.  Not mere sex, but actual love making.  What's even better is that the 'high' the couple feels from reconnecting is not a one night event.  It usually continues for an extended period of time, a Honeymoon Phase, of anywhere from two weeks to several months.

The only time I've heard of a couple not having a Honeymoon Phase is when the husband admits to cheating.  Cheating is a big problem for a lot of women but not all of them.  Some will forgive cheating *if* their man pledges to never do it again.  In that case, the fight about cheating turns into great make-up sex and the Honeymoon Phase begins right on schedule.

The Honeymoon Phase is wonderful.  It really is. Who can complain about lots of love, sex and intimacy?  And more importantly, who can refuse it?  No one can.  Yet, ironically, what happens in the Honeymoon Phase can later endanger the marriage.

The Honeymoon Phase is seductive.  Its intimacy encourages the wife to ask fundamentally important questions and the husband to answer them.  Question and Answer sessions often turn into hot sex because they repeat the dynamic of the original confession that so brilliantly paid off for the couple.  If she asks a poignant question, and he provides an honest and revealing answer, the couple feels closer than ever and they celebrate with passionate sex.  The cycle repeats itself over and over until the wife asks a question that the husband struggles to answer.  It's at that point (but seldom at that moment) that the Honeymoon Phase ends.

What follows the Honeymoon Phase is the Doubt Phase.  This is where the wife reexamines some of her husband's behaviors from the past and begins to wonder about the depth and power of his attraction to men.  For example, she'll think about all the times when she wanted to have sex but her husband made excuses for why they couldn't.  Or, she'll wonder whether the emotional wall that she's always felt in the marriage has not been caused by her husband's internalized shame, but because he's actually more attracted to men than her.  There are all kinds of variations of this theme, but they all come down to the same issue: the wife's feelings of inadequacy versus her doubts about her husband's sexuality.

The usual resolution of the Doubt Phase is marked by a new incident where the husband does or says something that's dismissive of his wife.  Any action that causes her to feel rejected, unattractive or unworthy is seen in the new light of her husband's questionable sexuality.  For many wives this is a pivotal experience.  They stop blaming themselves for their imperfect marriage and instead become angry that their husband's issues have caused them to feel inadequate for many years. When wives make this transition, the Blame Game begins.

A husband first becomes aware of the Blame Game when his wife starts to ask some very pointed questions about his lack of interest in her.  These questions inevitably lead to the Big Question: is he really gay and not bi?  Almost always the husband takes offense to that question.  Of course he loves her, enjoys sex with her and is most definitely not gay.

This is what he says, but paradoxically it's not how he acts.  How can he be turned on by a woman who accuses him of being gay?  He's not.  And as a result, the couple's sex life becomes increasingly strained and tenuous, perhaps even reaching an impasse where both partners worry that their marriage may not survive.

It's at this point that the husband wonders, yet again, if he can shut down his attraction to men and go back in the closet.  Some men try to do exactly that.  The problem, of course, is that sexuality is not a choice.  Sooner or later the husband decides that going back into the closet is not a solution.  There's just too much shame, guilt, anxiety and depression that come from being in there, and now that he's out, he just can't return to that misery.

What the husband wants is for his wife to understand him.  He wants her to understand that his attraction to men is a permanent part of him, that the attraction will never change, and as such, it cannot be shoved back into the closet.

The wife wants to know what that means for their marriage. She he saying he needs to cheat?  Because under no circumstances will she allow that.  If he really is bisexual then he shouldn't have any problem being monogamous.  Bisexuality isn't about actually having sex with both men and women, it's about being attracted to both genders.  Everyone has physical attractions to people other than their spouse, but that doesn't mean they ever act on them.  In fact, overwhelmingly, they don't.  Being bisexual isn't a license to cheat. Bisexuals don't get a special set of non-monogamous rules just because they're bi.  That's not the way marriage works - especially her marriage.

To get a handle on their issues, the couple often agrees to go to marriage counseling.  With an expert third-party there to help analyze their situation, each spouse pleads their case.  Unfortunately for the couple, most counselors refuse to take sides.  Instead, they end the first session with the advice that the spouses should try harder to understand each other.

At the second counseling session, the therapist asks the wife (who is clearly the more agitated spouse) to share her thoughts.  This is where the Blame Game kicks into high gear.  Now that she finally has the chance to talk openly about how her husband's sexuality has affected her, she unloads.  She alternates between hurt and anger, cries often, and repeatedly accuses her husband of ruining her life.  Eventually, once her pent-up emotions have been voiced, she collects herself and summarizes her position: she doesn't know if she can ever trust her husband again, she will never accept an open marriage, and, she's mad as hell that her husband betrayed her by hiding his attraction to men for so long.

When the husband's turn to speak comes, he feels depressed and defeated.  He tells the therapist that he didn't plan for anything bad to happen.  He certainly didn't mean to lie and deceive in a hurtful way.  All he was doing was protecting his wife and family, as he should.  What he finds frustrating is that his wife is so angry, but all he was trying to do was protect her.  His intentions were good!

What the husband doesn't say is how much he hates this counseling session.  He feels like he's been under attack for the entire hour, and that's just not fair.  Never, ever, did he ask or want or try to be attracted to men.  In fact, he fought the attraction for as long and as hard as he could.  To be beaten up about something he can't control just adds more pain and guilt to the monumental pile of pain and guilt he already has.  Beating him up doesn't help the situation or make him feel any better about his marriage.

Future counseling sessions tend to follow the same pattern as the second one: the wife talks about her frustrations and the husband tries to defend himself, but each time he feels more and more defeated.  "I don't know why I go.  I don't even want to talk anymore.  Everything I say is wrong.  I don't feel like my wife is any closer to understanding me than when we started."

At some point, when the wife sees that voicing her frustrations is not changing anything, she pulls back somewhat.  Her frustrations haven't changed but she's less vocal about them.  Fighting doesn't seem to accomplish anything and it's draining.  Because she loves her husband, has spent most of her life with him and has children to worry about, she falls back into old patterns that comfort her.  She doesn't really want to talk about the "bi" thing anymore, she just wants a regular life.

When the wife pulls back, the husband is greatly relieved.  He doesn't want to fight either.  But, fundamentally, he's not happy.  He wants to be open and honest with his wife, and he wants to have her blessing to connect with men, but she's absolutely, resolutely, 100% adamant that she will not allow it.  Should he risk his marriage and cheat behind her back?  Should he give up and get divorced?  Or should he give his wife more time to understand him, with the hope that she'll eventually agree to let him have a buddy?

I can't count the number of marriages I've been told about that are stuck at this 'somewhat functional, not horrible, but definitely not happy' stand-off.  The wives are edgy - they just want a regular life - and the husbands feel frustrated and boxed in.  For them, the worst part about coming out as bisexual hasn't been that they've been rejected, it's that they can't be bisexual!  They're expected to be 100% straight, end of story.

For those men who are struggling 'in the box,' the ones who are waiting for their wife to suddenly consent to an open marriage but feel like their patience is waning, I have a suggestion: accept the blame.

Accept the blame, for what, exactly?

For whatever your wife is pissed off about - for all those accusations she makes about you, including your hidden motives, selfishness and narcissism.  Tell her she's right and mean it.

I realize that this might seem like a ridiculous, even impossible suggestion.  For example, if you honestly did not know you were attracted to men when you got married, WHY would you ever tell your wife that she's right and you knew all along??  And even if you could say that she was right, how could you possibly mean it when you know it's not true?

Because admitting that you were wrong will change your life for the better, no matter what.

Fault and responsibility are at the heart of the Blame Game and until a couple can move past them they will remain in an uncomfortable, unsatisfying stand-off.  Either the wife needs to decide that she doesn't care about the past and how disappointed she is that she's married to man who wants to have sex with men, or, the husband needs to take a great big bite of humble pie.

To be sure, there are wives out there who eventually let go of their hurt and anger.  When that happens it's typically a process that takes many years.  And ultimately, 80% of the reason those wives are able to let go is because their husbands prove with their actions that they are fully committed to their wives and their marriages.

Many wives will never trust their husband enough that they can forgive them, not so much because they're bitter, jaded or unyielding women, but because their husbands repeatedly show themselves to be untrustworthy.  Some behaviors are obviously untrustworthy - watching porn night after night and ignoring your wife, for example.  But the real problem most women have with untrustworthy husbands is that they feel like second-class citizens, or worse, a piece of furniture.  Closeted married men think that they suffer alone because of their secret, but that's not true.  Many wives instinctively feel that something is not right in their marriage, and because they don't know about their husband's sexuality, they blame themselves.  If only they were thinner, younger and more attractive, then their husband would like them more. They feel that way because, unlike men, they are biologically wired to blame themselves when something goes wrong with their marriage.  It's in their DNA.

To move past the Blame Game on their own, most women need to have all of those years of self-doubt erased by having their husband treat them as well as he did during the Honeymoon Phase.  They need to KNOW, without any doubt (or subversive behavior from their husband), that they're the top priority in their husband's life.  Once a wife is totally secure in that position, only then will she consider granting him permission to have an open marriage.

Formerly closeted men who want to prove that they are loyal and trustworthy face a huge uphill battle. By keeping their sexuality a secret for many years they've already proven they can lie with impunity.  Regaining any credibility after the lies are uncovered is an extremely difficult task - so difficult that it may be impossible for many men to achieve, especially those who denied their attraction to men most vehemently.  If a man swears over and over that he's straight, and his wife later uncovers irrefutable proof that he's not, can she ever truly trust him again?  Few women do.

The reality is that waiting for a woman who's been repeatedly lied to to suddenly forgive those lies, and to trust that her husband will respect her (even as he seeks permission to have sex with other men), is an exercise in futility.  Ending the Blame Game in that way is just not going to happen.  A far more likely outcome is that the wife files for divorce - and finds an attorney to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible on her former husband.

For all of these reasons, the most practical manner in which a comatose marriage can be revived and a disgruntled wife can even consider an open marriage, is if the husband does exactly what I suggest and admits that he was wrong to do what he did, especially hiding his sexuality and "ruining her life."

Some men will say this suggestion is outrageous.  WHY should they take the blame for an attraction they never wanted?!!

Because fault does not require intent.  There are plenty of actions (and sometimes even a failure to act) that make a person culpable for the injuries they inflict, even when their intentions were good.  Actions determine fault, not intent.

In the case of formerly closeted married men, the big mistake every man makes is hiding his attraction to other men for far long than he should.  Withholding that crucial information is why they're responsible for their wife's hurt and anger, not because of the attraction itself.

Many men do not understand how their hidden sexuality has affected their wife's self-image.  And even when their wife tries to explain it, they don't get the connection.  The way they see it, their wives need to be responsible for their own thoughts and behavior...AND...there are plenty of other reasons the marriage has been difficult that have nothing to do with sex.

While that is almost certainly true, saying so comes off as a transparent attempt to shift all or most of the blame to the wife, a behavior that only reinforces the wife's conviction that her husband can't be trusted.  It also perpetuates the vicious cycle of the Blame Game, which is a road to nowhere.

To stop the Blame Game, men need to realize that the primary crisis in their marriage has been caused by their sexuality.  Yes, there may be other problems, many of which might be caused by the wife's behavior or false perceptions, however, those problems don't threaten the marriage.  Having a sexual attraction to other men does.

Most wives can accept that their husband can't go back in time and disclose his attraction to men at the first moment he realized it himself.  And while it pisses wives off that they've been lied to for years, they understand that the past cannot be changed. However, what wives expect in the present is something very powerful, very important, very simple and very clear: a humble admission from their husband that he is responsible for the biggest problem in the marriage and that he willfully lied to her about his sexuality for far, far too long.

If a man makes that admission, what happens next?  Does his wife divorce him and tell the kids, his family and all their friends that he's admitted to being a lying bastard?

No.  Most often she forgives her husband for his mistakes, often within just a few days.  She may never say, "I forgive you," but it becomes clear that something important has clicked for her because her whole attitude changes.

Once her husband has admitted fault (and thereby proven he's a man of integrity and not a lying coward), the wife reassess her marriage.  She's always wanted it to work, but she couldn't see how it could.  It's the heart-felt apology from her husband that makes all the difference.  It's exactly what she needed to let go of the past and start thinking about the future.  Now, instead of always feeling threatened, emotional and on-edge, she's much more like her pre-disclosure self.  This shift marks the beginning of the Acceptance Phase.

The Acceptance Phase requires time to run its course.  After the wife forgives her husband for the pain and suffering he's caused, she takes time to gradually adjust to her new marriage.  As long as her husband doesn't do anything to make her question his love and life-long commitment to her, she eventually realizes that she's mostly happy with her life and her marriage.  It's at that point that she fully returns to her nurturing nature.  When that happens, instead of seeing her husband's attraction to men as a threat to her, she sees it as a threat to his happiness, and his happiness directly affects her and the rest of the family.  For that reason, some wives actually tell their husbands to go find a friend.  (Yep, it's true.  The men don't even ask.)  More often, the husband makes a wistful statement on an otherwise ordinary day and the wife says something like, "I want you to be happy.  Maybe if we set some ground rules we can come to an agreement for an open marriage that will work for both of us."

Not every wife who enters the Acceptance Phase will agree to an open marriage.  Some will always object for personal, moral or religious reasons.  In those situations the husband has to decide if the marriage means more to him than men or vice versa.  On the surface, it might seem that many men face that same decision regardless of whether they admit fault for the marriage's problems or not.  But in reality, the two situations are very different. Once a husband has accepted fault and thereby washes away most of his wife's anger and insecurities, emotion is largely eliminated from the equation.  This allows both spouses to think about their situation much more realistically.  Each spouse does an honest assessment of the marriage and each spouse makes a rational decision about what will work for them.  Whatever that decision is, it's the right resolution and both spouses realize that.  This is true whether the outcome is a monogamous marriage, an open marriage or a dissolved marriage.  And, because the couple is able to come to a clear decision, that makes the formerly closeted married man's life happier.  All because he stopped fighting about fault and took responsibility for the impact his sexuality has had on the marriage.

With all this said, there's one circumstance where admitting fault may be a very bad idea: locations were fault makes a difference in divorce settlements.  Yet even then, sometimes it's worth risking the extra money just to get to a place where the couple can decide if they can ever be compatible again or not.

As always, I appreciate comments and criticisms.  Feel free to share your opinions and experiences below or send me an email.  Thanks for reading.



As if this entry isn't long enough, I feel compelled to share the thoughts that inspired me to write this diatribe.

In my previous post, I blamed my former wife for my lack of motivation when it comes to dating men.  I said she was so miserable right now that it would be cruel of me to find someone and be happy.  Although that statement might be factually correct, the logic behind it is deeply flawed.  No matter what Gabbie says or does, or my kids say or do, or anyone else says or does, I am the only person who is responsible for the decisions I make in life, including whether I want to date or not.  I can't blame other people for my issues just because dealing with them is difficult or uncomfortable.

I can choose to waste a lot of time and energy making excuses and blaming other people for my lot in life, but doing that won't get me any closer to my goals.  What's necessary is that I accept full responsibility for myself and get over the emotional hurdles that the Blame Game masks. 

Accepting fault and taking responsibility for my situation doesn't mean I'll instantly be a better dater or a happier person, but it will allow me to make much more confident decisions about what I will or won't do and why. 

Men and women who are entrenched in the emotionalism of the Blame Game face the same fork in the road: either take responsibility for yourself and your actions and move forward with clear conviction and purpose, or, wallow in your own unhappiness until a miracle happens. (Or you drop dead, whichever comes first.)

The Blame Game dynamic is a universal phenomenon.  Breaking the deadlock of inaction by taking responsibility for what we've done and the decisions we've made is a solution that can be applied to just about any aspect of life, not just mixed orientation marriages. 

One final thought to consider:

Taking ownership of the mistakes one has made is very much like coming out of the closet.  When you hide the true you, you live in dire fear of what might happen should the truth ever be known.  But after you take the plunge, you escape the prison of your own thoughts and reality turns out to be so much better than what you imagined.  Similarly, taking responsibility doesn't ruin your life any more than being honest about yourself does.  They both mark key moments of change, but once you take either plunge, it's amazing how smooth the sailing is afterward.