My secretly bisexual husband

He's been with four men he met on Craigslist. Do I stick with him for our teenage daughters?

Published May 22, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

Recently my husband of 18 years has explored his sexuality with other men. He admitted having four sexual encounters with random men he solicited from Craigslist. After a week of hell, and many a shouting match, he begged me to take him back, claiming that his experimentation is not worth losing his family. As in a textbook scenario, he, somehow, convinced himself that I, being very liberal and supportive of gay community, would understand, and maybe even approve, his urges. Having two teenage daughters and being a stay-at-home mom, I have initially agreed to let him back into the family fold, after all his STD tests came back clean.

I have immediately lined up a therapist, not being able to go through the crisis by myself. I have consulted the divorce lawyer as well, but decided that I simply cannot afford to leave him before I can secure some sort of support system, income, job, anything that would assure my landing on solid ground. Now, being middle-aged and with thin résumé, getting a job will be difficult in this economy, and I am more and more inclined to pursue separation, since staying in the marriage is not really emotionally healthy for me. I do give it a try every day, and every day is an effort, but, although he did give up his "encounters," he still maintains virtual presence in the gay community through porn and his private Flickr account(s). Although not a deal breaker, his Internet activity makes me conclude that he is not willing to make an effort toward the true reconciliation of our relationship, and that his real orientation is something he will not be able to deny for much longer. I do realize that his orientation is not a choice, but his behavior is.

My priority is our girls, who are, hopefully, oblivious to the extent of our marital crisis, but I am asking myself lately if it is time to let him go, and hope for the best for all four of us? I do not want to hurt the girls, but I do not want to carry on with this agony for much longer either. This past couple of months have been hardest in my life, just watching everything I ever believed in crumble apart. My self-esteem is still pretty high, but self-pity creeps in every now and then, hurting my ability to think straight. I want out; the question is do I wait until the girls are off to college (another couple of years), or do I seek an exit now.

Your advice is appreciated.

Str8 Spouse

Dear Str8 Spouse,

You need concrete help. For that, you have wisely chosen a therapist and a lawyer.

What I can do is help you form a narrative or map.

Because you are human you will seek meaning in what happened. We seek meaning in misfortune whether we get cancer or have an accident or are bombed out of our houses by unseen jets.  It helps. It helps to make a story out of what happens.

Your story will be something like this. You fell in love and got married and had two beautiful children and had always thought there might be unexplored territory between you and your husband. But you did not go there. You may have learned a way of relating that, though intimate, allowed for certain unexplored regions. You may have termed this privacy, or given it some meaning. But you sensed that your husband was not completely transparent to you, that he had secrets or evasions. Having no clear guidelines, you let these areas, and perhaps these doubts, go unexplored. You didn't press the issue. You made small incremental decisions that maintained the relationship and the family.

It may be that at the first you wondered if this was the way it was supposed to be. You may have talked to your friends about it, subtly suggesting that things were "good" but not "great," that you wondered sometimes ...

Maybe. Maybe not. I think it likely, if you are honest, that you had vague suspicions.

At any rate, now it has become clear that your husband has been hiding a great deal from you. So you are incensed, enraged, hurt, betrayed. You've had a terrible shock. Gone are the bedrock vows and beliefs on which your marriage rested. You are now in the sticky muck of uncertainty. It is hard to walk now; everything is harder.

For a while it's going to be one day at a time, slogging through, some days better than others. You will have to decide if you can continue living with him and for how long, and under what circumstances, and for those decisions, you have help through a lawyer and a therapist. One way or another you will arrive in a future that was not the future you imagined.

What do I see for you in the future? I see a wiser woman; I see a woman who finds new strength in herself to protect her daughters and make a new life. I see a woman who now knows you never really know, who learns that when disaster happens you're capable of more than you realized. And maybe there will be some new rules in this story -- rules about hunches and doubts, a rule that says if something doesn't feel right, it isn't.

We are educated to be sensible and quasi-scientific in our decisions. In the conscious realm we operate on what we can see and hear. But in the unconscious realm, the animal realm, the realm of hunches and doubts, we need to listen more carefully to unformed notions we don't fully understand and yet which persist, in their way, in their language of symbols and doubts and strange coincidence.

I wish to leave you with this: You are not alone. This has happened before. You have strength and support to call on. You can get through this and be stronger and wiser. You have help. You have people who love you and are on your side. You are going to be OK.

By Cary Tennis

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