“My wife has recently admitted she is bisexual. Does this mean she’ll leave me?”
I get many letters from all kinds of people – gay, straight, men, women, and everything in between – who suspect their husbands, wives, partners may be secretly bisexual, or have discovered that they are bisexual.
What can you do as a spouse or partner to help your bisexual mate?
The first thing is to understand that bisexuality is not a death sentence. It need not be a relationship-ending fork in the road. Nor does it mean that your partner has been lying to you all this time, either.
Unlike other sexual orientations, bisexual desire often rises up from some unknown source, usually unbidden, insinuating itself into the otherwise calm waters of the unsuspecting person’s psyche.
I told my wife that I’d had sexual experiences with men as soon as we started sleeping together. I did not identify as bisexual at the time, however. Back then (it’s been over 20 years) I defined my experiences with men during my teens and twenties as “experimentation,” the end result of which was my conclusion that I am straight, pretty much.
For the first 12 years of our marriage I did not have a single bisexual urge. Nothing. I was a heterosexual man, married with two kids. And then one morning I awoke to find that it had come back. The only way to describe it would be to say that my bisexuality had been in remission. Along with this unexpected, renewed desire for men came all my old questions: Why now? What does this mean? And the most damaging of them all: What’s wrong with me?
Through my counselling practice and the support groups I organize and facilitate, I’ve since heard many other bisexuals express the same thoughts, having gone through a similar line of questioning. I’ve heard how an early childhood trauma may have caused their bisexuality; an abusive or distant parent; an inadvertent encounter which had left an indelible stain.
When I recently brought these ideas up to a counsellor who deals with childhood abuse, he responded to me by saying: “Why is it heterosexual survivors of childhood abuse don’t blame their heterosexuality on the abuse?”
There is a pervasive belief among bisexuals that there must be a reason for our bisexual urges, the underlying belief being there is something wrong with our desires: “This must be a pathology of some kind,” we think. “Somewhere along the way my wires must have gotten crossed. All I have to do is find out how this disconnect came about, and I’ll be cured!” That’s what I thought.
This, despite study after study that shows there are many more self-identified monosexuals who have bisexual leanings than not, and that bisexuals in fact comprise the largest group within the LGBT crowd.
As previously discussed, bisexuals have much higher levels of anxiety, depression, self harm and suicidality than any other sexual orientation. One of the biggest sources of these internal stressors for bisexuals is the conflict between coming out as bisexual, or questioning, or confused, to a spouse or partner.
“This is not what I signed up for!” one woman told her wife upon discovering she is bisexual. Would she have responded the same way had she learned her wife had cancer? Or was dealing with depression? Or had lost her job?
Of all the unexpected circumstances which take us by surprise along the road through life, bisexuality is not something to fear.
Here are some tips on what you can do if you discover your partner is bisexual:
- It’s important to recognize and understand how difficult it is for bisexuals to open up about their feelings – especially to loved ones: they do not want to lose you, but fear they will. Intimacy is created by revealing secret, often scary aspects of ourselves to another. Opening up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in this way is a huge risk. Please honour the courage it takes to do this, and the trust required on their part. Treat him/her with respect, love, caring, sympathy.
- Acceptance is the biggest issue for bisexuals, with self-acceptance being the most difficult. Once a person comes to accept his/her bisexuality, the next hurdle is gaining acceptance by close friends and loved ones. As a spouse/partner, it is vital that you reassure your partner that you love him/her regardless, and that you are willing to work this through, together.
- Do not take your partner’s bisexuality personally. It is not about you. It is not about something you did or did not do or say or think. Refrain from blaming yourself or your partner: there is no need for blame.
- Keep the lines of communication wide open. Take an interest in what has been going on with your partner internally. Be proactive and brave enough to discuss the details without anger or resentment: ask questions about the nature of his/her desire; how long it’s been going on; what – if anything – they’d like to do; if they’ve already done some experimenting.
- See this as an opportunity for both of you to live with greater authenticity, rather than a burden. Change is the only constant in your life. Having a bisexual partner can lead to all kinds of new, exciting, unexpected experiences. It can be a time to deepen and strengthen your relationship; renew your interest in each other; allow for your own pent-up sexual desires to come forth.
Here is an excerpt from an email I received recently from Gary, in the UK:
“I am a married bisexual man and came out to my wife (of 27 years this year) around 8 years ago when I was 46…. Much of what I’ve read on your site strikes a very loud chord with me and I count myself to be very lucky to be married to a woman that has not only been involved in the facilitation of my journey over the last 8 years, but has expressed on numerous occasions that I am a better person now that I am able to fully own my sexuality. In her words, I am flourishing!”
Of the couples who stay together despite the admission of bisexuality – even if it’s after the marriage – many report the same kinds of mutually-beneficial experiences. There is nothing more enjoyable than a spouse who is happy, healthy, authentic, and thriving.
- It’s important to understand that not everyone who identifies as bisexual feels the need to act on it. So nothing more need happen other than your partner has come to realize this. I’ve met self-identified bisexuals who have never had sexual relations with the “other” sex (depending if they are gay/straight). Nor do they feel the need to. It is enough for them to know and to acknowledge publicly that they have the potential for sexual and intimate connections with both (all) sexes.
During a book signing I was doing for “Confessions of a Bisexual Husband”, one male/female couple in their forties sat next to me to tell me their story: ten years before, when they’d just started going out, the man was determined to start their relationship on a solid footing. He called the woman, his voice shaking, his terror palpable to her: “I have something I need to tell you,” he said.
“What is it?” she asked, scared and concerned, wondering if this was it.
He hemmed and hawed, until he finally came out and said it: “You need to know that I’m bisexual,” he said, waiting for her to hang up.
“Okay. Is that it?” she asked, confused.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said, equally as perplexed. “You don’t think it’s a big deal?” he asked.
“I love you and I want to be with you. I thought you were going to tell me you had a terminal disease and only had a little time left, or you didn’t like me and you wanted to break up. You sure that’s all you want to say?” she pressed.
They’ve been together ever since. We all go through difficult times with family members, partners, friends. An admission of bisexuality need not be one of those times.
Acknowledging the ability to form intimate emotional and/or physical connections regardless of sex or gender is a beautiful thing. We could all benefit by allowing ourselves that much potential for love. I suggest you follow your bisexual partner’s lead by taking their hand and willingly, lovingly, happily, enthusiastically walking with them through this adventure we call life, and be open to whatever may come.