Do you remember being a child and jumping into the deep end of the pool for the first time? You were probably not sure what would happen, whether you would sink or swim. Could you be brave enough to take the leap, even though you weren’t sure it was the right thing for you to do? For many, first jumps are to be celebrated…a perfect cannonball, a quick resurface and a dog paddle to the edge to try it again. However, there are those that jump in and sink a little too low, take in water, feel pressure and the fear of not being able to breathe. The latter is what it feels like when you are in a life situation where you are confused, feel internally trapped and needing escape.
I have built a strong practice on helping couples cope and process through when one or both partners begins to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered (GLBT). The impact of such a realization cannot be underestimated. Both partners will go through a myriad of emotions, not limited to grief, sorrow, anger, rage, embarrassment, fear, depression, hope, liberation, and a re-identification of oneself.
For the person coming out, she or he may or may not have had an understanding of their sexual identity all long. Some people only begin to realize a changing sexual identity later in life. Many of these clients are concerned that they have lived a lie, or that others will think they have lied to them. There are concerns about how to live a more authentic life and to bring fulfillment to themselves without causing additional negative feelings to the people they love. We spend countless hours talking about how to balance their own emerging needs with the consistent and new needs of their families – and how their family structure can and will change. If children of any age are involved, discussions about how to maintain the parenting role while being honest with children who will undoubtedly have very personal questions will happen.
For the spouse of the person coming, it is important to talk through the meaning of this new information. It is often so hard to realize that many seemingly good marriages may end as a result of a partner coming out and there is nothing another can do to “convince” a partner that it doesn’t matter. Left spouses often feel deserted, betrayed, a sense of failure and true loss. Helping a left spouse work through the complications of a crisis of identity and reemerge strong, vibrant and able to have a meaningful relationship will take time, but is certainly possible.
We live a new and different world than we did just five years ago. What it means to be LGBTQIAP+ in today’s world has different implications. One’s sexual identity is not a reflection on anyone but the individual. Being in a relationship with someone who comes out does not reflect on your orientation or ability to be an effective and meaningful relationship partner. Obviously, each relationship and situation must be understood with its own unique facts and personalities; however, each relationship has the ability to transform and bring meaning to all.
If you would like to learn more about this topic or want help navigating your journey contact Megan Neitling, LMHC, CST here to schedule a session.
[Originally published: April 30, 2013 by Elliott Kronenfeld, LCSW, CST]