Friday, September 20, 2013

Marriage advice + talk of mixed orientation marriage

Caveat: I have a really bad cold. So my brain feels really foggy. But I wanted to get this out there.

So, last week's FFAQ question came from Anonymous. She asks:

Being married to a wonderful man, who happens to be gay, I wonder if you have any advice? How common are mixed orientation marriages? How are they different, how are they alike?

I'll break my answer to this excellent question into two parts: discussion of mixed orientation marriage, and then general marriage advice.

So, how common are mixed orientation marriages? The truth is, I have absolutely no idea. Nobody really knows because most mixed orientation marriages are not usually public. But I do know this: they are much more common than I ever imagined.

Lolly and I at our Portland wedding reception.

For the first years of our marriage, Lolly and I felt totally alone. There was nobody out there doing "this" that we knew of. We had a sense that we couldn't possibly be the only ones--a couple  who was in a mixed orientation marriage, but one that was working well--but gayness (at the time, and even still to some extent) was so taboo that there was no way we would ever hear about these people. Instead, in those days, you'd only hear about mixed orientation marriages as they fell apart. The gay spouse would have some period of self-realization, decide to leave his or her family, come out publicly and thus reach other people's radar, drawing attention to a sometimes messy aftermath.

We felt completely alone. Completely isolated. We would look at each other from time to time and ask "Are we crazy? Are we insane to be doing this? There have to be others out there. There just have to be. But where are they?" We knew we were doing what was right for us, and we knew our marriage was wonderful, but there was this sense of aloneness.

Eventually, through the internet, we found some people who were in our situation. It was very refreshing to realize that we indeed were not alone. Some of the friends I made at that time have continued to be very close friends, many of whose mixed orientations marriages are thriving. 

But after the coming out post? That's when it became really clear that this wasn't an isolated thing. Many, many people have found love in mixed orientation marriages. Even still I'll get the occasional message from a mixed orientation couple who says something like "Hey guys, thanks for posting your post--just want you to know there are others out there in really happy marriages." There are lots of people who are living in happy mixed orientation marriages under the radar--in your wards and stakes, enjoying their lives. I'm not sure how many, but more than I ever would have imagined. 

At the same time, I also got a lot of responses from people in failed mixed orientation marriages--so there are a lot of those too. Obviously, there is going to be success and failure in any marital subset.

The statistics struggle. With the secrecy of this type of marriage (Lolly and I were totally under cover about it for ten years--most people had no idea I was gay, and so statistics obviously didn't reflect people like us) it's difficult to get accurate numbers. But there are people trying to ascertain this data. There is a study happening right now that I think will help gauge this to some extent, though I still think secrecy will mask a large number of successful mixed orientation marriages.

If you are in a mixed orientation marriage or have ever been in one, consider taking this survey: click here to take survey

It doesn't matter if you have positive or negative feelings about your marriage--it's just important to try and get as much information as possible, so please take that survey if you haven't already. 

Now, the fun part. Advice.

I'm a marriage and family therapist, so I really do love marriage and think it can be such a beautiful thing. It's always amazing to me how resilient people are as couples as they face hard things. I'm also amazed at how small patterns of thinking--feeling entitled, feeling like a victim, feeling like it's okay to be in contact with past lovers--can completely and totally undermine what would otherwise be a really healthy relationship.

I don't actually see a lot of differences between mixed orientation marriages and other marriages in my own life, nor in my work as a therapist. The same things that will keep a mixed orientation marriage vibrant and strong are the exact things that will keep any marriage vibrant and strong. I don't mean for that to be a cop-out answer. I even started writing this list as it specifically pertained to mixed orientation marriage, and then as I wrote, I realized that the things I was saying were universal. Marriage is complex. Love needs to be nourished. Marriage requires forgiveness and patience. These are realities that will exist in any marriage.

So, I decided to be more general. Here are several tips that I have to keep your marriage happy and healthy whether you find yourself in a mixed orientation marriage or not:

1. Be totally honest and transparent with your spouse. Even about the really hard things. Even when you know it will hurt them, or you're having feelings that are painful and unwanted, or if you've done something you wish you hadn't done. Each partner must be totally transparent with his or her feelings and actions. A marriage thrives on honesty, transparency and connection. It will wither and die if you keep secrets. Marriages cannot survive secrets. I see this over and over and over.

Being honest about hard things taps into true vulnerability. It gives your spouse the chance to accept you for everything you are. It honors your spouse, and lets them know you love and trust them totally. If you can't be honest with your husband or wife about the deepest, darkest most obscure places of your heart, your mind, and your past, who could you ever be fully transparent with? The answer is nobody. We as human beings have the fundamental need to be known completely and fully. Marriage is where that happens.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Be honest. Always. Totally and completely. No matter how difficult it is or how much it hurts. It will open up pathways of understanding and empathy, and trust will be the bedrock of your relationship.

2. Do not let isolated circumstances bleed into every problem. Lolly and I are in a mixed orientation marriage. If we aren't careful, we could start to make the mistake of viewing every problem we have as the result of being in a mixed orientation marriage. "You didn't take the trash out last night. Because you're gay!" I know that's a hyperbolic example, but this type of thing does tend to happen from time to time if a person isn't careful. So your husband has depression. So your wife struggles with an eating disorder. So your husband is a sports fanatic. So your wife really loves to shop. That does not mean that every issue that occurs is directly tied into one of these notable characteristics. Let isolated issues stand on their own, and be careful not to conflate them with other issues.

3. Recognize that every marriage has "perpetual problems." If you notice that you have the same fights with your spouse over and over and over (and over and over) you are not alone. In fact, every marriage has what John Gottman called perpetual problems--or difficulties that persist throughout a marriage and that are largely unresolvable. These perpetual problems arise because they are tied to intrinsic personality characteristics of both partners which will remain static over time. In other words, we are who we are, and we can't change our personalities, which ultimately is a good thing.

When you find yourself in a perpetual problem, it means that both parties have a legitimate perspective based on real things. Your job is not to change your spouse to see things your way. Your job is to see things their way, continue to own the validity of what you think, and then compromise around the edges. If you like vacations to be long, lazy and unplanned, and your spouse likes vacations that are scheduled every minute, neither perspective is wrong (even though your family probably sees things your way and validates it because they see things in a similar fashion!). You find a way to compromise around the edges while honoring both perspectives. Perhaps you take turns having vacations your way and then their way. Perhaps you split a vacation in half. The goal with perpetual problems is to see them for what they are, and then find ways to compromise that don't dishonor yourself or your spouse or his/her perspective. 

4. Finally, think positive things about your spouse. There is a lot of literature out there that demonstrates that we control how we feel about things and people by the thoughts we allow ourselves to have. You can literally change the tide of negative feelings towards your spouse by actually changing how many times in a day you think positive things about him or her. It sounds so basic and simple that many people never do this, but there is a five to one ratio to making this work: for every one negative thought about your spouse, you need to proactively think five legitimate positive thoughts to counteract the negative feelings that brings. I have certain things I do every single day that help keep my thoughts about my wonderful Lolly as vibrant and positive as possible.  

I could go on and on, but I think those are four really basic and important steps to building a good marriage. They will work for mixed orientation marriages, or any marriage at all. 

Thanks for asking such a great question. Tune in next week for the next voting poll...

And have a great weekend everyone!


  1. I'm shocked that there aren't comments already! :)

    I really liked the advice that you gave. I'm 33 and single, but still hopeful, which is why I don't have an issue with reading marriage advice. I figure that I can still work on these aspects in myself so that I'm ready.

    Thanks again for being "real" and sharing so much of your's and Lolly's lives.

  2. I'm also a bit shocked at the lack of comments because WOW!!! ... Then again that is my normal response to these most all of this kind of blog posts from Josh.

    You have an amazing insight into human behavior. I love to read your perspectives.

  3. "You didn't take the trash out last night. Because you're gay!"

    Love it.

  4. Great advice, Josh. Another thing that I have found to be very helpful is to remember that love is a choice. I wake up every day and choose to love my spouse regardless of what my emotions or feelings are that day.

  5. Great post, as always! I really love the perspective you have on marriage and family.

  6. Mixed Orientation that's food for thoughts, in a good way. I am 50, single celibate Gay Male here.

    1. I am also Catholic, too.

  7. wonderful post! thank you so much for the tips. The part about thinking positive thoughts about your spouse is so true... its the little things that make a huge difference... now i'm off to think good thoughts. Have a great weekend!

  8. Hey Brother Weed,

    So I was idly reading your post whilst eating my cheerios and I wanted to share this link that's been floating around my facebook page. People from my department at Weber State made it and I wondered what your thoughts were on it. It's kind of interesting because all my Mormon friends are wondering what to say about it and my Gay friends are kind of using it as a standard for equality. (Don't worry, it's not about talking oranges, Cats running into walls, or a secret virus disguised as a Youtube video.)
    If you want to talk a look I was curious on your views about videos and memes like this. Do you think they're effective?

    1. Not sure how effective videos and memes like this are, but they do make me emotional as a gay person. I know I wouldn't want to be fired from a job based on my sexual orientation or lifestyle choices, and it's sad to see the portrayal of someone facing just that. I think a lot of Mormon people feel torn because they feel like they *can't* support basic rights in cases like this, but I believe that's a false dilemma--I feel that you can believe in the proclamation to the world re: family AND be appalled that someone would be fired so unjustly. These things are not mutually exclusive in my mind.

    2. AuntSue
      Couldn't find your link.

  9. WOW, Love it. Thanks for the wonderful article.

  10. You should write a book on marriage. Seriously. This is great stuff.

  11. #2 and 3 are so true. One of my friends suggested making an arguments chart on the fridge where you could just point to the issue whenever it came up. =)

    I do think another important point about mixed orientation marriages is that I think there are cases where one partner doesn't know or hasn't been honest with themself about their sexual orientation, so they end up situations they didn't necessarily anticipate or choose in the way you and Lolly were able to because you were both aware and open about each other's sexuality.

    1. This is a good point--I should have clarified that when I said "successful" mixed orientation marriages, I meant implicitly ones where there was full disclosure before marriage. Brain fog!

  12. Great stuff Josh - So glad to have you back, we've missed your posts.

    Mr. I Define Me and I both agree completely with what you have said here. We appreciate the effective way in which you declared that there are so many more folks like us in mixed orientation marriages, happy, thriving, successful, and completely fulfilled. Certainly the 'private' nature of it stands to reason that there are so many who are not public. And that is not to say that they are 'secret' because they are homophobic or ashamed, just that for many, it is their personal, carefully considered, humble existance that brings them peace, happiness, and joy.

    I just want to share that while 'we' are open about our mixed orientation marriage to some of our family, there are some real and legitimate reasons why we are not out to some others at this time. But, we are prayerful in our choices of who knows and consider it on a personal basis. In some respects we would like to shout it to the world, that we are here and things are great, but it's complicated for us and I'm certain that is the case for many, many others.

    We have many friends in mixed orientation marriages who are happy and doing great, and I think that we would all agree that your insights and instructions here are SPOT ON. We had some hard times but have learned great marital skills and our marriage is amazing and wonderful because of that. We actually, definitely, feel like our marriage is stronger and probably much better than alot of the heterosexual couples we know.

    Also, we just wanted to say AMEN to your comments regarding 'thoughts'. What an awesome creation - our brains. We testify that our thoughts control our actions and feelings, etc.

    It is sad that so many people don't realize the power of the human mind..... Even with people out there like Oprah (lol) sharing years of mind control experts on her show, the documentary called 'The Secret', and good ole' Tony Robins (The Power of Positive Thinking), ;) we (society) are only beginning to tap into the powers that are available to us through mind/body/spirit education, experiments, and beliefs.

    And of course finally, the most important power to Mr. IDM and I is the beautiful and real power of God. We (our relationship/marriage) are living proof that .....

    With God Nothing Is Impossible :)

    Love you guys - Hugs to you both

  13. I loved this advice but I challenge that you should be completely transparent about everything. If something you would say would hurt the other person or is repented of in the past, what good would it do to reveal it? For example, I have never told my husband that when I was 18 I had an experience online where I was looking at photos of celebrity females and I started feeling turned on when they made sexy poses wearing tiny amounts of clothes and then it escalated in college till I had viewed porn a couple times. I haven't shared with him that when I see girls dressed really provocatively to this day, something in my brain or body gets turned on and it's distracting. Am I bisexual? I don't like to focus on labels. I swat these thoughts and feelings away like a pescy fly when they occur and I don't see how it would help my marriage in any way to share them with my husband. These not so frequent experiences don't interfere with my life in any significant way. What good would sharing it do?

    1. I agree, though I suppose Josh was referring to deeper issues that are repressed as an avoidance mechanism.

      If it isn't too personal to share, I'm a bit (all right, very) curious as to why it would hurt your husband to know that sexy women turn you on (that's how it usually works, isn't it?).

  14. AuntSue
    Oh your wisdom. I wish you had been our therapist when we were having problems. Narcissitic-bi-polar/vs/put-all-emotions-in-a-gun-safe, certainly made for a difficult marriage. Needless to say, good marriage counselors were hard to find. The Lord was my Rock and my Salvation, and six wonderful children and 18 fantastic grandchildren are the reward. But the best month of our life was because of a motivational speaker. He taught us to say only positive things to each other for 3 weeks. No veiled reminders, no sarcasm, no passive-agressive - only positive comments to each other. Unfortunately we were not able to keep it up, or do it again. But while it lasted it was heaven on earth.

  15. OK. So I'm kind of teary here, reading this wise and inspiring post.

    As a person in heterosexual marriage who is struggling with it, I don't think I can really deal with 1, 2 or 3, but I will do my level best with 4, and thank you for reminding me about these tools.

    Oh. And your prayers would be nice, too.

  16. Wonderful, insightful, and inspiring advice! Thank you.

  17. Wonderful, wonderful advice Josh. Don't have time to share all my thoughts but I can relate and verify to the efficacy of all 4 points, having been married for 18 years to a great man and also having some perpetual problems. We have many wonderful (the word of the day apparently) interests we share and complimentary traits, but we also have a few "thorns" i our marriage's side so to speak. So thinking positively of your partner is crucial and I can vouch for the special growth and intimacy afforded by number #1. I was deathly afraid of that one for years and it really only gave it more power to harm our marriage and my own mental health and spiritual growth. I found out some amazing things about my spouse and his love for me when I decided to just dive in. Of course that made me love him more.

  18. Ha ha I like the vacation thing because me and my husband have the same problem! He loves to be organized and I like to be lazy so we compromised that we would have a list of things to do and we would do them during the day at anytime and if we notice something that looks enjoyable when we get there we'll just add it onto our list. First time we tried it we both agreed that this was the best way for our vacations to go because it was so much fun :) I totally agree that those four things are some of the best advice for marriages of any kind.

  19. Love the marriage advice! Muchas gacias!!

  20. I just found a somewhat new blog by someone also in a M.O.M. , if anyone's interested in checking it out (he doesn't seem to have a following and might appreciate it if a few Josh Weed fans left some comments)

  21. Its all about our creating! Each of us is equipped with all the right tools to make something wonderful that says "us". Everyday a brushstroke is added simply by a thought, a word, an action that sweeps across our landscapes and influences others in their own creatings. You are a unique and very colorful creator that brings laughs and joy to many!

  22. Thank you for your advice. My best friend who is gay wants to get married. We think it can work, but I have never heard of anyone else doing it. Any other resources you could share would be most appreciative.

  23. Getting ready to move into a mixed orientation marriage. I came out to my soulmate when we were much younger. We have been room-mates, best friends and soul mates over the 20 years since then. We bought houses next door to each other and love each other beyond anything we can describe. She knows, she loves and still wants to be with me for the rest of our days....I am a very lucky man who loves her back...we are working on preparation for this new phase of our lives and my research has lead me to this, the most influential and positive article so far. Many thanks for the inspiration to do things right for the one you love....