On Mixed Orientation Marriages: Four Stories


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Leigh Ann Taylor, Joe Cobb & Family (Read their story below) 

Leigh Ann Taylor, Joe Cobb & Family (Read their story below) 

As we’ve been discussing homosexuality as part of our yearlong series on Sexuality & The Church, I’ve been surprised by how many readers have contacted me about their mixed orientation marriages, both past and present. So today I wanted to yield the floor to several people with first-hand experiences in this area, each with a different story. 

Leigh Ann Taylor – Divorced (& Remarried) 

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I had the privilege of meeting Leigh Ann when I visited Blacksburg, Virginia a few months ago and was struck by her warm, encouraging spirit. She and her ex-husband, Joe Cobb, have co-authored a book entitled Our Family Outing, which tells the riveting, heartbreaking, and hopeful story of a family that must face the reality that their husband/father is gay. When Leigh Anne met Joe, she never imagined that thirteen years into their marriage he would come out as a gay man. When Joe came out to Leigh Anne, he never imagined that thirteen years after their divorce, he and his partner James would choose Leigh Anne to be the godmother for their second child. I recently spoke with Leigh Anne: 

First, share with us your story. When did you find out that your husband was attracted to men, and what happened after that? 

Joe and I met when we were in seminary.  We fell in love shortly after we met and were married less than a year later.  Although I told him my whole dating history after we were engaged, he was vague about his.  Thinking that there might be some abuse in his past, I didn’t probe.  If I had, I would’ve learned that he’d been attracted to men since he was 10 years old and that he’d been in a sexual relationship with a man while he was in high school and college. 

He kept his secret and we were married for 13 years.  We became parents to two children, and we both had active careers in ministry.  In our twelfth year of marriage, both of us were on the staff of a large church in Kansas.  I was perpetually exhausted from juggling work and caring for two preschoolers, Joe was absent and totally focused on work.  I became depressed.  I got myself to the therapist and asked Joe to go too, so we could work on the emotional chasm in our marriage.  I was completely unprepared for what he said to me after his first visit: "I don't know if I'm gay or straight and I've been with a man."  

After I recovered from the shock of his confession, I was surprisingly relieved.  I finally understood why our marriage was suffering, and it wasn't me.  I said to Joe, "I'll stay with you as long as you’re in therapy to figure out if you're gay or straight.  When you come to some peace about that, we'll figure out what to do about our marriage."  I was hopeful early on that we would be able to continue our life as a couple, but as his therapy progressed, Joe became certain that he had to be with a man to be whole and I became certain that I could not stay married to gay man.  Soon after we divorced, the kids and I moved to Virginia so I could have the support of my family as I started a new season in my life.  Joe stayed in Kansas for two more years until he was asked to surrender his credentials as a pastor.  He moved to Virginia and has been a regular part of our kid’s lives ever since.

Tell us about your current relationship with Joe and his partner. 

In the 15 years since our divorce, we’ve both remarried. Joe and James and my husband Hugh and I make a pretty awesome parenting team for our two children, who are now 19 and 21 years old.  We get together in each other's homes for the kid's birthdays, milestones, and for holidays. Joe and James have two children, a son, 3 and a daughter, 5, who are James' biological children, born through a surrogate and an egg donor.  I am James’ son's godmother.  The older children adore the younger children and visa versa. My husband Hugh is a champ about it all, "I don't get it, but I don't have to. They're great guys and we're all part of the family."

One thing I loved about your book, Leigh Anne, is how you shared with readers some of the prayers you prayed as you journeyed through this experience of finding out your husband is gay, struggling through therapy, divorcing, and remarrying. They are beautiful prayers, applicable to all of us, even if our circumstances are different from yours. Tell us, what are some important things you learned about self-care through all of this? 

For the first time in my life, I learned that I really did have to put my own oxygen mask on before I could assist anyone else.  I still remember that moment in the produce aisle, when I said to myself, "Avocados....I like avocados."  I started in the vegetables aisle and moved right on up to a new bicycle and a fancy coat with a faux-fur collar!  I stopped waiting around for someone else to "make me happy” and found that I was quite capable of doing that for myself.  I was single for a long time and struggled with loneliness, but I learned from experience that I was far happier at home reading a novel than I was dating the wrong person.  When I took care of myself, I was able to be more calm and loving toward the children and best of all, when I met my husband Hugh, I had a lot more to offer to our relationship than just my need.

The most important thing I did to take care of myself was daily journaling and prayer.  I literally wrote my way to mental health in my prayer journal. 

And do you have a favorite, go-to prayer that helped especially during this journey with Joe? 

 "God be in my head and in my understanding.  God be in my eyes and in my looking.  God be in my ears and in my listening.  God be in my mouth and in my speaking.  God be in my heart and in my thinking.  God be at my end and at my departing."

I prayed this at the beginning of the day, taking a deep inhalation when the first half of each sentence and a deep exhalation on the second. I imagined Jesus breathing peace into me, just as he did the disciples. This prayer was and is a lifeline for me.

Another memorable part of the book is when you share the letter you wrote to your children explaining to them why you and Joe were getting a divorce. It was touching, heartbreaking, and (surprisingly) hopeful. Are there any words of encouragement you can offer to parents in mixed orientation marriages for whom divorce seems inevitable? 

Joe and I actually made a new vow when we signed our divorce papers, "to speak and act in loving ways toward one another and about one another," for the sake of the children and for our own wholeness, for the rest of our lives.  We released each other from the vows we made at our marriage with a blessing as we opened ourselves up to the possibility of new relationships, in which we could be whole.  To those for whom divorce seems inevitable, is there a way you can release each other from your marriage vows but hold on to the love that drew you together in the first place? Can you imagine what your lives would look like if love and honor remain the cornerstone of your relationship?

What advice do you have for other women (or men) who are either considering entering into a mixed orientation marriage or have recently learned that they are in one? 

If you’ve recently learned that you’re in a mixed orientation marriage, please reach out with the truth of your story to someone you trust.  A therapist is a good place to start.  Be gentle with yourself and do the things that bring you comfort.  Though this feels like a death, and it is in some ways, it’s not the end of everything.  It’s a transition and there is life on the other side. It may not be the life you thought you were going to have, but it has the potential to be better than you ever dreamed. Pray. Pray. Pray.  You are not alone.

Be sure to check out Leigh Anne and Joe's book, Our Family Outing.

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John – Married 

John and his wife Anna are both 30 and live in the Denver area. (Additional details have been withheld to protect their privacy.) You can follow John on Twitter here

Share with us a little of your story. How did you and your wife meet, how long have you been married, and did you both know ahead of time that you were entering a mixed orientation marriage? 

My wife and I have been married for almost seven years. We originally met in high school. We were involved in the prayer club at the public high school and ended up going to the same youth group and church. At that point in my life I was aware of my sexual attractions for guys, but I was of the belief that it was sinful. I was "saved" when I was 14 and immediately starting sharing my testimony of "being set free from homosexuality". I was very enthusiastic in my newly found faith and really loved opening up, especially with other "on fire" Christians my age, about my story and my "struggles" with homosexuality.  So my wife, Anna, knew this about me before we were ever involved in any kind of romantic relationship. 

After knowing each other and being involved in the same church for several years, we started dating and got married. Basically, as a charismatic evangelical, I had an "ex-gay" paradigm for understanding my own homosexuality. My wife was of a similar faith at that time and I was able to communicate what I believed about this particular issue. So all in all, we sorta knew what we were getting in to, but neither one of us understood it or labeled it as a "mixed orientation marriage". We thought of it as a marriage between a man and woman as God intended, accomplished through his grace even in the midst of my "same-sex" attraction. It is probably important for you to know that about three years ago, our understanding and beliefs about homosexuality underwent a major shift. Our "faith" has also recently been deconstructed.

What are the biggest challenges of a marriage like yours? What are the biggest rewards? 

We have had several challenges along the way. They have ranged from my struggles with compulsive sexual behaviors at times (though I have never had sexual contact with anyone outside of our marriage nor have I put my wife/family at risk for any STDs), to run-of-the-mill communication problems. My wife has endured long seasons of dealing with my anxiety, depression, and detachment. I have at times felt stuck and unable to really be me. 

On the other hand, we have also enjoyed so many things together. We have created three amazing and beautiful children. We have shared the joy of life's accomplishments together, we've faced questions and doubts together, we have had each other to cry with. I think our marriage offers us the unique ability to have a marriage that really doesn't have to follow some of the "heterosexual" rules and expectations--especially when it comes to gender roles. The best part, and bottom line, is that we love each other and enjoy "doing life" together.

What do you most want us to know about you, your marriage, and your spouse? 

What I most want people to know about me, in regards to my marriage, is that I am not living a lie. At the time we got married, I was as truthful with myself, my wife, and with everyone else, as I knew/understood to be at the time. Even now, my marriage to my wife is just as real and a part of me as my being gay. Sometimes I get asked why I remain married, and again, in addition to loving my wife, the truth is we are committed to each other. I understand true love to be the kind of love that endures all things and doesn't end. What I want everyone to know about my wife is that she is the most kind, loving, patient, gracious, intelligent person I know. I think she is beautiful, and I very much want to and enjoy spending my life with her. And no, my wife is not gay! We get asked that a lot. Also, we are aware that our marriage is not "typical" when compared to a heterosexual norm, and we are really okay with that and mostly really enjoy it.

'Amandas Wedding Cake Topper' photo (c) 2012, Dave Otee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

What advice do you have for other couples who are either considering entering into a mixed orientation marriage or have recently learned that they are in one? 

I think in most cases, I would strongly discourage anyone from getting into this kind of marriage, if they aren't already in one. There are so many contributing factors for how folks end up here and, in my experience, it's usually because the gay spouse believes their homosexuality to be wrong and something they are either ashamed of and hide altogether or something they believe will change or go away. There is no reason at all, that I can think of, for a healthy whole gay person to enter in to a marriage with someone of the opposite sex. 

It's a bit harder to offer advice to folks who have just discovered they are in a mixed orientation marriage, or are coming to terms with being in one, because the circumstances are always so different. What I have found is that each couple in this situation really has to do what is best for them...whatever that might be. I know some couples who continue to live together but sleep separately. Some have "open marriages," while others truly have no better option, given their circumstances, than to divorce. Basically, do the best you can with what you have. I happen to have an amazing wife, a beautiful family, and the best I can do is remain here with them and do my best to love them better and better each day.

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"Doxy" - Divorced (& Remarried)

"Doxy" is a longtime reader of the blog.

Share with us a little of your story. When did you find out that your husband was attracted to men, and what happened after that?

Some background may be helpful. My ex (I’ll call him “Paul”) and I attended the same fundamentalist Christian school and church, although we only began dating toward the end of college. (We both went to a large, urban public university in the southern city in which we grew up.)

I want to say up-front that Paul was my soul mate. We shared so many loves—ideas, music, politics. He always treated me as if he thought I was the smartest, most amazing person on the planet. He was firmly convinced that I could hang the moon if I wanted to—and because he believed so strongly in me, I slowly learned to believe in myself. This was a great gift, especially given what I would term the “anti-woman environment” in which we had grown up.

When we were dating, Paul confessed that he had had some sexual experiences with an older, male relative. He framed these experiences as “just playing around,” and the only reason he even confessed them was because this relative had become bitterly jealous of our relationship and was engaging in stalker-like behavior.

As part of my studies in college, I had read the Kinsey studies about how common homosexual experiences were among straight men—and I fancied myself something of a sophisticate at the ripe old age of 21. I figured Paul’s experiences were just a blip on the radar screen, and he did nothing to discourage that perception. We talked about fidelity and monogamy, and we seemed perfectly in sync on the need for both in marriage.

We were married in our home church in front of 400 people we had known for most of our lives. Then we promptly moved away so that he could attend law school and I could begin graduate school.

Over the course of the next three years, he became more open about the fact that he was attracted to men. He admitted that people in the church with whom he had discussed his same-sex attractions had urged him to get married and to avoid both gay people and pornography. They were sure that he would be “cured” if only he would commit himself to heterosexuality and ask for God’s guidance—but it wasn’t working.

At the same time, Paul was also very clear that he loved me and was happy in our marriage. But I began to feel more and more worried about our relationship—especially the sexual aspect of it. Our sex life had always been good, but I was increasingly troubled by the notion that maybe he was fantasizing about men when he was with me, that maybe he HAD to fantasize about men in order to be with me...

And then, as law school graduation loomed and we were planning our post-school life, the inevitable happened.

Paul fell in love with another man.

I started hearing a certain name more and more in his conversation. He got that glow you only have when you are newly enraptured with another human being. It seemed as if his feet hardly touched the ground, and he was distracted and giddy.

I had never asked Paul point-blank if he had been faithful to me during our marriage. I had gotten a law school education by osmosis, and one of the first things law students learn is “Never ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer.” The truth is that I hadn’t wanted to know—but I knew I couldn’t remain in a state of willful ignorance any longer.

So I screwed my courage to the sticking place and said: “How have you managed to remain faithful? Or have you?”

The answer hurt worse than I believed possible. Not only was he having an affair with the object of his affections, but it turned out that Paul had been having sex with other men the entire time we had been dating and throughout our marriage.

This was in the late 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was decimating the gay community. An AIDS diagnosis was still considered a death sentence then, because there was only one treatment at that time (AZT) and it was more of a stop-gap measure than anything else. I had been having unprotected sex with my husband all the while. (For the record, both of us were—and continue to be—HIV-negative.)

I was devastated. I had honestly never suspected him of anything until he fell in love and couldn’t hide it anymore. The fear of getting AIDS paled next to the realization that I had been betrayed by the man I loved most in the world.

For the next few months, I teetered back and forth between the belief that we could somehow repair the damage and make our relationship work and the urge to bolt out the door and never look back. One minute I was tearfully begging him to stay with me. The next, I was feeling anger for which the word “rage” was a very pale description.

Paul actually didn’t need to be begged. He wanted to stay married—but he also wanted to have his boyfriend too. He had always been something of a sunny optimist, and he truly believed that the three of us could take a house by the sea and be happy together.

As much as I loved him, I could not be that person. I took a job in another city on the other side of the country, and our marriage was over.

What do you most want us to know about you, your marriage, and your ex? 

My marriage was a real marriage, and it was a very good relationship in many ways. My husband loved me. We had a good sex life. We were good for each other. Paul believed in me so much that he made me believe in myself, and I tried to return the favor. He was—and is—a sweet, kind, and generous man who is beloved by many.

But none of that was enough. Because no matter how much we wanted to make it work, the very core of his heart could never belong to me. He could not love me the way I needed and deserved to be loved by a husband. And I could not give him what his heart, soul, and body cried out for.

I was—and remain—angry at religious leaders who tell same-sex-attracted people that they can, and should, “choose” heterosexuality and marry an opposite-sex partner. I have no idea how my life would have been different if Paul had not been steered to marry me as a means of “becoming normal”—but I suspect that the heartbreak of another failed marriage 15 years later might have been avoided. In trying not to repeat the mistakes I made with Paul, I went too far in the opposite direction and found myself in a relationship that nearly drove me to suicide before God stepped in and helped me find my way out.

The price we both paid for our mixed-orientation marriage was high—and so much of the damage was caused by the church and by people claiming to speak for God. In all things, however, God was gracious—turning our personal tragedy into something redemptive and healing.

I came to recognize that being gay was not a choice, so I delved deeply into biblical scholarship and theology to find what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. The answer was: very little. Certainly nothing like the extent to which it talked about loving your neighbors and recognizing those who love God by the way they live their lives. Since I saw LGBT Christians being faithful to God, and I saw their relationships bearing such good and holy fruit, I could no longer sit by and let the whole world believe that all Christians think being LGBT is sinful. So I became an ardent LGBT ally and advocate. I hoped that social acceptance of LGBTs would lead to an acceptance of their relationships—and prevent anyone from ever again being coerced into a marriage to appear “normal.”

I may have lost a husband, but I did not lose my friend. Over time, Paul and I managed to build a very strong friendship on the wreckage of our marriage. We are still in regular touch with one another. We call, e-mail, and visit, and my children call him and his partner of 20 years “Uncle Paul and Uncle Steve.” We still joke—as we always have—that we will end up in the nursing home together, racing our wheelchairs down the hallways.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we did.

What advice do you have for other women (or men) who are either considering entering into a mixed orientation marriage or have recently learned that they are in one?

If you are a same-sex-attracted person who is considering entering a mixed-orientation marriage, I would say “Please don’t!” Being married will not make you straight. If you are primarily attracted to people of your own sex, you will be denying yourself the possibility of being TRULY known and loved, for all that you are.

And you will be denying your opposite-sex spouse the same thing. No matter how much you love each other, there will always be something missing for you both. Marriage is hard enough—entering into it when you cannot honestly commit to it mind, heart, soul, and body is a recipe for heartbreak for the two of you, your families, friends, and any children you may have.

(I am well-aware that there are bisexual people who can and do commit to an opposite-sex partner and remain faithful in marriage. My advice is directed to people who are primarily attracted to members of their own sex.)

If you are a straight person who is considering knowingly entering a mixed-orientation marriage, I would caution you to reconsider. You may not have experienced the terrible feelings of insecurity you can have when your spouse is out with other people of the same sex, while you sit at home and stare at the clock. You might not know how it can feel to be in an intimate moment with your spouse and to suddenly wonder if you are truly desirable. Both of those things were soul-crushing for me, and for other straight spouses I’ve talked to since then.

But mostly, I caution against it because you will be denying yourself the possibility of knowing the kind of all-out, no-holds-barred love I believe that God wants us to experience in marriage. You deserve that. We all do.

Finally, if you have recently discovered that you and your spouse have different orientations, my advice is:  “Take your time before making any big decisions, and try to be kind to one another.”

Recently, I told a friend that, if Paul and I had been married for over two decades before I found out that he was gay, the decisions I would make might well be different. It was (relatively) easy to walk out at age 27 without any children. Would I do that now, at age 49 with two kids, two dogs, and a mortgage? I honestly don’t know.

I would ask: Do you both want to remain in the relationship? What matters most to both of you about your marriage? What will you do if your spouse says that having sexual relations outside the marriage is a part of the bargain? What can you live with? What is completely off the table?

These are not easy questions to answer. You will need a lot of support, whether you choose to stay together or not. There was no Internet when I learned my husband was gay, and I had to walk through the dissolution of my life by myself—now you can find thousands of others who are in your shoes and who are also looking for help and understanding. I would say the most important thing at first is don’t rush into anything. You need time to think, to weather those first storms of emotion, and to seek help.

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Josh and Lolly Weed – Married 

In addition, you may be familiar with Josh and Lolly Weed, a Mormon couple that has been open with the press about their mixed orientation marriage. They recently participated in an extended interview with the Mormon Stories podcast, which you can watch here. 

Note: I realize each of these stories is about a gay man and a straight woman. I reached out to several couples, and these were the ones who responded. Check out the comment section for links to additional resources.

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