By Rich Wyler, Founder & Director of Brothers Road —
What do women who are married to men who experience varying degrees of same-sex attractions wish their husbands understood about how his SSA affects them as wives?
As head of a non-profit, international community that offers support to men who experience unwanted same-sex attractions—and the wives of these men (www.brothersroad.org)—I recently posed that question to married women in one of our community’s private Facebook groups. Dozens of women responded.
(I also posted the complement to this question to two of our private Facebook groups for the husbands who experience same-sex attractions themselves. I asked husbands to complete the sentence, “What I wish my wife understood about my SSA is…” See the husbands’ responses here.)
How Women Responded: Key Highlights
Responses from the women differed significantly from those of the men in some ways—most notably that the wives who responded were largely (although not exclusively) experiencing much more recent or current pain in their marriages.
For the most part, the wives seemed to be women whose husbands had cheated on them or whose husbands had hidden their same-sex attraction issues from their wives until well into the marriage. The husbands who responded, on the other hand, seemed to be men who were actively working to address their same-sex attractions in ways that would preserve their marriages and help them grow. They hadn’t necessarily cheated on their wives or hidden their SSA from her.
An unedited download of the women’s raw responses is in the next section below, but here are a few key highlights of some of the main themes that emerged from the wives’ responses:
- Wives are going through something difficult—even traumatic—too. It’s not just his issue. If it’s an issue for the husband, then it’s an issue for the wife and for the marriage.
- Wives wanted their husbands to understand and acknowledge what they were going through, and how his actions had affected them.
- Many of the wives felt deeply hurt and betrayed. They were afraid of being left (or worse), and had lost trust in their husbands (and in some cases, in their own judgment).
- Other wives still felt hope, usually because they could see that the husbands were actively working on their issues, trying to repair damage they had done to their marriages, and involving their wives in the process.
- The deep love that the wives had (or once had) for their husbands came through clearly in the women’s comments. Many still respected him and were committed to standing by him as long as he continued to work on himself and the marriage.
- Some women acknowledged the significant personal growth they experienced by walking with their husbands through this experience. Some—in hindsight—even recognized certain ways they had benefited or been blessed by the experience.
- Many wanted their husbands to know what they wanted from him now. This usually included putting wife and family first, fully engaging with the wife, being truthful and authentic, and giving her space to go through her own process.
What Women Said: Their Complete Responses
Below are the wives’ raw responses, in their own words, when asked to complete the sentence, “What I wish my husband understood about his same-sex attraction affects me is…
I wish my husband understood … that it’s hard for me, too
- … that I am going through something just as hard as you are.
- … that I also hurt. It’s not always about your struggle.
- … that I am grieving. And grief takes time to heal.
- …that I need space to grieve our losses.
- … that it is not just about you any more! You see this as your issue, but because I am your wife it is now my issue too.
I wish my husband understood … that I have been hurt deeply, I am afraid, and have lost trust
- … that you betrayed me by not telling me about your SSA before we married.
- … that it is not the SSA or sex addiction or porn or masturbating or affairs that hurt the most. It is the lying and deception. It is the secrets and hiding. The deception from my most trusted person makes me question my entire world.
- … that I worry I won’t be able to support you the way you need me to.
- … that I worry that I might never be enough for you, and that makes me feel insecure.
- … that this issue has caused me great pain for someone I love, and great pain to me personally.
- … that my insecurities lie to me daily that I could be betrayed like so many other women who have husbands who struggle with SSA.
- … that the years of your lying and hiding have made it nearly impossible for me to just believe you when you say that I am what you want, and that you don’t want to be in a gay relationship.
- … that I am thankful for how you started the healing journey years before I was in the picture, but the fears are still there.
- … that I worry if your much-needed guy time will turn from safe to sexual.
- … that I worry that the thing you need—quality guy time—could come back to bite us.
- … that it is difficult when I feel like the floor may be pulled out from under me at any time. There’s always this pit in my stomach, this mental and exhausting wall I put up bracing for the next round.
- … that my fear that my husband will leave me doesn’t really come from him but from the popular cultural narrative that that is what people who experience SSA do.
- … that I so want to be able to trust what you say, but I’ve got a really loud voice in my head telling me that I’m an idiot if I do.
- … that when you started to trust me with your secrets, I lost trust in the person I thought I never would have to worry about.
- … that when you told me about your sex addiction (I knew about the SSA before marriage), I was devastated. You felt instant relief, where I felt like I had been broken into a million pieces.
- … that you are asking me to trust you in one area of our marriage where you have hurt me the deepest.
- … that you are valuing your Journey Into Manhood brotherhood vow of truth and honesty and commitment when you did not value our marriage vows or me.
- … that you have suddenly changed the rules of our marriage. With the new knowledge of your secret came a HUGE betrayal of our marital vows. So much so that I am questioning every part of MY life.
- … that you’ve hurt me and will have to earn my trust.
- … that each time you “slip up,” it’s a chink out of the faithfulness and trust we solemnly vowed to each other before God.
- … that I am made to feel guilty for needing affection from you.
- … that I have been on your emotional roller coaster with you for a long time, and I have to learn what it takes to get off the ride and be healthy myself. It does not happen overnight; it may take years.
- … that I think we’re in a good place, and have been for the past 6 years of our 14-year marriage. I say “think” because, no matter how well it seems things are going, he is still the man who lied to me and hid things from me since the day we met.
- … that no matter how “safe” your SSA friends supposedly are, it still sucks that you say you need something so counter-intuitive to what common sense would say is normal or even safe.
- … that sometimes I feel taken advantage of and used, trapped in a closet that isn’t mine.
- … that sometimes I think it’s selfish of you to focus so much on you and your needs, while the person you hurt the most—me—is supposed to be the strong one, and just find support elsewhere, instead of from you.
- … that to be married to a man who is not attracted to me plummets my confidence and self-esteem.
- … that while they (our husbands) are starting to feel better, we wives are still dealing with the betrayal and all the “what ifs,” “could haves,” “should haves,” guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, anger—you name it, we have felt it.
I wish my husband understood … that I still have hope
- … that because my husband seems to be doing his work and seems to be committed to our marriage (we both have been through healing weekends this year), I am hopeful.
- … that I look forward to healing our marriage through the grace of God.
- … that for the first time, I actually have hope for our future, now that he is actually working on his healing instead of just trying to “pray the gay away.”
- … that I have hope because, for the first time, he is reaching out to others for help and talking openly about his struggles.
- … that I have hope because, for the first time, my husband and I are having real conversations, and he is being brutally honest.
- … that I still have a hope for change—I know God is going to grab my husband’s attention and truly bring him to his knees, but the question is when, and how. But I’m wondering at this point if true change and repentance is even possible for my husband.
- … that when I see him sincerely working on his recovery, it helps rebuild trust. His being part of Brothers Road has been the best thing that has happened to him. He is understanding himself and has developed some healthy male relationships. He is giving back by staffing retreats.
- … that while I recognize that we still have a long way to go, I truly believe we are on the right track to having a healthy relationship. I hope in a weird way I can give hope to others as well.
I wish my husband understood … that I still love him, respect him, and am committed to him
- … that as long as you are doing the work, I have no intentions of running away. That’s not who I am. I don’t run. I fight. I will always fight for the people I love.
- … that I hope you see that it is strength, grit, determination and mostly love that that keeps me continuing to fight for our marriage. I don’t stay out of fear or weakness but out of love.
- … that I see the sides of you that you don’t see in yourself. It makes me sad that you don’t see yourself as being as masculine as I see you.
- … that, more than anything else, I love you, and we can do this together. (“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8)
- … that I hear you!
- … that I know you have chosen me and our marriage over a gay relationship, and I know that that takes courage and faith and character.
- … that I love you, and that’s why I stay. I haven’t run away screaming yet!
- … that I still see that you are an amazing man. Kind, compassionate, strong, gentle, and manly. Even on the worst days, I see that.
- … that I will support you and be here for you.
- … that forgiveness is a part of my reality now. I give it as a gift.
I wish my husband understood … that I have grown and even benefited in some ways
- … that his SSA has helped me to become the person that I am now. I have learned, and grown, and changed.
- … that I am a stronger, more authentic woman because of his journey, which has become our journey.
- … that I will put myself back together and catch up with you. I will be fixed and put back together and held together with gold. I will be more precious and beautiful than before. I am not quite grateful, but I am thankful for the journey you forced us both on
- … that our work has been hard, but I respect your work.
- … that since your disclosure, I have met some wonderfully strong women of faith. My faith has grown.
- … that through this journey, I met a man in my husband I never knew. We have open discussions with real opinions now.
- … that we are both in the vulnerable, courageous arena of life, and that is a scary place.
- … that as he has worked on himself, it has been a blessing to see him become more of the person I already knew he was—and to be more confident in himself.
- … that I am actually thankful for the journey he inadvertently invited me to take with him when he disclosed everything after 16 years of marriage. The fact that we did it together was everything to me! It has taken patience and forgiveness on both of our parts to get to where we are today. Through this process, I have recovered and rediscovered myself.
- … that I still have fears that crop up in our marriage from time to time, but I have also learned that talking them through with my husband helps, especially when either he or I can make adjustments to eliminate that fear.
- … that it has been a blessing for me to discern between “story” and fact and to learn to experience emotion rather than stuffing it away in a box.
- … that it has been a blessing for me to have to learn how to face my problems rather than run from them.
- … that it has been a blessing for me to learn how to better work together.
- … that it has been a blessing for me to learn how to see things from another viewpoint.
- … that loving my husband just the way he is is a BIG thing. Loving myself just the way I am may even be BIGGER.
- … that the more I go through things, the more I realize that my husband and I are blessed beyond measure
- … that there is a part of me that is grateful for this journey we have been on. His work has encouraged me to do my own work. Even though he brought the SSA to the marriage, I have had to look at the parts I have played in our relationship that have not been helpful.
I wish my husband understood … that I have boundaries and limits
- … that I honestly think I have come to a point where I may have to continue my journey without my husband if he’s unwilling or unable to press on.
- … that I will be forced to make major life decisions soon.
- … that I am not your punching bag.
- … that I am absolutely unwilling to play second fiddle to any man.
I wish my husband understood … what I’m going through
- … that although I have the choice of whether to stay with the one I love—you—I have no control over you or this issue. And yet it effects my life greatly.
- … that as we both walk our recovery journeys, realize that you are much farther ahead on the track. I need to catch up.
- … that I am playing catch up! You have known about your SSA for a very long time and have held this secret from me for as long as I have known you.
- … that I envy those women who knew about their husbands’ SSA before they married and got the opportunity to choose whether to still marry him. I didn’t. It’s a different journey when you are blindsided.
- … that I often wonder how you would feel if I was the one who needed attention and physical touch from another man. What if I had been the one who was unfaithful online, sending nude pictures of myself and having video sex—and then I went on retreats with guys like that? Suppose that even if I wasn’t really attracted to those guys (my new friends), wouldn’t you worry that there’s a chance that I could be? What if they were giving me back rubs and we were having intimate conversations while you were at home with the kids keeping life moving along? I don’t think you’d be calm about it. And I think you should be more patient with me struggling to accept it.
- … that I wish I could control him at times, but I can’t. That’s where I need to trust that the Lord is completely in control and has me in his hands.
- … that it’s important that you see things from my perspective sometimes. YOU are the one who was unfaithful and yet YOU are the one rewarded with new friendships and retreats, and I’m supposed to sit on the sidelines cheering you on.
- … that my brain may understand the process you are now going through, and my brain may understand why your need to be around other men is important—BUT my heart is still trying to catch up.
- … that the story that I often tell myself is that he is acting out in isolation when he really is just trying to get a handle on a lot of curveballs that we’ve been thrown in the last couple years.
- … that we are both walking our own recovery journeys, but because I only recently found out about your struggle, you are already much farther ahead on the track. I need to catch up.
- … that when you broke through with disclosures of infidelity over years of marriage, I remained true and compassionate. When you were seeking healthy relationships, I became lonely and worried. Our lives intersected and we took each other’s mode of living. You: Authentic, Me: Protective, quiet, lonely.
- … that when your voice came out, mine became silent to protect you. When your walls of protection came down to deal with your hurts, I had to build walls of protection for us and our family with friends, and to keep things from people I had never had to hide from before.
- … that while I didn’t know anything about your SSA before, now I’m just supposed to trust you?
- … that while they (husbands) are feeling better and finding out who they really are, it will take a long time for us wives to process and work through the PTSD caused by their betrayal.
- … that while you say you and your friends are committed to not crossing any lines because you don’t want to hurt each other like that…and I’m just like, “Uh, you mean like you committed to not cross any lines and not hurt me when we got married?” Yeah…sorry if I’m skeptical!
- … that although we have a great sex life, there are still things that I have had to change for myself (perspective, expectations, etc.) to make our relationship work; he is not the only one making sacrifices.
- … that his SSA is always on my mind too.
- … that I feel like you expect me to be understanding, to adapt, to be strong, to show compassion, to forgive and to be careful to not shame you. But I wish you understood that your issue is your issue, not something that I have done. You are not the victim here. If anyone is, I am.
- … that I often feel unlovable.
- … that I walk this journey alone, in secret, not because of my own choice, but to protect you and our kids.
- … that I, too, am attracted to men—but it’s not like what you feel, and sometimes that makes it hard to understand you. I don’t dream of seeing men naked, I don’t long to see naked body parts, and I don’t I idolize the male body. So when I see or hear of you feeling such attractions, it feels alien to me, though I try to understand it. Women aren’t wired this way!
- … that I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Always. Even in the good times.
- … that it’s so hard to fight the feeling that it’s beyond unfair that you’re the one who wrecked our marriage, but I’m the one who pays for it emotionally every time you go off to have your “emotionally fulfilling” guy time with your new friends.
- … that my whole being has been shaken
- … that there are far more resources out there for you than there are for me. It’s a lot easier for you to share your SSA with close friends than it is for me: Girlfriends just look at me like I am nuts. It’s very lonely!
- … that there’s a lot of cultural sympathy for LGBT people. There isn’t a lot for their opposite-sex spouses. Please understand it is super lonely for me—maybe even lonelier than for you.
- … that I need understanding, not any of what I call “recovery arrogance.”
- … that we wives are expected to bear so much, and give so many allowances no other woman could ever even imagine. It’s horribly draining some days.
- … that it feels lonely. In order to protect you, I don’t talk about my struggles with the friends with whom I have shared years of my life.
- … that it’s hard not knowing what are the normal marriage challenges and what challenges are tied to SSA.
- … that I find it sad and frustrating that you have fallen for the world’s ideals of masculinity.
- … that I have learned that the more I tell him all the ways he hasn’t met my expectations, the more he withdraws. But the more I remember and tell him the good stuff about him and our marriage, the more he wants to engage
I wish my husband understood … what I want from him now
- … that I fear that you may become so focused on what you need that you forget to look up at me and your children for what we also need.
- … that I feel most loved when you look back and encourage me. When you choose to listen to my fears, worries, emotions, and thoughts while holding space, I feel heard and valued and cherished.
- … that I have said these things to you, but you don’t hear it. I hope in hearing from all these women, you will hear some other wives and feel for them. I hope you can hear me now. Hear us.
- … that I need you to be patient with me when I ask the same questions over and over. I’m trying to figure out what all of this means and how all of this has changed my life.
- … that I need you to choose me first. I need you to meet me in the middle so we can walk together.
- … that I need you to just hold space for me to do my work, too.
- … that I understand that you need your Journey Into Manhood brothers. And I respect confidentiality. But could you ask the ones you are closest to if you can share their name and general information about them? It helps me to know who you are having conversations with, and who you are getting your support from.
- … that I would like to see that my needs trump yours sometimes. That I’m important enough to put aside what you want (not every time, just sometimes) and use discipline to stay on the right path.
- … that I’d love for you to know that when honesty, bravery, choosing others over self, truthfulness, sacrifice, being my protector and defender are some things I can count on, the SSA is easier to accept and live with.
- … that I’ve chosen to walk this journey with you. I’ve chosen to love you right where you are. I’ve chosen you. So…choose me. Choose me first. I understand you need healthy connection with men who struggle with the same thing. I want you to have that. You’ve chosen others over me many times. I still want to be your first choice before them. Call me first. Text me first. Hold me first. Choose me first.
- … that if I knew I could 90% trust that you would choose right, my heart could rest.
- … that if you don’t seek help and guidance from outside sources, other than prayer, I’m afraid you won’t ever change. It takes professionals who understand your SSA. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity, and it only hurts our marriage further.
- … that it’s not fair that the person who was hurt—me—is the one giving up what she wants each time so that you can fulfill what you need in order to reach the desired result. I want the same end-result. However, I may not agree to all of the same means that you do. Can we meet in the middle and still get a healthy result?
- … that one of the things I want most is for you to be open and honest with me to the best of your ability.
- … that while I understand that you need your “guy time,” I need you to respect family time, too, and not always rush to put your Journey Into Manhood brothers ahead of me or the family.
- … that you hold the blame for lying and being deceitful, but it is my responsibility to pick up the shattered pieces of my life and fix them. It is your responsibility, to the best of your ability, to hold space to allow me to do that.
- … that as a heterosexual woman, I long to be pursued sexually and to feel attractive to my partner. This doesn’t mean I want you to feel pressure or that I want you to fake it when you’re not feeling it.
- … that I do not feel affirmed or acknowledged in my commitment to the family. I do not feel affirmed or acknowledged in the strength I must muster, the ongoing dread I feel for what’s possible, or the loneliness I endure.
- … that I don’t want to always be the source of strength in our family.
- … that I feel emotionally starved and have to fight against seeking the affection from someone I shouldn’t.
- … that I want you to stop making me feel guilty for expecting you to do the work to repair the trust YOU destroyed.
- … that it doesn’t help if you ignore or berate me for “not getting it” or if you ask, “How long is this going to take”? Grieving doesn’t happen overnight.
- … that it shouldn’t be my job to build trust. You are the one who should be going way out of your way to build a safe environment that I can feel secure in.
- … that just as I am always trying to find ways to understand you even when it’s difficult, it means so much when you find ways to show you are attracted to me (even if you aren’t full-blown hot for me that day).
- … that just as I have chosen to accept you as you, you should accept me as I am.
- … that sometimes I feel overwhelmed and need a minute to breath. That doesn’t mean that I’m giving up or walking away. I just need to take care of myself for a minute. AND my needs have to come first sometimes.
- … that you can help me by being contrite, humble, open, and by seeking to find places where we can both get help.
- … that your guilt- and shame-filled downward spirals are so hard for me to watch. It’s so important to me that you get the help or therapy or support you need outside of me because being your sole confidante is very hard for me. It’s also not healthy for you either.
- … that I want to understand your journey, too. Don’t make your process of healing a mystery.