Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

When my wife came out to me as bisexual two-and-a-half years ago, I was immediately overcome with a sinking feeling that this information was a game-changer. Just like that, everything I thought I knew about her, about our marriage, about what it meant to be LGBTQ, was suddenly in question.

What followed was a few painful months of reorienting myself to this new reality, not sure who I could trust, but desperately needing some wisdom and a sense of stability. I had a lot of learning to do.

When I wrote about the experience last year right here on the blog, the response was pretty overwhelming. I was introduced to the term “mixed-orientation marriage,” and dozens of people around the world whose current or past relationships also fit into this classification. I had no idea.

Just to spell it out, a mixed-orientation marriage is one in which one spouse is straight (heterosexual) and the other is not straight, or not quite straight. They may identify as gay or lesbian. Or same-sex attracted. Or asexual. Or, like my wife, bisexual.

For many couples, this isn’t a big deal. It’s not an earth-shattering, category-defining reality to accept. Perhaps they knew all this information before getting married or it otherwise doesn’t require them to change the dynamic of their relationship. For others, though, it presents a tragic scenario of unreciprocated desires.

The following advice is for this latter group. It’s for the many couples out there who are grappling with mismatched sexualtities. I’ve provided guidance and pastoral care to many of you, and this is what I’ve learned:

  • Seek answers that are right for your marriage. There is no “one size fits all” solution to these challenges. Each marriage is unique. Only you and your spouse can determine the right course of action. For some couples, divorce is the clear and only answer. For others, it’s not. Don’t measure your relationship up to someone else’s. Don’t try to replicate what you perceive to be other marriage success stories.                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • Prioritize Empathy. This cuts both ways. On the one hand, straight spouses would do well to recognize the tremendous pressure their partner likely faced to repress their attraction to the same sex. They may have grown up in a time or place where any path in life other than a traditional marriage would have been unthinkable. Perhaps they were even told that sex within a traditional marriage would “cure” them of their “unnatural” desires. On the other hand, non-straight spouses should understand their wife or husband likely has a right to feel like a victim of this new reality. Especially if there is a significant sexual incompatibility. He or she may feel as if the promises you made to each other on your wedding day are broken or empty. Even though you’ve likely done nothing malicious, your spouse may still feel wronged. So acknowledge those feelings. It is unfair.                                                                                                                               

  • Expect dissonance between your intellectual acceptance and emotional acceptance. This is especially true for straight spouses. You may learn to accept on an intellectual level your partner is not wired the same way you are, but emotionally you may still experience depression, jealousy and inadequacy. You may know the problem is not with how you look, but the way you feel on the inside is just plain unattractive. These are tough insecurities to battle, but remind yourself; you are neither unloved nor unappreciated. Figure out healthy ways in which you can receive the affirmation you need while respecting the terms you’ve established with your partner.                                                                                                           

  • Celebrate what you do have together. While sexual compatibility is vital to the health of a marriage, it’s not the sum total. Don’t let your challenges in this area detract from your strengths in others. Perhaps you make excellent co-parents. Perhaps you’re still great friends. Recognize the joy this person has brought into your life, not just the pain. This is especially important if you have kids together. You don’t want them to feel as if they are merely the ill-considered products of a faulty marriage.                                                                           

  • Advocate for yourself. Be honest--with yourself as well as your partner--about where you’re at and what you feel you are and are not getting from the relationship. Those can be really hard conversations, especially when you need something your partner may be unable to provide. However, burying those needs deep within yourself only breeds resentment or disillusionment. Perhaps by suffering in silence you are prolonging a solution that will leave you both happier.                                                                                                                                                           

  • Find support. Get connected to support groups such as the Straight Spouse NetworkPFLAG, and the Gay Christian Network. Seek out other couples in mixed-orientation marriages. Go to marriage counseling, or individual counseling. (Try a few different therapists to find one you really trust. Think of your first session like a job interview, where you’re considering whether to hire this person.)

And know, above all, that you’re not alone.

Guest Post: Is God "He"?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a two part series on sexism in the Bible (here's one and two). After I posted it, a good friend from college asked me why I referred to God by the male pronoun and whether I would have a problem referring to God as "she."

"Good question," I replied. "Why don't you write a guest post about it." 

This is that guest post, written by old college buddy, Joseph Graves, and his friend, Derek Horton. They're both students at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. 

Before let them talk about the theological and pastoral problems of associating God with masculinity, maybe it would be best to acknowledge those negative associations we have--as a society, as a church, as men--with femininity. The video above has been making the rounds on social media. It's a good example of how calling someone a girl is an insult, not a compliment. Keep that particular expression of sexism in mind as Derek and Joseph talk about God exhibiting female characteristics. 

In Genesis 1:27 it clearly states that both male and female were created in God’s image. If we flip this around, it is safe to assume that both male and female attributes stem from God. 

There are, despite what some might think, consequences to this. God is constant: from everlasting to everlasting. So the changing whims of culture that shift our own understanding of what it means to be male or female are not a safe or adequate way to speak about God; at best they are incomplete. 

Genesis reminds us that we are made in God’s image, but men are not a more accurate image of God are they? (By the by, the correct answer to that last rhetorical question was ‘no.’) We are both in our culture and subject to our culture. So when we hear the word ‘male,’ we cannot separate ourselves from a myriad of culturally specific meanings. 

Therefore, only naming the masculinity of God limits the faith experience of women who hear it. One might say that I should not be speaking as if I know what it’s like be a woman in a church, but if a male hears me refer to God as a woman and it feels jarring, then I can assume we are more affected and effected by gender titles than we know. 

It is not wrong to worship our Heavenly Father, or look on His wonder, but all of us are missing out on our fullest experience of God until we can expand our language. It may be best to assume that God is greater than our limited human expressions of gender, and therefore it is best to leave out gender pronouns all together. Our prayers, liturgies, and songs are not dependent on a pronoun after all, and we have enough names for God that they are not necessary either. But if we must, we should also expand our pronouns to see God’s expression in all people’s lives. 

A woman who is finally separating herself from a psychological dependence on her abusive husband could possibly find more peace if she could pray to the God who is reaching out Her celestial arms like all of the bold, brave, courageous church foremothers. 

A man who is being consumed from the inside out with rage -- whose life desperately needs more tenderness and mercy, more grace and more gentleness just so he can stay alive -- should be able to call out to his Mother-God for peace.

We will forever limit our understanding of an infinite God if we continue only using pronouns that speak the lived-experience of less than half of the population -- if we continue to rely on only one pronoun that comes with the baggage of our crazy gender-driven culture. 

So for now, I declare: She is good all the time, all the time, She is good.

Note: You can find Joseph Graves on Twitter at @josephdavidgrav and at his blog:  josephdavidgraves.com 


Why I'm Saying Sorry at This Year's Gay Pride Parade


At Sunday's Gay Pride Parade here in Chicago, I'll be standing on the sidewalk with my Marin Foundation friends and colleagues, apologizing. With our shirts and signs, we hope to represent the growing number of Christians who regret the way the Church has demonized the LGBTQ community for centuries. 

The Marin Foundation does the I'm Sorry Campaign every year, and it's been humbling to watch it become something of a movement, with greater numbers here in Chicago and more groups in cities throughout the country. I feel very privileged to be a part of this unfolding story. 

I was asked recently what in particular I'm apologizing for this year: "What does this mean to you personally?" 

Last year, my answer to that question was very clear, yet very personal: I had recently worked through some deeply-rooted homophobia after my wife came out to me as bisexual. It was a painful and formative experience, and I had totally mishandled it. (Here's the full story). In short, I had a lot to say sorry about. 

This year, my reason for contrition is not quite so clearly defined, nor so personal. Here's my best attempt to articulate it: I'm sorry for not doing more to find practical expressions of love and acceptance toward the broader LGBTQ community.

I think the seeds for this sentiment were planted in me during previous years. While the vast majority of paraders react to us with simply a hug or a "thank you," there are some who respond with some form of this question: "So you're sorry...but what are you going to do about it?" When I first encountered this reaction, I mistook it for antagonism. "You don't get it," I wanted to respond. "I'm saying I was wrong to treat you that way."

I now understand that an apology is as much about admitting to wrongdoing in the past as it is about making up for it in the future. If the only manifestation of my repentance is saying the words, "I'm sorry," it's not worth much. 

I'm proud of the work I do for The Marin Foundation, but I'm resolving this year to be more creative in my efforts to foster reconciliation. Words are cheap. This blog, regardless of my best efforts be thoughtful and helpful, is cheap. It takes some moral resolve and a bit of courage to apologize for the Church's systematic oppression of the LGBTQ community. It takes more moral resolve and more than a little imagination to try to change that system altogether.