by Amanda Feder
"'til death do us part” may not reflect the reality of our relationship with our spouse. Those years were potentially joy-filled, cherished, and fulfilling years for you...Then one day your partner comes out to you or shares their identity with you. If you had not considered this possibility before, hearing your partner sharing a new layer of themself with you may prompt a mix of emotions and reactions. You may take their self-discovery or transition personally, feeling as if you were not “enough” to satisfy your partner. You may feel betrayed, angry, sad, or completely confused.
The LGBTQ+ community has historically and continues to experience stigmatization, leading to many individuals exploring their identities later in life, or sharing their truth they have known for years but could not share for many reasons including safety, lack of support or acceptance from family, friends, and their community, and cultural values stemming from religious beliefs. Your ex may have acted in ways that were hurtful, toxic, or abusive. These are separate from their identity, and it is important to not assign abusive behavior as part of an identity. Some adults navigating their identity during a committed partnership overlap with these truths. For some adults during a committed partnership, they may explore outside of the relationship with individuals and identities they are attracted to. Clear, safe, and honest communication about needs during this time can prevent losing trust, as cheating to explore temporarily hides pain and uncertainty, but has damaging consequences. Similarly, divorce or separation is undoubtedly a painful and layered experience for all involved, even if you are happy for your partner and their personal growth. For some, the desire to maintain a collaborative approach to parenting after separating can strengthen your relationship with your ex. Recent narratives and research indicate there are many ways to restructure relationship dynamics after a partner comes out. Alternatives may include living separately and co-parenting, or continuing to live together and partnering with parenting, as everyone is encouraged to identify their needs and the boundaries necessary to support this change.
To help you begin your journey, you could try some of the following.
Have honest conversations. Co-create a foundation of honesty, respect, and compassion when navigating these next steps with your family. Check out social psychologist Dr. Mashek’s article on practicing honest conversations in any relationship. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/relationships-intimate-and-more/202102/honest-conversations-in-relationships
Educate your family. You may have many questions about how the changes emerge after someone you love comes out. Educating yourself on GSRD terminology, social issues, and history may help provide clarity on how to best support your family. PFLAG, the first and largest organization supporting individuals in the GSRD community, their families, and allies, provides an abundance of information on their “Coming Out” page: https://pflag.org/comingout
Speak with a mental health professional. The variety of feelings and questions you have are valid and normal! It is important to have a space to process significant life and relationship transitions, which can be found by speaking with a counselor.
Find community and similar family structures in local GSRD community groups like PFLAG to encourage acceptance.
Explore your own identity. The process of self-discovery is a brave one and you may feel called to reflect on your identity and needs during this transition.
LGBTQ Youth Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm
PFLAG National: www.pflag.org