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Coping when one spouse comes out

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DALLAS - For Aline Williams, the end was devastating.

After seven years of marriage, her husband shocked her by telling her he was gay.

And then Williams learned a peculiar truth. For women in her situation, having a husband come out of the closet often means that she goes in.

"It's one thing to knock on a neighbor's door and say, I'm getting a divorce, because my husband is cheating on me,'" said Williams, 45, whose ex-husband came out in 1992. "It's quite another to knock on the neighbor's door and say,I'm getting a divorce because my husband is gay.' The stigma is overwhelming. ... You have no idea how embarrassing it is."

Dennis Foreman does. Married since 1979, he told his wife in 1992 that he was gay. And now Foreman, 53, counsels gay men who are married to women and "trying like hell" to come out of the closet. He's a facilitator for the Dallas chapter of Gamma, which, since 1991, has served the needs of married men tormented by the havoc they fear they will wreak when they announce they are gay.

Foreman and Williams symbolize opposite sides of the same psychologically fractious issue. Williams founded You're Not Alone, a support group for married individuals whose spouses turn out to be homosexual or bisexual. As the name of the group suggests, men and women all over the country are finding themselves in similar situations.

Amity P. Buxton, the executive director of the 65-chapter Straight Spouse Network, says the revelation last August by New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey that he was gay, with his wife by his side, threw the spotlight "on a crisis affecting thousands of couples across America, one that has remained hidden from the public eye far too long. Over the past decade, the number of husbands and wives coming out has increased exponentially."

Buxton contends, "up to 2 million gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals have married or will marry. Some come out after a long struggle of trying to make a go of the heterosexual marriage that society prefers. Others have yet to disclose. Still others may stay closeted."

Williams and Foreman share far more than their unusual life stories. Both say it's important to remember that those emerging from the closet are as vulnerable as the people they affect. It's the stigma society puts on being gay, they say, that their support groups find themselves fighting the hardest.

"Every person is unique in how they deal with their individual situation," says Williams, "but the emotions - anger, hurt, loneliness - are universal."

Foreman's group is for the guy who finds himself having no idea how to tell his wife and kids who he really is.

The hardest thing for Gamma guys to cope with, says Foreman, is "how the whole white-picket-fence image they carry around with them is gone forever. Initially, our people show up, obsessed with the notion that that's what life has to be. That there's a perfect marriage out there, and they've destroyed it. What we try to do with men in Gamma is show them how things have to be - and steer them toward the reality that, yes, you're gay. You're going to have to find a way to accommodate this or you're not going to have a life."

Not that it didn't have a devastating impact on his wife, who chose to remain married Foreman despite his homosexuality.

"As you can imagine, his coming out was very shocking," says Melissa Foreman, 51. "It was very stressful to have your husband of 13 years suddenly say, `I'm in love with another man.' It's not something you ever dream is going to happen.

"But my initial response was, `Oh, my goodness, what a horrible situation; how hard it must be for Dennis.' I love my husband so much. He's my very best friend. Just the idea that he would have been going through all that agony before he came out to me ... oh, my goodness, it broke my heart."

Mr. Foreman says he experimented with homosexuality early in his marriage. But in 1992, he began a relationship with a man he met at a gay bar in Oak Lawn, Texas. So he sought out Gamma, which he says gave him the courage to tell his wife - and the will to cope with his new life.

"No. 1, it provided the realization that I was not alone in this," he says, "that many other people shared this issue. I was not a unique and bizarre occurrence. Every Wednesday night, there were 18 to 20 men who shared the same issues and feelings as me."

Men tend to come to Gamma, he says, "feeling as though they're the only person who has this issue. They're so isolated. But in Gamma, you see these people every week progressing through this, and it's a very steadying thing. Many people say it's better than six months in therapy."

After he came out, Foreman and his wife were separated for three years, with her moving to California. A series of family tragedies reunited them, and they have remained together since, partners in an open marriage. They have no children.

Mr. Foreman admits he's in the minority. He notes that "80 to 85" percent of the men in Gamma divorce their wives "and set up permanent monogamous relationships with other men." And yet some remain with their wives as he did. He has a gay partner, "Chris," who lives in Los Angeles. Mrs. Foreman says Chris is a friend of hers. She, too, of course, is free to have relationships with other men, and has, but saves her most intimate moments for her husband, whom she calls the love of her life.

Gamma members hear Mr. Foreman's story and marvel.

"How did you do it?" they want to know. He assures them there really is life after coming out.

"And," he says, "there's no reason whatsoever ... that it can't be a very, very good life."


Ms. Williams was married in 1985 and for a year or so enjoyed what she calls an exhilarating marriage.

"It was wonderful ... not a single problem," she says. She recalls intense passion and great sex.

But after the birth of their oldest child in 1986, things changed. "Sex, for one, was different, sporadic ... not the same," she says.

She also noticed that most of her husband's friends were female. "When he did have male friends, they were extremely close friends," she says. "They would come over, sit in the living room and talk for hours. And then after our second son was born, I just felt extremely lonely, so much so that I wanted us to go into counseling. He wanted no part of that."

(He was contacted for this story earlier this month but said he would be traveling overseas and would not have time to be interviewed.)

By 1992, her husband agreed to see a counselor, whom they saw together and in individual sessions. The therapist told Williams' husband that he needed to "clear the air."

"And so he says, I have homosexual tendencies.' Even then, I didn't really get it," says Williams. "And then he says,I'm gay.' My response was, `No, you're not. You can't be gay because you're married.' My exact words."

Feeling an onrushing fury, she admonished him: "Fine - so why in the world would you marry me?"

She says he looked at her and said, "I didn't know I was gay."

She cried "for the next two years," during which the marriage hung on, her husband sleeping in the living room. Their sons, then 7 and 5, sensed the tension but had no idea, she says, of the underlying reason.

In 1994, her husband told his sons he was gay and moved in with a man. The boys began visitation, and a year later, the divorce was final. Williams calls it a surprisingly exhilarating time.

She did find it necessary, however, to establish You're Not Alone.

At the time her husband told her he was gay, "there was no support group whatsoever for people like me, which contributed greatly to the emotional impact. I felt totally alone."

She found herself besieged with irritating questions: "Questions that make you feel so stupid: `Did you guys ever have sex? Didn't you see it? Didn't you know? How could you not see it?' People look at you like you're so weird, like there's really something wrong with you if you married someone gay.

"And so you keep the secret - by going into your own kind of closet - and, believe me, keeping secrets is anything but healthy."

The group "helped a lot," she says. "It gave me the sense that I'm really not alone, that I'm not stupid, that I'm not ignorant, that there's nothing wrong with me - which, at the time, were the emotions I was consumed by. I learned that very intelligent people, attractive people, sometimes marry gays and lesbians. It has nothing to do with your ability to have sex or what you look like or your education. That was so affirming for me and so many others."

And not just women, she says. There are times when men outnumber women at the meetings - men whose wives announce that they're lesbians.

The group can't erase all the hurt.

"My husband had an idea of an ideal life," Williams said. "It was something he was taught he should be, though it wasn't his true self. And in the process, he hurt himself and me and our two boys, deeply. We all went through physical, mental and emotional gyrations trying to conform to what he thought was the right thing to do. And at this point, I guess I have to ask ... why?"

Even so, Williams said she and her ex-husband have reached a healthy place. They get along well and share in the raising of their children; the boys, she says, accept their father for who he is and love him.

Williams says that anyone who suspects he or she might be in the same situation she faced should begin by attempting "direct communication" with his or her spouse.

"I believe in honesty," she says. "You can't expect the other person to do the right thing, but you have to give them the opportunity. Tell them your concerns, what bothers you. Open communication is very important. Hope for the best, but don't expect it. It should start at home, with your significant other."

Beyond that, she says, take advantage of You're Not Alone. "So call our hotline," she says, "if you suspect that such a thing may be happening."

Foreman recommends that any man identifying with what happened to him "join us on Wednesday evening. People can get past the mode of survival and start loving their lives. It's not something they have to endure. Move on, and get pleasure from your existence. Everyone in Gamma gets to loving their lives, not just surviving it."



Gamma is "a support group meeting the unique needs of gay men in heterosexual marriages who are at varying stages of their sexual self-recognition."

Gamma: 972-558-1600.

You're Not Alone is a local affiliate of the Straight Spouse Network, "a support group for those who have been or are married to homosexual or bisexual people."

Phone: 214-521-5342, Ext. 1734.


(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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