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Happy anniversary. By the way, I'm gay Add to ...

'I wouldn't call what we had sex. We had fertility clinic sex."

For those who have complained about the quality and frequency of sex in their marriage, consider this: It could be worse. The problem could be irreparable.

Your partner could say, "It's not you. It's your gender."

One of the most painful situations to overcome is when one spouse in a heterosexual marriage reveals - either deliberately or by accident (hello Internet!) - that he or she is gay.

There are no statistics on the number of heterosexual divorces due to homosexuality, but it appears more common than it was in previous generations, as people feel society is more accepting of their diverse sexual identities, says Caryn Miller, a Toronto psychotherapist and couples counsellor who specializes in the issue. "Now, more and more people in marriage counselling are coming to me saying, 'I think I might be gay,' " she explains.

But that acceptance doesn't mean there is greater understanding of the emotions a declaration - or a discovery - of homosexuality unleashes. The admission of homosexuality to a straight partner is hard on both people, says Ms. Miller.

While it is a clear resolution to a couple's sexual dysfunction, it provokes as many questions as it answers.

The woman quoted above, who didn't want her name published, found out that her husband was gay after 24 years of marriage and two children. "We had next to no sex. He would always refuse. He made me feel it was me. I felt really ugly and unattractive," she says.

A devout Christian, she was a virgin when she married him. He knew he was gay at 15, he later explained to her. But he married her because he feared the social stigma if he came out, and he wanted to please his father. He told her that he thought about having a gay affair while married to her, but never acted on it.

Her husband's admission of his sexual orientation offered some relief, she acknowledges. "I didn't have a chance. It wouldn't have made a difference no matter how thin or how blond you are."

But it was also "totally devastating," she says. While she initially had compassion for him - it's not as if he was choosing to be homosexual - she was soon overwhelmed with shame and anger. "It's shame that I was duped for so long. How could I not know?" she says.

"And will I ever lose my anger totally?" she asks rhetorically.

"No. He can't give me back my youth. It's gone," says the 50-year-old. "He never said that he used me. But that's how I feel."

The nature of marriage between a latent or closeted homosexual and a heterosexual partner is complex and unusual, Ms. Miller notes. "Those who are unsure about their sexuality often think, 'If I just fall in love with someone of the opposite sex I can put this all behind me,' and for some amount of time they can."

They often choose heterosexual marriage partners with their head, not their heart, she says, which can result in a relationship "between friends that has a really strong bond." The breakup can surprise children, Ms. Miller adds, "because their parents got along very well."

A divorce is often easier on the gay partner, she says.

"For the spouse who is coming out for the first time as an adult, he or she finds the [gay]community and feels like an adolescent. You're very excited because you're discovering what you're attracted to. You're coming out of the closet, but the other spouse is going into one. There's really no support for the person who finds out. They feel ostracized. They worry what people are going to think of them for not knowing all those years. And they lose trust in themselves and their judgment of others."

Still, the spouse who comes to terms with his or her homosexuality is not spared anguish and pain.

"I would feel sick to my stomach after sex," says a lesbian who was married for 11 years to a man, with whom she has three children. She married him, her first sexual partner, when she was 23. In her teenage years, she had crushes on girls but never consummated a gay relationship. "I wanted to do the traditional thing. When I was growing up, I believed that my next step was to get married, have kids. I had a dream."

But the dream never felt complete. "I thought [sex]would get better; that I would get used to him. I tried. But I couldn't achieve orgasm, and after a while I just stopped trying."

She made excuses not to have sex. Her husband would get angry. He felt emasculated, she says. Sometimes, they would cry together over their troubled sex life.

"He had been sexually active since he was 12, and he said that sex with me was the worst he had ever had."

He asked her to seek help. She "embarked on a journey," she says. But when she realized she was gay, she still couldn't bring herself to tell her husband, out of fear of breaking up the family. "Finally, he was the one who said, 'I think you are gay.' " She wept and confirmed it.

"We loved each other," she explains, adding that they stayed in the same house for three years as they grappled with how to tell the children and keep the family intact. "We had dinner together every night. Things ran smoothly," she explains.

The children found out when her 10-year-old daughter discovered a letter that she had written to her husband, describing the courage it took for her to confront her sexuality. It wasn't about him, it was about speaking the truth, she wrote to him.

"That really helped the kids. I went over the whole thing with them, explaining that people are born attracted to men or women or both, and that I was born attracted to women. I told them their father deserved the truth. My daughter knew we were separating. We were sleeping in separate bedrooms. But she thought I didn't like her father any more. Which wasn't true."

Still, the final outcome was painful. When her ex-husband remarried, he moved out of town and has not remained in touch with the children, she says. He now blames her for ruining his life with the family.

"I feel guilt over the kids having to grow up in a non-traditional home and losing their father," she confesses. "I worry that in their angry moments they are going to say, 'This is your fault.' "

Before gay marriage was sanctioned in California, a line once uttered by Los Angeles comedian Jason Stuart found its way onto popular T-shirts. "Come on, straight people," it reads. "If you let us marry each other, we'll stop marrying you." Which is a clever, ironic pitch for same-sex marriage: What may upset some conservatives will potentially spare them and others from pain.

Ms. Miller agrees: "When you can get the white picket fence and the children when you are gay, fewer will marry into heterosexual relationships. Less damage is done all around."

 

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