How to deal with your feelings when you find out that your partner or spouse is bisexual
If you've found out that your partner, wife or husband is bisexual, it may feel as if your legs have been cut from under you. Suddenly your world has been turned upside down and you may feel barely able to function.
I want to be upfront here, so there's no question about my own beliefs. For me, everyone is equal. And equality has to be a given - not a right somehow granted or earned!
I've written this article to help you and your partner understand your feelings and the likely process of your emotions. And ultimately, to help you figure out how you can both move forward again.
Sadly, I'm sorry to have to tell you, it could also be that your partner is actually gay or lesbian. In that case, know that he or she has very likely tried to deny the true nature of their orientation even to themselves for a very long time, before slowly coming to terms with it.
If you know for sure, let's take a look at how you might be feeling since you found out that your partner, wife or husband is bisexual (or gay, lesbian or transsexual for that matter).
Finding out your partner, wife or husband is bisexual
The discovery is likely to have come as a great shock to you. Here are some very common reactions to shock in general:
- feeling shaken to the core, like the rug has been pulled from under you,
- being unable concentrate or think straight,
- being unable to focus on anything other than what you've discovered,
- feeling irritable, and like 'everything' is too much trouble,
- having a mind like a sieve feeling exhausted, yet restless,
- having difficulties falling and staying asleep,
- feeling a deep sense of loss crying at the drop of a hat.
Feelings specific to your situation
Alongside the shock, you'll probably be experiencing a whole host of other emotions. You may feel the relationship as you knew it has gone forever.
Under the circumstances, it's very normal if you...
feel consumed by a sense of hurt and anger,
feel guilty about how your children will have to cope,
worry about other people's reactions,
worry that your partner might stray,
spot reminders of the history of your relationship everywhere.
All these feelings are terribly painful. It's hard not to want your partner to tell you it was all a mistake, not true... just a 'joke' and that he or she is sorry.
But your partner could...
- also be in crisis, and paralysed by fear;
- be ready to move on - not appreciating how much of a shock you've just received;
- be in denial (or unaware) of how much of an impact this revelation has had on you;
- be so overwhelmed by their own turmoil that they've stopped feeling anything for themselves and thereby for others;
I'll explain a little more about that further down, but let's first continue to try and make sense of your feelings...
How are you trying to cope?
Here's what's happens to many people in your situation, so don't be surprised if you are:
- avoiding people who you don't want to have to tell;
- trying to avoid thoughts about your partner in same-sex situations;
- blaming, accusing, fault finding;
- rejecting your partner's advances;
- arguing the fact that he or she is bisexual;
- worrying about what his/her sexuality says about you;
- worrying about the impact of the laws of the country;
- wanting him or her to move out immediately;
- contemplating ending your relationship or marriage.
You're grieving for the sudden loss of the person you thought you were living with
On discovering that you have a bisexual husband, wife or partner, it probably feels to you like you've lost the life you had. You no longer appear to have the partner you had, the love you had, your future together and the mum or dad of your children. The person you got together with, and perhaps married, no longer 'exists'.
That's a lot of feelings of loss! You probably feel pretty alone right now too.
Loss automatically comes with mourning, which can be pretty hard to cope with. Here are some common reactions...
No wonder that you fight against acceptance, because it would mean having to deal with all those losses.
It's totally understandable, therefore, that you're initially in denial. Why wouldn't you be? And who wouldn't be?
One moment you can't believe it's true and you're unable to accept what's happened - and the next, you feel crazy with anger and resentment. How could they do this to you?!
You're deeply sad, you feel empty, and like your heart's been ripped out. It feels like someone has died and there's a big black cloud hanging over you. You just want to stay in bed, pull the duvet over you and not wake up.
But don't worry, you're not mentally ill (though you may want to take a look at my article on treating depression without medication)!
This is a normal reaction and the last thing you would want to do now is to complicate it by taking antidepressants! Know that you will recover from this phase.
You may not be ready to hear this right now, but further on in your journey you'll discover there is always something to be gained from any situation (however difficult) that you find yourself in.
In this case...
How you can both get through this
All you can expect from yourselves in the early stages is to 'cope with not coping'. You just have to wait for this initial phase to pass - however difficult it feels right now. And it will pass - I promise you.
Try to be kind to yourselves - both, you and your partner. Accept your own feelings, and your partner's feelings... and don't give yourselves a hard time for reacting in whichever way you do.
Most of all - please believe me, when I say that now is really not the time to make any meaningful decisions. It's all too raw, too much of a shock, and your brain is still in flux. Allow some time for everything to settle before you start trying to piece your way forward again.
Your partner's journey
It's really understandable if all you want to do is to scream and shout at your partner.
However, try to remember that he or she will have been on a really difficult journey. I can almost hear you say: "So what?!" I totally get it that you may not be ready to take all this in and even if you could, you may not want to.
However - when you're ready - you'll find the following list helpful in coming to terms with the changing landscape of your relationship.
may have know from childhood
would have felt afraid and alone
would have wanted to conform in order to be accepted
may have suffered from self-loathing - loathing their body, their thoughts and their feelings
may have hated him/herself for not being able to be honest with you
will have worried about losing you, your love, and your support
will have worried about the impact of the laws in your country
will have worried about the impact on your children
will have seen other people coming out whose friends turned into enemies
will have been powerless in the face of what her/his body dictated
will have felt incredibly unhappy about having to hide part of themselves
is essentially the same person you have been with all those years
Just watch this the following clip, where Oprah Winfrey interviews a couple about their experience...
Both partners admit to having liked being with someone of the opposite sex as well.
10 Steps towards acceptance
- Just because your partner or spouse is bi, doesn't necessarily mean he or she is going to be unfaithful now. They may have experimented before the two of you got together. You may suspect that they have already had an affair though - I have no doubt that in your situation it feels like a double betrayal (See link further down: Surviving Infidelity)
- Take stock! As with every relationship at some point - there were bound to have been some 'niggles' before recent revelations. Now is the perfect time to do something about it.
- Try to understand each other. It matters not so much whether you can or cannot understand, but that you accept your partner's thoughts and beliefs as their own, and valid to them. Take it from me, you won't be able to change each other, but you can help each other to feel more hopeful of a meaningful future.
- Let them talk, and don't interrupt other than to check that you've understood what's been said. Good listening will help you both process feelings and thoughts faster. Ask for the same in return. You'll probably find my Loving Communication Kit for Couples really helpful with that.
- Accept and take into consideration that you're both on a different time scale. You have just found out, you're barely coping - you have a long journey ahead of you. Your partner has arrived here after a very long journey and may have been hoping for a sense of relief after a week or so of turmoil. Unrealistic for sure, but how were they to know?
- Connect with help organisations and try to find other couples who have managed to ride the waves and survived.
- Don't make any significant decisions about the way forward, other than perhaps getting some counselling to help you both through. You can talk to an expert counsellor right now. But I would like you both to see a marriage therapist or relationship counsellor to help you understand each other's feelings and overcome your difficulties together.
- You're going to have to really fight for the survival of your relationship. Much will depend on your ability to resolve any conflicts prior to the revelations, how skillful you are in communicating in general, and if there were pre-existing trust issues.
- Do all you can to make it a good ending - if ultimately your relationship or marriage does end so as not to damage either of your self-worth any further. Acceptance also means being able to move on - allowing each other to start anew with dignity. For more information on doing a good ending see my articles: How to end a long-term relationship and How to get through divorce.
- Do make it possible for your children to love each one of you whatever your future may hold, without shaming your partner and trying to induce any feelings of guilt.
Journalist LZ Granderson really brings you down to earth in his TEDtalk. He is gay, but his message applies to us all. I think it will help you to put what is happening in your relationship in a greater context, so that you're perhaps not so shocked and frightened anymore (if indeed you were!)...
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Other helpful links
Bisexual Resource Center Brochure - How to be an ally to a bisexual person