Thanks to a referral from our good friend and fellow Northern Lights blogger, Josh Weed—who was invited to participate today in a HuffPost Live discussion on mixed-orientation marriages, but who couldn’t and passed on my name instead—I took part in a Google Hangout chat discussion with Amity Buxton, veteran and respected researcher on MOMs, founder of the Straight Spouse Network and author of Unseen, Unheard: The Journey of Straight Spouses; Carren Strock, author of Married Women Who Love Women; and Juliet Jeske, a New York-based comedian, actress and writer, and a featured voice on the Straight Spouse Network, sharing the story of her ex-husband who came out as gay years into their marriage.
I thought conversation went really well and wanted to pass on the video here. If you’ve got about 30 minutes, take a look:
HuffPost Live: Mixed-Orientation Bliss?
It’s interesting to me that there is as much public interest in this topic as thre is, and I’m grateful for Josh and Lolly Weed for being willing to share their story on a national stage, which has helped to elevate the conversation by sharing the story of a happy, healthy marriage when the conversation has been dominated by marriages that haven’t worked and which have left a trail of heartbreak in their wake. The last few years I’ve learned—and am learning more and more all the time—just how many individuals are in so-called “mixed-orientation marriages” who are happy. But they typically blend in and don’t have the same motivations to speak out. So, it’s nice to have those who are willing—and we need more. There are some now over on the Voices of Hope website—with many more to come.
One thing I liked about the conversation today on the HuffPost Live Google Hangout was the fact that there was ample time to dig into the issues in a bit more depth (granted, to do the issue justice takes more than 30 minutes, but 30 minutes was a good start), and to have veteran writers and researchers who get the texture around this issue commentating on it. I think they did a great job putting this together.
As final few thoughts, I want to add a bit more about what I think is important for those who experience same-sex attraction and who want to explore what best makes for a healthy heterosexual marriage. Just today, I got a message from an earnest young man who asked,
“I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the concept of a gay man loving a girl. I’ve always tried fantasizing what its like to feel that way about a girl and can’t seem to find it feasible. So my question is, is the love that you feel for your wife something that had to teach yourself? is it something totally different then the romantic feelings you’ve had toward men? or is it simply a gift from God?”
It’s an honest question, and in the little time I had to respond I tried to offer a few brief, reflective thoughts that I’ll throw out here as well (with some slight revisions). As most people know (and as they had discovered and noted in the HuffPost convo), my wife and I wrote our story as a feature piece for LDS Living magazine last summer, and shortly thereafter wrote a few more conceptual thoughts in an essay titled “10 Essentials to a Thriving Marriage When One Partner Experiences Same-Gender Attraction.” Briefly touching on some of these many themes, I wrote:
“A question like that doesn’t lend itself to an easy answer and the best I could offer is ‘all of the above.’ I don’t know if you’ve already the LDS Living article, but I tried to articulate it there some because it’s the heart of what I feel God has tried to teach me through this journey. I had a spiritual experience that I shared in the article in which the Lord showed me in a very powerful way what eternal love feels like… it was amazing and beautiful but also profoundly different from most of what is portrayed as love here in mortality. Even heterosexual love as it’s most commonly portrayed is a shallow, ‘natural man’ experience with little real love in comparison.
“After that experience, it was something of a spiritual quest for the Lord to teach me to feel and become that kind of Love which, with or without romantic overlay, must have charity as it’s foundation and is ‘bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ’ (Moroni 7:48).
“So, yes, charity (and I’m not there yet, my wife will attest!—still learning) is a gift from God to anyone who has it—and it is those who are true followers of Christ who have it… and, yes, it’s something I to study and cultivate and learn over time… and, yes, it’s different than sexual or romantic feelings I’ve had for men in some ways, but sexual and romantic energy is pretty shallow and fleeting if not nurtured and sustained over time by emotional connection and intimacy, fidelity, trust, loyalty, etc. What I have with my wife is, I attest, so much better and richer.
“One thing that’s also important to understand is that real love, romantic feelings, sexual impulse, romantic desire, emotional attachment, infatuatory euphoria, etc, are each qualitatively different feelings. They often get lumped together but only to our detriment. You can love someone without feeling sexual desire, and someone can feel sexual desire without the slightest trace of real love.”
I then noted to this young man some books and resources I believe can be helpful—if not critical—to understanding and developing the kind of mature perspective on love that will serve as a solid foundation up which a satisfying marital relationship can be built. For those interested in digging deeper into some of this, I’ve included a slightly-expanded compilation of those resources.
First, there was a fantastic op-ed in New York Times a few months ago, “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” that I think is a must-read for understanding the dynamics of long-term relationships. One thing that is also important to understand is that the kind of passionate love that is felt in the honeymoon stage of relationships is most often, by it’s very nature, not long lasting. And yet we’re fed a steady diet of it in popular media such that we think that’s how it’s “supposed” to be. And when the passionate sex scene ends and the music fades, we’re left with little truth and a lot of fantasy.
In addition to that article, the following are some must-read books on the subject of love and what makes for meaningful, lasting relationships—some of the very best books out there on the subject:
In M. Scott Peck’s book listed above, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, I’m thinking particularly of Part 2, titled (appropriately) “Love,” which includes several chapters addressing what Peck calls “the myth of romantic love.” There are some great insights.
I ended my response to this young man with the following:
“If you think you want to open yourself up to the possibility of marriage at some point, I would highly recommend starting with some of these resources. True love isn’t something anyone ‘falls’ into, and even sexual attraction is an evolutionary impulse that dies out if not nurtured and sustained by genuine love and affection and some other dynamics that are critical to sustaining it in a marriage. [see Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.]
“Things with my wife have been wonderful, but I spent years just doing personal growth work after recommitting myself to the gospel with full heart. I think there were several things the Lord wanted to teach me about faith, idolatry, consecration, and true love, happiness, joy, and peace, before the blessing of marriage could have been what it is to me now. And, having learned those lessons, we’ve had a great marriage. I’m sooo in love with both my wife and my kids, but love I have and feel in my life has come with the heavy price of consecration and really learning what makes for true, Spirit-born joy and love—as opposed to thinking it’s something that just ‘happens’ as we ‘fall into it.’ These are really bad pop cultural myths and I work every day as a marriage and family therapist with the (heterosexual) wreckage left in the wake of couples who bought into those myths and now have to salvage their relationships out of that wreckage.”
I don’t think marriage is something to take lightly, and marriage when there are sexual identity conflicts have an added layer of potential concerns that need to be openly and honestly addressed. But it also doesn’t need to be as heavy as I worry it may have come across here. It just needs to be approached with high level of honesty and integrity, self-awareness, loyalty, personal vulnerability, and Spiritual and emotional maturity. With those things in place, I would suggest that chances are good the marriage will be much more successful, enriching, and joy-full than any same- or opposite-sex relationship with someone individuals are “naturally attracted to.”