Thaddeus Heffner, LMFT, is in private practice near Nashville, Tennessee, where he frequently sees clients regarding issues related to unwanted same-sex attraction. Some of these men are married to women and have families. A licensed therapist, Thaddeus Heffner explains that there is a difference between experiencing unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction or homosexuality and embracing one’s homosexuality and choice to live as a gay man. Recently, Thaddeus Heffner answered some questions about how a married couple might deal with the husband’s unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction (SSA).
Q: If a man is experiencing unwanted feelings toward members of the same sex, should he tell his wife or fiancée?
Thaddeus Heffner: That’s up to each individual man. Ideally, he’d discuss this with his bride-to-be before saying ‘I do.’ Often, though, I find that the man has chosen to stay silent.
Q: Why would a man stay silent about these feelings?
Thaddeus Heffner: Sometimes it is because he feels conflicted, confused or has a fear of being rejected and never finding love again. So instead of speaking honestly about his feelings, a man will isolate himself, causing even stronger feelings of loneliness.
Q: If a woman finds out her husband is homosexual after they are married, what should she do–how should she react?
Thaddeus Heffner: The important thing is to stay calm, as hard as that may sound. Initially, she’ll have to decide whether she wants to stay or leave. If she stays, she’ll likely go through a range of emotions once the initial shock wears off.
Q: Like, for instance…?
Thaddeus Heffner: Not surprisingly, she may feel betrayed and angry, or she may take it personally. It’s not at all unusual for a woman to look back in their relationship to determine if she’s to blame for her husband’s homosexuality.
Q: Assuming they both want to stay in the marriage, what recommendations do you have for the couple?
Thaddeus Heffner: One word that comes to mind is ‘patience.’ It’s extremely important for both parties to understand that hidden same-sex attraction is, to the unknowing spouse, a violation of trust. It will take time to build that trust back up again.
Q: What do you say to those women who believe they caused their husband’s homosexuality?
Thaddeus Heffner: I try to help them understand that unwanted homosexuality can often–even usually–be traced back to childhood, long before the husband even knew met his wife. So it can’t possibly be her fault.
Q: What if a wife begins closely monitoring her husband’s communications after she finds out?
Thaddeus Heffner: We call this ‘policing’ and it’s an understandable part of any breach of trust. I emphasize to both parties the importance of building that trust gradually and, in time, this policing behavior should start to go away. If it doesn’t, it can start a vicious cycle of the husband doing whatever he has to do in order to satisfy the wife’s questions. But this can lead to him feeling quite smothered.
Q: How does a couple work through a husband’s unwanted homosexual feelings?
Thaddeus Heffner: It’s very important that a couple have a place where both of them can feel safe to express their feelings in order to work through them. Therapy is a great place for that to happen.
Q: What about the husband? How does he work through those feelings of unwanted SSA/homosexuality?
Thaddeus Heffner: I believe that it’s important for a husband to work through those feelings, usually in therapy. My clients come because they want to find that authentic male part of themselves, while also building healthy friendships with other males.
Q: So, do you think it’s possible for that couple to begin to find each other again?
Thaddeus Heffner: Yes, I do. I believe that energy follows intent. When a man begins to rebuild the relationship bonds with an energetic, enthusiastic attitude, the wife can’t help but follow. The key factor–for both of them–is authenticity.
Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed marital and family therapist practicing in Brentwood/Franklin, Tennessee. To contact Thaddeus Heffner, visit thaddeusheffner.com.