A mixed-orientation marriage or relationship is a relationship where the partners have differing sexualities. A mixed-orientation relationship most commonly presents itself as a relationship where one partner is either bisexual, gay or lesbian and the other is heterosexual. Sometimes a mixed-orientation marriage occurs when one partner is gay or lesbian and the other partner is bisexual. Mixed-orientation relationships also sometimes include variations in gender identity however this introduction will focus on mixed orientation relationships with variations in sexual orientation. While mixed-orientation marriages often contain complex relationship dynamics they can be fabulous marriages.
It is important to recognize that not every mixed-orientation marriage is destined for success but every mixed-orientation marriage at least deserves an effort to see if they can be successful. I run into formally married bisexuals all the time who didn’t even know staying together was an option, perhaps learning about the dynamics of a successful mixed-orientation marriage can change that. Marriages often consist of couples with varying sexual interests and sexual drives if we look at sexual orientation as just another aspect of that variation in individual sexual needs perhaps we can put the differences in sexual orientation in proper perspective.
Sometimes mixed-orientation marriages are discovered or disclosed well into the relationship. The purpose of this short guide is to introduce newcomers to the dynamics of a mixed-orientation marriage as well as review some of the challenges that need to be overcome to find a pathway to success. Bisexuality is a normal healthy variation in the spectrum of human sexuality and bisexuals can make terrific husbands , wives and partners.
How does one end up in a mixed-orientation relationship without knowing it?
It is not unusual for couples to discover they are married to a bisexual after many years of marriage wondering how this happened. There is widespread religious and societal bias towards a traditional marriage between a heterosexual man and a woman. Many bisexuals are raised that there is no acceptable alternative to traditional heterosexual marriage. Sometimes bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals simply fall in love with a heterosexual and may not realize the importance of their same sex attraction. Bisexuals who marry heterosexuals without prior disclosure usually honestly believe they can put their same sex needs aside. This often is true for a while but for some it later becomes obvious that same sex attraction is a more important part of their life then once thought.
Coming out as bisexual , lesbian or gay . The evolution of a mixed-orientation marriage sometimes becomes more complicated the further into the relationship the couple becomes aware of the same sex attraction. Ideally the bisexual discussion should happen closer to the first date but the timing of disclosure is complicated by a society that does not understand or accept bisexuality. In addition the message from the large proportion of our society that believes bisexuality is inherently evil or an abomination sends a constant reminder of even if you are bisexual, don’t even think about living life as a bisexual. With the daily barrage of hate hurled at bisexuals it is easy to understand why it may take years before a bisexual gets the courage to admit to another living being the secret that they were born a bisexual. Many studies show an extended period between when people become aware of their same sex attraction and when they accept it in themselves. This can result in a delay in the awareness or disclosure of same sex needs until well into a couples relationship, sometimes decades later. The coming out process is an intense emotional event that can require a great deal of reflection or an extended contemplative stage. Once one admits out loud to their loved one “I am bisexual”or “I am gay”,it can’t be unsaid and those words may well change a couples lives forever. Many never quite find the courage, I personally hope it gets easier, and with more examples of success it will become less traumatic for all involved.
Discovery of same sex attraction sometimes results in additional relationship challenges . Voluntary disclosure of our same sex attraction with the “I think I might be bi” talk after 10,20,30 years or more or marriage creates all sorts of issues, including “Why didnt you tell me sooner?” and “What other secrets have you kept from me ?’ These issues of trust are compounded when instead of voluntary disclosure the bi, gay or lesbian spouse same sex attraction is discovered. Awareness might occur after discovery of gay porn on a spouses computer perhaps after 15 years of marriage. Other times there is the discovery of a same sex affair. It is hard to describe the sense of crisis that discovering a spouse is having sex outside their marriage but there are additional complex issues when it is with the same gender. In any case the relationship dynamics of the marriage are changed forever and a process needs to be gone through where the relationship is reinvented to reflect the two partners variations in sexual orientations.
Some Possible Pathways of mixed-orientation relationships after discovery or disclosure.
There is no doubt there are many challenges when ones sexuality does not match their partners. It is very common for one of the first questions to be “What now?” How do mixed-orientation marriages end up?” In an over simplification newly discovered mixed-orientation marriages have several possible paths of progression.
Immediate Separation and Divorce Pathway: Unfortunately many newly discovered mixed-orientation marriages feature a rush to judgment and rather than wait for the information to percolate an immediate decision is made to separate or divorce. Like a train wreck once this process begins it can be difficult to pull back from the abyss. It is human nature to want all the answers right now but the fact is I have seen time and time again that mixed-orientation marriages need to go through a process. Rushing towards immediate separation or divorce is a knee jerk reaction that does not take into consideration the complicated nature of this process. I do not recommend separation or divorce until after the couple has had the opportunity to completely analyze their situation with the help of professional counseling and support from others who have been through this process. A couple should take the time necessary to thoughtfully review all their options. Ending a marriage of 20,30,40 even 50 years without at least giving it a chance by mindfully looking at pathways to success is a waste of a good marriage.
Initial Struggles with varying outcomes Pathway: Another common pathway includes a period of struggle with several possible outcomes. Sometimes after looking at all the facts separation or divorce remains the best option for both parties but at least the decision is made mindfully. Other times a meeting of the minds never quite happens and the mixed-orientation marriage continues with years of continuing struggle and unresolved conflict between the straight spouses idea of what a mixed-orientation marriage should look like and the gay spouses need to live their life authentically. This ongoing conflict is not a desirable outcome either and it is usually a result of not being able to find common ground.
If there is to be a period of struggle the preferred end result is a working out differences and finding agreement on a common path forward that leaves both husband and wife happy and in a vibrant wonderful relationship. Many successful happy mixed orientation marriages are a result of moving from this period of initial struggle to a relationship that features mutual happiness and acceptance , the classic win win solution.
Immediate Acceptance Pathway :The last and least common reaction I see is immediate acceptance . While immediate acceptance seems to be the ideal the reality is most mixed-orientation marriages go through a period of struggle as the dynamics of the new relationship are worked out. Ideally they progress to a solution that leaves everyone happy with the outcome and a renewed enthusiasm for a wonderful future together.
Statistics for Mixed -Orientation marriage Success: One of the most frequent questions I hear is what are the statistics for success? There are statistics in general that people throw around but I don’t know of any that show what happens if both the husband and wife want to make their marriage work. Its enough to know that while many mixed-orientation marriages fail others do in fact succeed and my observations are that a mutual desire of doing whatever is needed to find a pathway to success is a predictor of success. I know mixed orientation marriage couples with over 50 years of marriage, they are out there living wonderful lives. The other fallacy with statistics on marriage success is no matter how low the numbers of success are, what if you are the couple that has what it takes to make it work? The only result that matters is if the mixed-orientation couple themselves find their own pathway to success and there are plenty of have done just that.
Strategies for a successful mixed-orientation marriage.
Approach the situation as friends and partners. – So often when there has been a breach of trust or when two individuals find themselves on opposite sides of an issue there is a dig in the heels us against them mentality. The mixed-orientation marriage becomes a fight and a war. There is no blame here, this is an issue that has come up just like any other, Instead of looking at a mixed-orientation marriage as something that has been done to you look at it as a crises and challenge to be overcome just like like many of the others that you as a couple have dealt with as partners and friends. Many of us describe our marriages as being married to our best friends. Best friends work out problems together, they are solution seekers and partners.
Brush up on communication skills – Many couples have allowed their familiarity with each other to develop into a quiet routine that leaves discussions to a simple what’s for dinner . When it comes to talking about our sexuality practice makes perfect. If we are not used to talking about intimacy it can take extra work to get comfortable talking about our inner most needs and desires especially when they are new and different.It is amazing how often when we really understand our partners needs that acceptance can follow.
Allow for lots of time. A good marriage is worth a few years of hard work to insure future decades of success. It is natural for us to want the answers today but the dynamics of a mixed-orientation marriage are complex and often require that we go through a process. It is not unusual for this process to take a couple of years but so often we get reports of than goodness I had the patience because we are more in love then ever.
It is important to understand there will be periods of forward progress and an occasional step back for adjustments of emotional attitudes with our intellectual attitudes. Many times we are able to intellectually understand an aspect of our mixed-orientation marriage but our hearts are not there yet. A perfect example is realizing that our spouse going out to dinner with bisexual or gay friends is no different than going out to dinner with anyone else except for a chance to share with people that understand. Dinner out with friends is not a wild orgy with friends. Yet the imagination is an interesting aspect of our human existence. Is he really just having dinner? How will I know? That’s the not ready I mean. Intellectually the straight spouse knows the dinner is a good thing but their heart isn’t ready to trust yet.
Acceptance that progress will often be measured in baby steps. We have to accept that dinner out with a friend is a good thing before we can accept that a weekend away is also a good thing.
Some sort of support either counseling or a support group can be extremely helpful. It is really important that both the bisexual and straight spouse have a support network. Often the newly discovered mixed-orientation marriage is a very isolating experience. We need to share what we are going through with others who have traveled this journey too. Support groups are especially helpful because we are bound to hear similar stories and hear a pathway to success that has us saying “You know, I could see our marriage working that way”. Professional counselors experienced in mixed-orientation marriages are familiar with the process. Oh yah that happens and here is why or here is what is going to happen next. A common aspect of newly discovered mixed-orientation relationships is the couples are amazed that their sex lives are better then ever, with a counselor or support group in place they can help you realize that yes the “honeymoon phase” is a common part of the process.
Acceptance of the non-heterosexual partners sexuality. This is probably one of the most essential aspects of a successful mixed-orientation marriage. Acceptance of our sexuality is not the same as acceptance of our sexual activity. From the beginning this needs to be separated. Who I am as a bisexual , the fact that I am sexually attracted to men goes to the very core of my being, it cannot be changed and there is nothing wrong with being a bisexual. The sooner those we love can accept the bisexual,gay or lesbian spouse the sooner a solution can be found. It may take time to learn to understand and then accept but it is one of the early goals.
Working out a way for the bi/gay/lesbian partner to fulfill their same sex needs. This is another very important aspect of a successful mixed-orientation marriage. It is very important to realize that there are many paths to fulfilling this requirement each couple is different and the answers will vary. The next section deals with pathways to success in more detail.
Pathways to success
Finding ways to fulfill same sex needs is one of the most challenging yet important aspects of a mixed-orientation marriage. Some common solutions include acceptance of same sex attraction while maintaining a monogamous marriage. There are often variations to what a monogamous marriage means so for example acceptance of same sex pornography might be considered an acceptable outlet. Other couples introduce role playing and toys, Other bisexual spouses simply want a chance to be with other bisexual, gay, or lesbian friends. This is the birds of a feather or “me too” and “I understand” that we all crave. The discussion of what monogamy means is one that the couple should have early in the process and at regular intervals as the relationship unfolds. I know of one wife who with a straight face said masturbating with friends is not sex. Well if that’s how a husband and wife want to define monogamy who is anyone to stop them. This couple found a point where they could both be happy . The husband found a way to celebrate his bisexuality and the wife was happy and felt secure in that her marriage did not involve a husband who was having sex with men.
Other couples look at some sort of open marriage perhaps with a friend with benefits or a partner. Some couples prefer to compartmentalize the gay side and they are two separate worlds others integrate the other person into the couples day to day lives and two become three. Some very successful poly relationships and families are created because of the complex needs of bisexuals attracted to two different genders. These are just some of the viable solutions and each couple needs to work out the best solution.
Moving Forward from Here
In summary while Mixed-orientation relationships can be fabulous relationships they are complicated with a lot of moving parts . A pathway to success requires that the individuals in the relationship have compatible philosophical belief systems . Our goal is the classic win win where both the bisexual, gay or lesbian spouse is happy with the outcome and the straight spouse is happy.
It is important to understand that sometimes through no fault of anyone a meeting of the minds never happens. Mixed-orientation marriages are not for everyone. When a mixed-orientation marriage does not work out it does not mean one person is right and one is wrong, it is certainly not a sign of personal shortcomings it simply means the differences can not be reconciled. The marriage that dissolves or continues with ongoing struggle is not a failure so much as a reflection of the individual differences. The couple should do their best to be gentle , kind and compassionate , the way friends should treat each other. I hope this short introduction to mixed-orientation marriage and relationships has been helpful.