Mark and Angie

Mark and Angie’s Story

We have been married for 21 years and make our home in Texas. At the time of this writing (2015), we have one son, who’s 14.

Last summer, Mark came out as bisexual, saying that he feels emotionally heterosexual and monogamous, but that he is physically more attracted to men. For the last nine months, we have had an open relationship on Mark’s side, and three months ago, I opened my side. Our son is aware of his father’s bisexuality, but we have not discussed with him our open marriage agreement.

We both believe that our marriage is our true home — that it’s where we both belong.

Mark’s Story

Deep down, I’ve known since I was a teenager that I’m attracted to men. Since I like women too, I was able to hide my interest in guys behind a normal-looking, straight life for many years. But deep down, I knew.

I knew about having to hide erections in the school showers, but being turned on by the naked guys standing only a few feet away. I knew about the stolen glances in the locker room, curious about what other guys looked like down there. I knew about looking at porn with friends, and talking about the girls, but secretly being more turned on by the guys. I knew about sleeping over at friends’ houses, desperately hoping that they’d initiate something, but being too scared to say anything myself out of fear of being outed as a “fag.”

I grew up in the Deep South, where nearly every Sunday I was terrified by stories of the devil tempting me to commit sins that would cause God to reject me. My parents also reinforced this message of conditional acceptance. Although I know they loved me, they were incredibly controlling and emotionally inauthentic. I came to believe that their acceptance of me depended on my fulfilling their ideal of the “good son.” So, I worked hard to stay on the straight and narrow path. I never drank. I never did drugs. I didn’t have sex. I didn’t cuss. I obeyed my parents. I did well in school. But beneath all of this, I felt those unspeakable urges that weren’t going away. I didn’t know what to do with those desires, since they seemed so incompatible with the life I knew. So, I just hid them deep inside.

In college I met the woman I would eventually marry. We seemed to hit it off immediately. Although I had been on a few dates in high school, I had never been comfortable being myself with other girls. But this time I felt a deep connection that was exciting and real. But as we started dating seriously, I found myself pulling back from physical intimacy. In think in part it was because I was still playing the role of the “good son,” which meant waiting until I was married before having sex. But I also believe there was more to it. I think I was also working to repress my homosexual desires. I now know that the two sides of my sexuality seem connected. I think that by suppressing my same-sex desires, I ended up suppressing my straight desires too.

We married when we were both 22. Not long after this, my same-sex urges finally became too intense to ignore. At graduate school, I stumbled upon a men’s room in the library where guys played together anonymously. Seeing another guy’s erection in person for the first time was shocking, but extremely arousing. I impulsively decided that this was finally my chance. In the heat of the moment, I thought if I don’t do it now, I might never have this chance again. I can still remember so much of the encounter, which honestly was probably not longer than a couple of minutes. I ended up going back to that men’s room another five or six times. It was thrilling, and so gratifying, like satisfying a hunger that I had had for years. And yet it was also so deeply and incredibly shameful. After less than a year of being married, I had been unfaithful to the woman that I loved most in the world. I felt such intense shame, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to tell her what had happened, and I was terrified that if I did tell her the truth she would leave me. So I decided to hide it, to pretend like it never happened. And hopefully the urges would just go away.

Of course the urges didn’t go away. I would try ignoring them for a while. I would try fulfilling my fantasies with pornography for a short time. But it didn’t meet the deep, primal desire that I had for connection with someone real. I wanted to feel the powerful embrace of another man, to delight in the experience of sharing physically what it means to be a guy. I didn’t find myself drawn romantically to guys, but I also wanted more than a hookup. I craved the deep level of male bonding that sex provided. I can remember hours of chats with other guys on AOL. The thing that I enjoyed the most was finally being able to actually talk about all of those things that I’d been holding in for so many years.

After the birth of our son in 2000 my wife and I went through an incredibly difficult period in our relationship. Two moves in less than two years, a struggling business, and a serial killer in our neighborhood (yes, seriously), all took a huge toll on our marriage. Around this time, I moved from online chatting to meeting guys in person. I rationalized it by telling myself lies: My wife doesn’t want sex any more, so I shouldn’t have to go without. This isn’t really cheating; it’s just guys having fun. It doesn’t really hurt anyone. I’m protecting my wife by not telling her.

But I knew deep down that these were lies. And the longer they went on, the harder it became to live with the shame. Instead of doing the right thing and disclosing everything to my wife, I ended up escaping with the one drug that I had: sex.

For about ten years I became more and more addicted to sex. AOL chat rooms gave way to Craigslist personal ads. Ongoing discreet relationships with married guys gave way to one-time anonymous hookups. In time, it became almost all-consuming. I would have an encounter, and quickly enter into a shame spiral, promising myself I would never to do it again. I would hold back the urges and try to mask the shame as long as I could. But then they would both become too much, and I would end up giving in, starting the terrible cycle all over again. I was exhausted trying to keep up the façade. I so very desperately wanted to be a good husband and father, but instead I was becoming increasingly distant, irritable, and inattentive. On the inside I was empty, ashamed, and scared. I felt so alone and hopeless.

Everything in my world changed in September 2013, when my wife and my family found out about my double life. My first impulse was to keep lying, to find a way to isolate the damage. But within 24 hours I came to realize that the only option was to tell my wife everything. I told her how things had started and what I had done. I answered her questions as honestly as I could. But for some things I just didn’t have an answer: Why had I cheated? Why hadn’t I told her? Was I gay? For these, all I could do was tell her the truth: I didn’t know.

After an extremely difficult first week, my wife and I agreed that we both wanted our marriage to continue. We loved each other too much to give up on our relationship. My infidelities were incredibly heartbreaking for my wife, and yet she found inside herself an amazing depth of grace, forgiveness, and love. We were surprised that the emotional honesty and openness that came from the disclosure actually began to draw us even closer than before. I joined a twelve-step program, which helped me get my addictive and compulsive behaviors under control. We also started extensive work with a therapist we both connected really well with.

After about nine months of therapy, I finally was able to realize that I am bisexual. I found that while the compulsive desires for sex dropped off (through my twelve-step program and therapy), the same-sex attractions and desires were still there. And, in fact, as I processed things, I came to realize that one of the things that I had been avoiding in my addiction was coming to terms with my sexual orientation.

My coming out was a second huge blow for my wife. It wasn’t really about rejecting my orientation, per se, which she was actually very accepting of. Instead, it was about how my orientation was going to affect the future of our relationship. From all that she read, she said that 50% of MOMs end right away, another 35% end after two to three years, and the remaining 15% seem to find a way to make it. However, one of the main things that many of these “successful” couples share is some form of non-monogamy, giving the non-straight spouse a way to be fulfilled while still staying in the relationship. She asked me what I wanted, and I was very cautious, but honest. I told her that when I imagined never being able to be with a man ever again in my life, I felt a deep, deep sadness. And, I said that while I loved her, and was very committed to her and our marriage, my ideal arrangement would be to find a way to have a solid healthy relationship with her, but also be able to have an honest and safe way to enjoy this other part of myself. As someone who’s monogamous by nature, my wife found the choice between either “open marriage” or “no marriage” impossibly bleak.

Over the next few months, my wife and I learned a lot about mixed-orientation marriages. We joined HUGS, MMOMW, and MonMOM. I joined HOW, and she joined AP. She read just about everything she could find about bisexuality, mixed orientation marriages, and open relationships. We met other MOM couples (both online and in-person), and we heard a lot of different stories, some very hopeful and some extremely heartbreaking.

I also attended my first HOW Gathering, in Minneapolis. I was honestly unsure about attending; but my wife really encouraged me to go, and I’m glad that I did. Being there among almost 30 other men like me, I was finally able to understand that my same sex attractions aren’t something sinful to be covered up, or something addictive to be changed. They are simply a part of who I am, and it’s okay for me to embrace and celebrate them.

After lots of heart-to-heart talks with my wife—and quite a few painful arguments, too—we decided to give the open relationship route a try. We’ve agreed to try it for a year to see if it’s something that overall makes our relationship stronger or not.

We’re now nine months into our open relationship “experiment.” The first few months were definitely the hardest, and we’re still in the process of the right balance for both of our needs. But all in all, I’m actually surprised at how well it seems to be going.

Angie’s Story

In the fall of 2013, my world fell apart with the news that my husband of nearly 21-years had been having sex with men since shortly after we married, starting while we were in graduate school. Nothing in my past experience prepared me for that shock. My world was suddenly not at all what it had seemed, and I had no idea what the future held. Never before had I felt more vulnerable than I felt at that moment, betrayed by the person I trusted most in the world.

Up until that time, I knew my husband only as a hard-working, loyal friend who had stayed by my side, and I by his, through thick and thin. He’s a loving, smart, creative, and funny guy who became my best friend and lover in college. He was my first steady boyfriend and my only sexual partner ever. How could I have been so wrong about what our lives were truly like?

We immediately began intensive therapy —individual, couples, family, and group therapy. With an autistic son in full meltdown mode, the first three months were more about crisis management than anything else. Early on I realized that with his counselor, Mark would have to decide what his extramarital behavior was and what it meant for our marriage. In the meantime, we had to focus on survival and learn how to talk about very, very difficult feelings, fears, and thoughts; and so that’s what we did.

Gradually we began to see the results of the hard work we were doing on ourselves as individuals, partners, and parents. After those first trying three months, I moved into a period of riding that well-known and exhausting emotional roller coaster. For me, this time was filled with the joys of relating more authentically and the terrors of facing some of my worst fears, as well as lots of pain and grief as I dealt with the loss of the marriage that I thought that I had had. Even so, I was grateful that our very survival no longer seemed up in the air. During that next six months, there would naturally be ups and downs, but things would stabilize greatly.

What I couldn’t know then was that that stability was only setting the stage for further shock down the road. Eventually, as the dust finally began to settle, Mark shared that he privately had struggled with same sex attractions since adolescence — impulses that he never dared to admit to himself or anyone else, including me. He believed that he was bisexual.

Bisexual? For me, his being bisexual was the “Sunday School answer” — it meant our marriage might have a chance. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t be attracted to me. Surely that was hopeful. At least that was what I thought at the time, but as I poured over the research, my optimism faded. No matter what the non-straight partner’s orientation, the mixed orientation marriage survival statistics were not encouraging, and the information available from the Straight Spouse Network (SSN) was downright terrifying.

With his disclosure of his orientation, I assumed monogamy remained a given — he was bisexual, not homosexual. But having learned not to assume anything, I decided to ask him, and that was when he confided that he was extremely sad at the thought of never being with another man again. I sympathized, but my heart also broke a bit more. I felt like the “price for admission” to continuing this relationship that had been resurrected from the ashes might be going back to the cheating — cheating in a far more awful form, flagrant, in my face cheating.

Suddenly, I was back on the exhausting emotional roller coaster, but this time it was more intense. After all the cheating, the emotional pain and turmoil of the last year, I felt hurt that he’d ask for my permission to have a lover. It seemed audacious.

Did his happiness and fulfillment have to come at the expense of mine, or mine at the expense of his? How much could I give and sacrifice before I was no more authentic than he was living in the closet? Could I live with the pain of sharing him without becoming a bitter, hollow shell of myself? Was so much sacrifice on either of our parts healthy? Maybe I just didn’t have what it takes.

As much as I loved Mark, I felt utterly torn. I wanted him to be happy and fulfilled, to live honestly and in keeping with his values and who he truly is. But I also wanted that for me too. And I just couldn’t mentally reconcile our contradictory needs. I spent many days in a teary mess.

To work through this conflict, in therapy I focused on articulating my values and identifying what mattered most in my marriage. Based on that examination, I was able to reach a place of feeling like allowing Mark to have M2M encounters could actually be a values-based decision for me. That realization gave me the permission I needed to express my compassion for him and his sexual needs in a way that made us both happy (because we both were living in accordance with our values).

Together we decided to do a trial of opening up in October 2014 — we’d tried both cheating and monogamy, so now we would try consensual non-monogamy. Although this was a mutual decision, and certainly not coerced, I still had moments of deep grief and pain as we went forward, and sometimes it was harder for me to accept and act on my values because I’d feel conflicted about my preference for monogamy. When I would struggle, it was also harder for Mark to go forward in exploring consensual non-monogamy; and yet, we both wanted to be open and honest about our feelings, our thoughts, and our challenges in this opening process.

After a few very difficult months of devastating emotional lows, eventually the opening up became less and less difficult for me. As I gained experience with my husband coming home to me, continuing to desire me, and regularly expressing his love to me — even after meeting up with someone else — I began to feel safe and secure again. As my heart and mind finally found themselves in sync, things became much, much easier. January (2015) was, as far as I can remember, the last time I truly struggled with our decision to open up.

After a season of so much of the unexpected, you would think that I would be beyond surprise at this point, but I’m not. As I adjusted to our new normal, I was shocked to find my mind opening to questions I’d never before pondered. What would it be like to have sex with someone else? Are straight lovers different than non-straight guys? Could I actually have sex with someone else? I had no idea.

Once I could see that opening up wasn’t hurting our relationship and that it was stronger than ever, I started to consider opening my side and exploring my curiosity. With a friend’s encouragement, I’d joined OkCupid as an ego boost in the summer, but I’d quickly taken down my profile when the male attention made me nervous. So, in March, I casually put my profile back up — and make no mistake, an ego boost it was.

But opening up my side has done more than boost my confidence. It’s also given me a new perspective on what my husband experiences. Many times Mark would say that his playing around with another guy didn’t change his affections for me, but I just couldn’t relate to that. I had no concept whatsoever of recreational sex. The only sex I’d ever had was deeply emotional and at its best transcendent, an experience in which bodies become one. How could he share that with someone else and not himself be transformed or changed? Again, I had no idea.

Now I think I understand it better. I have confirmation that it’s the relationship, the emotional attachment, and the history that gives a sexual experience a certain level of depth or meaning. What my husband and I have together can never be replicated in another physical act or even an emotional relationship. Like our DNA, it’s unique to us. Knowing that at an experiential level is an amazing comfort. Now I also know that sex with someone else can be fun, enjoyable, and desired, without detracting from the pleasure my husband and I have when we’re sexual. It’s all such a brave new world.

So now, after months of emotional turmoil, confusion, and unrest, I find myself feeling better and beginning to imagine a future that I can embrace and enjoy. In addition to opening my side of our marriage (acting on it at least), I’m considering going back to school, and I’m also doing some. So in a way, I’m having something of a personal awakening, which is simultaneously exciting and frightening.

Ed and Lynne

LYNNE: We have been married for 47 years. I had long suspected that something was wrong in our marriage but I just thought that my husband was kind of asexual or that I just wasn’t attractive to him anymore. I blamed myself for all of this. I threw myself into the lives of our children, and became resigned to living life as roommates or companions. He was drinking and smoking way too much and was depressed all the time. He would bring home a bottle of wine every night and, if that did not work, he would add scotch until he passed out in his chair. I really don’t know how he continued to make it to work every day.

ED: I knew I was gay before I got married. But that was in the 1960’s and being gay was anathema. Among many other things, it was subject to criminal prosecution, grounds for dishonorable discharge from the military, loss of employment and wide-spread social ostracism. So I had not revealed my gayness to anyone; it was buried as deep as possible. Besides I loved my wife and thought I could manage my same sex attractions (SSA). Over the course of 40 some years, I could not completely suppress it and had infrequent, anonymous liaisons. My shame of doing this and my constant fear of being discovered and losing everything led to bouts of depression, frenetic chain smoking, and growing consumption of alcohol to the point that I made myself an alcoholic. About 8 years ago, I came to realize that being gay no longer carried the stigma that it had in the past and that it was time to face up to the reality of it. That led to my disclosure to my wife in hopes that she would agree to stay with me and risking everything for the truth. I was so tired of living the life of deception. Facing up to the reality of being gay, sharing this with my loving wife, and being able to finally, honestly have SSA experiences turned my life around. I quit smoking, joined AA, and quit drinking. I basically got my life in order. My wife’s growing acceptance and her love have made me the happiest I have ever been in my life.

LYNNE: One day before our 39th anniversary, my husband sat me down, took my hands in his, and told me he was gay. I was crushed and thought that all we had built together was crumbling to dust. But my husband had been going to GAMMA* meetings which I did not know about. He said that it was possible for gay men to be married and that there were others who were making it work. It really didn’t make sense to me. I toyed with the idea of living separately, though still married, since I was too old to start over. I knew I was not financially able to support myself, but I also knew that my husband was a good man and would take care of me. In coming out, he said he wanted to live with honesty and integrity.

At this point, I only remember the thoughts rushing through my head and the sense of panic. I searched the internet and the only thing I could find were doomsday stories from such sites as the Straight Spouse Network. It really didn’t seem hopeful at all. Then I found a website that had posts from a woman named “T. K.” which led me to Alternate Path (AP). “T.K.” sent me a personal letter and assured me that a mixed orientation marriage (MOM) was indeed possible. And every time I needed support, AP was there to help. In fact, it seemed that just when an issue would pop up for us, someone would write in with similar questions. I began to believe our marriage could work.

It had been almost a year since the initial disclosure that we attended our first HUGS* gathering in Toronto. If I had purchased refundable air tickets, I would have cancelled at the last minute. But I am so glad I attended the meeting. Besides learning that there were many others in the same situation, I also got a lot of personal support from two of the women who took me aside for conversation. I found real support, face to face, and made friends. I remain friends with many of the folks from that first meeting to this day.

Today, I feel really fortunate to have survived those dark, difficult days eight years ago. I think that our promise to be honest with one another from that point on and my husband’s promise to tell me everything I wanted to know helped the process. We talked about everything, including the past. Since you cannot change the past, I learned to forgive. There have been ups and downs, of course. But life continues and is good.

Although my husband’s side has been open since day one, I do not wish to open my side: too old, too insecure, and way too complicated for me. We are both fortunate that my husband has found a wonderful, compassionate, and caring friend with benefits (FWB) who respects our marriage and likes to keep me happy. Our children know about their dad and they know his boyfriend who is invited to family birthdays and gatherings. The three of us share a rather unique relationship–one that I am sure not everyone will understand or appreciate. We often get together to go to baseball games, out to dinner, or to movies. As my husband’s best friend, he has also become my friend. It is together that we can be ourselves without pretentions of any kind. If I had not agreed to meet this man early in their relationship, life would be very different for me. I think that I would feel many of the same emotions that others have expressed on the various forums.

ED: I, too, found the information and friendships that we gained from HUGS* and HOW* to be incredibly valuable. The new found communication with my wife has renewed our love and I can truly say that our life is the best it has ever been. With the knowledge and acceptance of my wife, I have developed a relationship with a younger man whom I also love. We have been together now for almost 7 years. We spend Friday nights together and have weekend trips together a couple of times a year. He is a wonderfully caring person and has become an important friend to both me and my wife. We go together to dinner, the movies, the theatre, and sporting events. Of the three of us, I apparently have the least knowledge about the sporting events. I love my wife even more for loving me enough to accept this relationship. Frankly, with my loving wife, my kids and grandkids and my boyfriend, my life is just incredible. I never thought I could be this happy.
*GAMMA Gay and Married Men’s Association
*HUGS Hope-Understanding-Growth-Support: on-line Yahoo Group for couples in mixed orientation marriages
*HOW Husbands Out to Wives: on-line support group for gay & bisexual men who are married to women

Betsy and George

BETSY: My husband disclosed his true sexual orientation to me in 2013. Before that time, I did not suspect he was anything other than straight. I must say that when I first met George in 1992, I thought he was gay. However, when I got to know him better, we actually talked about the issue of homosexuality – specifically, my past sexual experiences. I confessed to George that in fact I had no prior sexual experience with men, only with a woman. I assumed, I guess, that since George did not share confidences about similar experiences or interests, he had not had them. But that assumption was wrong, and when George came out to me all those years later, he confessed that he had “missed his cue” back in the early days. He was afraid to tell me the truth back then. In hindsight, I can understand his choice to remain silent. I also believe that among the many reasons I fell in love with George, there was perhaps an element of like recognizing like.

Before George came out to me, our marriage seemed rock solid, at least from my perspective. Although we struggled with issues that many people in long-term marriages face (difficulty handling conflict, for instance), it was only about six months prior to George’s disclosure that I began to sense a deep unhappiness and restlessness in him. He began to pull away from me emotionally. I could tell he was struggling with something but had no idea what it was. I could not draw him out about the nature of the problem. I felt helpless. The suspense ended when he sat me down on the couch one morning and told me he was bisexual. His attraction to men was something he could no longer hide or suppress. Although he had not yet acted on those feelings, he needed me to know that he intended to do so. In the immediate aftermath of his disclosure, we were both in limbo and a lot of pain. It took us a couple of months to find any help at all. That was the worst time when we simply didn’t know where to turn. We told a few friends and family members in an effort to get some support. But telling close friends and family can be a mixed bag when it comes to support, and it was hard to fight against the tide of assumptions regarding our “inevitable” divorce.

Fortunately, I soon found the online group Alternate Path. I began to read about other people’s experiences and learn about resources such as counseling. We began going to couple’s counseling as well as to individual therapy every week. I credit our joint counselor with facilitating some amazing progress in our ability to communicate about difficult issues. We continued with her throughout the first year post disclosure. During that time we opened our marriage on George’s side, and she helped us as we struggled with all of the feelings that opening up evoked. Like most heterosexual couples, we had married with the understanding that we would be monogamous. Both of us had work to do in envisioning a different model of marriage.

As time goes on, I feel more and more optimistic about the future. My husband’s decision to come out was incredibly brave. He had no idea what to expect and took a leap of faith that, in hindsight, fills me with admiration. What I did not know and could not have anticipated was how his telling of his truth would change all of our lives for the better. I feel like my husband and I relate on an entirely different level of emotional openness and we are both happier for it. Our children know everything which has strengthened their relationships with their dad. We have had some amazing conversations about topics we would never have been able to discuss previously. So while the last two years have not been easy, they have been worth it.
GEORGE: The past few years have been quite a journey. I feel that for the first time in my life I can be my complete, authentic self. I am incredibly blessed to have Betsy as my life partner. While we are in a good place now, the journey has had many ups and downs and often some unexpected turns. I was terrified at the beginning and felt like I had just taken a plunge off a cliff, not knowing if there would be anything or anyone there to catch me. I know Betsy surely thought about just letting me hit rock bottom a few times and we got dangerously close. But fortunately our love and her tenacity won the day. Soon she had taken the plunge with me and we have both discovered new things about each other for the first time. I guess you could say we fell in love in a whole new way. This time our love is bigger, stronger, more real, and of course much wider since it now includes other people mostly on my side.

One major aspect of the journey for me was initially coming out as bisexual. But with more experiences, I am coming to realize I am mostly gay. That was hard to admit, but the surprising thing that Betsy has helped me understand is that the more fully open and honest I am, the stronger our bond becomes – even when it seems like “bad news.” This is not at all how I thought it would work when I first took the plunge. We have some basic ground rules for the open relationship, which are really at heart about communication, respect and of course safety. I admit that staying open is a challenge for me–I was raised by people who hid everything.

It’s almost cliché, but relationships really do take work, and that is something we have to do every week. But with the investment of work, the long-term commitment is deepened. I agree with Betsy that our couples counseling experience was critical to our learning how to communicate better, be more understanding and less defensive when encountering the other person’s feelings. I guess that’s my number one piece of advice – talk about everything, every day, until it becomes as ordinary as brushing your teeth. Easier said than done, but “maintenance” is so much easier than repairing major damage after the fact. Wishing much love and exciting new adventures to all of you!