(An open letter of a marriage therapist to a husband and father thinking of leaving his family to pursue his homosexual urges):
When your wife told me at our last session that she wanted me to tell the two of you my unbridled opinion on your situation, I went into that with fear and trembling. I had 15 minutes to advocate for your marriage when you had been struggling for years against voices trying to convince you to lay your family at the altar. I also suspected it would the last time I would talk to you. For that I was sad. People come to see me after fighting their own demons sometimes for years. I haven’t been able to help resurrect a marriage in two sessions very often. Maybe in eight or ten. In your case I don’t know how long. Usually it takes me several sessions just to get to the point where I can share some different ways of thinking about things. If I go too quickly, my clients react by not coming back. It takes me awhile to bond with them and earn the right to be heard. Afterwards, I felt I failed you, that my arguments in favor of you taking a stance to fight for your family had fallen far short. Now, since our chat, I’ve extended this conversation in my head over and over of what I could have said instead. Even now, as I try to articulate them more coherently, I doubt my own ability to do so.
If a person is a husband and a father, it is my belief that they should continue to be a husband and father. There should be no force on earth, however attractive or alluring, to convince them that they should no longer be husband or a father. Of course, in our society today, there is a pervasive lie that if you are not happy being a husband you can cash that in and still be a father. But this is not really true. Maybe he is a father in name or by birth. If he is divorced he is only a father part of the time. A father is a full time job. It is a terribly gut wrenching thing to only see one’s children once in awhile. It is so gut wrenching that many fathers give up on it altogether.
If we’re going to do this right, a father is also a husband and demonstrates to his sons and daughters what it is that fathers do. Fathers love their children’s’ mothers. Fathers are selfless and set examples to their children how to fight the temptations that come their way. Children idolize their fathers. A son’s glory is his dad. He wants to be like him; to have the strength to not give up like dad; to have the wisdom to outwit the enemy like dad; to love his future wife just like dad did. But if dad has given up and left his family for whatever reason, that father has lost his voice.
A son then says, no, I don’t want to be like my father. He quit. This hurts me very much. Why would he leave me? What force could there possibly be that could convince my father to leave my mother and me? I would never want to hurt my children. I will never leave my family. So now the father has become, instead, a bad example to be avoided at all costs. He loses his right to be heard. Why listen to a father who doesn’t believe in us as a family unit? Why listen to a father who put his own needs in front of the family? Why listen to a father who is never here when I need him? Who’s going to teach me to shave? I won’t see my dad til Friday and I have a problem today. I had this run in with my teacher or what should I do with my life and I need to talk with my dad, but he seems like a stranger to me. It takes so long to warm up to him, because I rarely see him, and by the time I have the courage to talk to him I have to leave to be with my mother. We’re basically strangers. He’s my dad. But he’s not really my dad. But really, I don’t even know if I want his advice. Why would I ask advice from a guy who dumped my mother? I love my mother. Sure she has bad points, but I love her, faults and all. Why can’t he love both sides of her? Am I more of a man than my father? What kind of a man just leaves the wife of his youth? I would never do that. How can I respect a “dad” who does that? Why would I want his influence in my life?
Now let’s imagine that instead of “just” divorcing his wife, this “father” has had an affair during his marriage and divorces his wife to be with his affairee. I’ve seen some of these “fathers.” They come see me afterwards, when the romance of their lover has dissipated, as it always does. They hold their heads in their hands and weep at the loss of their own integrity at the hand of pleasure and how the mirage has turned into a desert. They sit in their apartments alone, for rarely do marriages or even relationships with affairees last beyond a year let alone long term. They wonder why their children won’t have anything to do with them…for years. Sometimes they never reconcile.
Even if they don’t divorce, but Dad had an affair and it’s now over, if the children find out that dad was bedding someone other than their mother, they go into shock and rage. Most of the children withdraw entirely from their fathers. Some withdraw from the family altogether. Many will lose their moral bearings and go adrift in a sea of lust themselves. Like father, like son. If dad has no reason to live other than for himself I guess I don’t have any reason either. No one is there to set an example to the son how to face the temptations of the day. Children, who’s father had an affair, have a much higher rate of having affairs in their future marriages, than children who grew up with faithful moms and dads.
Now lets imagine that dad leaves his wife and children to pursue a life of pleasure with other men. What? This is somehow OK? Well, I have to be true to myself. True to yourself? Whatever happened to your calling of being a father and husband? Oh, I was self-deceived. I should have never made those promises. My bad. Sorry. I meant them at the time, but you know, times change. I’m gonna do this now. Really. Well, you know, I’ve struggled with this for years. Yeah, it’s a bummer, I know, but I can’t be a hypocrite. If you object, you are persecuting me. You’re homophobic. But dad, you’re supposed to love my mother! You’re supposed to set an example for me. Sure, but you don’t know how I’ve struggled with this…this internal battle. I just finally had to be who I am. Turns out I’m not meant to be a husband…in the traditional sense.
I personally don’t buy this idea that if a person has gay tendencies that that lets them off the hook and they don’t have to fulfill any obligations or promises and they can do whatever they want. I personally don’t believe that there should be any force on earth or under the earth or heaven above that should talk them into NOT being a husband or a father. If my religion said, leave your family and pursue this religion I’d say dump that religion. If a job said, your family has to go, I’d say get a different job. If a temptation said, dump your wife and marry this hottie, I’d say, dump the temptation, dump the hottie. Well, I love her. No you don’t. Love doesn’t tell you to leave your wife a disheveled mess to pursue some fantasy that will never fulfill your dreams. It doesn’t tell you that the hottie is more important than setting an example for your son on how to live in our crazy, fallen world. If a proclivity says dump your wife and pursue me, I’d say dump the proclivity. What?! Gay temptation has to be succumbed to? Am I a dog? I can’t say no? I have to say yes to every idea that comes into my head? That cute college coed that keeps flirting with me…I’m not supposed to resist that? You mean I can do what ever I want? Aren’t I a hypocrite if I don’t submit to the temptation? You think your wife or your son would buy the argument: This is my calling. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve wanted to have an affair and sleep with a young college coed and dump my wife and leave my son in moral quandary. I have to be who I am. This is who I am. I’m just a sleep-with-pretty-college-coeds kind of guy. And if you are upset about that you just aren’t enlightened and you are persecuting me and being totally unfair, because there is no morality. You can do whatever you want. Really. Follow me to nirvana. You’ll see that the key to life is to submit to whatever temptation that comes into your mind. Be true to yourself. If your feelings tell you to steal, steal. If your feelings tell you to breed another man go ahead. And why stop with one man. Think of all the studs you can stick your penis in to. Raise your penis high. This is the new symbol of freedom. Unrequited self-absorbtion. You can put your penis wherever you want. There is no morality. There are only naysayers, self-righteous pricks who are the fuddyduds of the universe. They are just trying to take your fun away. Live for yourselves. Do whatever you want. Promises mean nothing. Having all the gusto is what you are to do. Father, forgive me forever thinking that there are right and wrongs or promises that are worth keeping. Amen.
Let’s put aside the proclivities and the tendencies and the temptations and the fantasies and ask instead: what’s so bad about this marriage that I would be willing to flush it down the toilet to do whatever? That is the point I was trying to make in the 15 minutes I had in our session. We can work on the marriage. We can work on trying to reconnect. We can heal and forgive and figure out a way to reconnect. But first a person has to decide if they WANT to fight the temptation, slay the dragon. If they want to embrace the dragon, so be it. They don’t need my help. If they want to slay the dragon, I’ve got a few pointers that might help.
If I have a couple in therapy and they tell me that one of them is having an affair and the person having the affair thinks the affair is fine and the other spouse needs to get a life and realize that this is who her shusband is and to accept his limitation, I would meet with the spouse having the affair alone until they decide to advocate for their marriage and drop the affairee. Sometimes this effort fails and the spouse having the affair is convinced his or her affair is the right thing to do. There is not much help I can offer for the marriage at that point.
But if the person having the affair ends up deciding to advocate for his or her marriage the affair has to be TOTALLY OVER: No future contact, no cell phones, no texts, no momentos, no clandestine meetings, no chatting or emails. That’s it. Done. Yeah, he will fight temptation. Yes, he will long sometimes for his affairee. Part of dealing with the temptation is dealing with the remorse of what might have been, saying goodbye to the romance. There is some sadness there. But over time that will dissipate as the person recommits to his marriage and his marriage improves. There will be trust issues with his spouse. There will be hurts that will have to be forgiven…on both sides. This isn’t easy. Sometimes there’s a relapse and the affair lovers unite for a time. The second go around of reconciliation is much more difficult. Now the offended spouse may say, enough of the indecision already. I get it. You don’t love me. And then the offended spouse divorces. Those that choose to reconcile have a long road of healing ahead of them. But hopefully it will be worth the sacrifice on both parts and they will look back on this crazy period as an aberration. The spouse who had the affair will have learned to keep his passions focused on his spouse and be able to fend off temptation, so as to not put the relationship at risk anymore.
Is fighting homosexual urges any different? In my estimation, if a married person fulfilled his homosexual temptations, it’s still an affair. The results are the same: hurt, anger, selfishness, self-absorption, and indifference. We’ve only just changed genders. We haven’t changed the nature of marriage, which is based upon faithfulness, fidelity, love, tenderness, loyalty, perseverance and protection. Your marriage vows said “having thee only till death us do part.” Those vows didn’t say you wouldn’t have urges you don’t understand or you would never be tempted to do such and such. It said only that your spouse would be enough for you. She’s not the prettiest, the best, the richest, the most glamorous, only that she is enough.
Now you are saying she’s not enough. You need more. Too bad for her. I guess I didn’t mean it. I changed my mind. I was self-deluded. I shouldn’t have ever gotten married (Don’t tell that to your son. He might be a tad offended that you’d wished you’d never conceived his existence.). These urges are who I am. I can’t fight them. They are not temptation. They are good. Homosexual feelings are good feelings. They are so good that it is worth sacrificing everything that used to mean something to me: family, integrity, caring, giving, faithfulness, trustworthiness, sticktuitiveness. None of these things mean anything to me now. I cast them aside and follow my passion. Morality be damned. There is no such thing as right action. There is only right feeling. And I have a right to feel. I’ve been surpressing these feelings for years. I’ve been living the life of a hypocrite. If you are hurt by it you are just being selfish and not glorying in my differentiation of self. Rejoice with me as I tear off the shackles of bondage and slavery to tradition and paternalistic and smothering marriage where the boundaries are really only a prison hindering the exploration of my authentic self. If you have hurt feelings, that just shows how unenlightened you are. If you were one of the illuminated ones, you would see that sexual desire for one’s same gender is a right and must be pursued at all costs. No cost is too great. No sacrifice too small. Faithfulness to my wife! Are you kidding? Anyone can do that. No. My feelings are more important. What? She’ll be hurt by this? Who cares! I’m liberated! I’m free to explore any whim. My happiness is of utmost importance. That’s it!!! Seek my own happiness. Responsibility and commitment a scourge. Out damned spot! Can’t you see I’m trying to rid my life of you? No guilt! No remorse! Only glory in self! My son be offended? Maybe he’ll see the light as I have. Maybe he’ll come to his senses and explore all that his gender has to offer. Oh, the grandeur. Oh, the wonder. If only his eyes could be opened as mine have. Oh, spread the glad tidings of great joy to the world: World! You don’t have to abide by your promises anymore! They are only a facade hindering your fun! Come, join me in releasing the captives. Let the prisoners go. Feel, be, do. Do whatever your heart says. Pursue your passions. Right be gone. Responsibility be gone. Kindness and love be gone. It was all a ruse anyway. Look where it got Jesus. This is the new gospel. This is the new truth. There is no truth!!! Oh, the liberation.
Or you can fight the dragon. It may be a battle. But if there is not a battle worth fighting, there is not a victory worth winning. If you are interested in slaying the dragon, let me know.
Dr. Bing Wall