My partner and I have been together for 20 years and are very much in love. We are both very successful. I am out with friends and family. He is not out with his family – or at work. We have a house together. When he is on the phone i have to remain silent so as to not be heard. He often gets dragged out to events after work because nobody knows he has someone waiting for him. When his family comes to visit – I move into a hotel for a night or a few days.
I realize he is operating from a point of fear. I want to be supportive. However – I am in my 40's now - and well I am starting to feel “invisible” – like I am choking. We have limited our friends to just a few. He hates to leave the house for fear of being seen together.
I have tried to make him see that we need to “come out ” at least a little , but he can’t take the humiliation. He has spun such a web now that to “come out” will be devastating for him and his ‘friends” that do not know.
I still love him – but I am suffocating ! How do I make him see this and “HEAR” me?
You are definitely in a difficult situation and your struggles are commonplace for men in your particular relationship style. Generally speaking, it has been observed that men of similar “levels of outness” tend to experience less stress and conflict and tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction than those couples in discordant identity arrangements.
For you being the partner with more comfort and pride in your sexual identity, it is likely that you often times feel “held back” by your partner’s lack of security with himself as you are limited in the types of things you can do in public, and even within the confines of your own support network with family and friends. As such, it can feel like you are being forced back “into the closet” after having worked so hard over time to claim a positive self-concept as a gay man. Conversely, your partner can feel pressured before he’s ready to take on situations that are risky and threatening to him and a perpetual push/pull dynamic gets set in motion in these types of relationships that can make both of you feel overwhelmed, resentful, and unsupported. Probably sounds familiar, I bet.
I wish I had better news for you, but unfortunately there’s not a whole lot you can necessarily do on your end for him. Your partner’s closeted lifestyle preference is his issue and you can’t “make” him change his ways , and it’s solely his responsibility to come out to others when and if he chooses. All you can do is communicate your needs and feelings to him and share with him your concerns that your differing levels of “outness” have on your relationship and what it means for the two of you moving forward.
You can also encourage slow, gradual, risk-taking behaviors that the two of you do together in terms of public exposure as a gay couple, but again you can only solicit these suggestions to him and he will ultimately choose whether this is something he’s willing to forego.
It will be important for you to determine for yourself how much stock you place in this particular value for your happiness. Is it a negotiable or non-negotiable deal-breaker need for you to be in a relationship with someone who is as “out” as you are? If your partner were to never “come out of the closet”, would you be able to spend the rest of your life in a relationship such as this knowing you would have to continue living with certain sacrifices? These are the types of things you and your partner would benefit talking with each other about.
While two men who are “out” and open and two men who are both closeted tend to fare better because each is living the same reality, men in your situation where one is “out” and the other isn’t can and do make their relationships work, but sacrifices are made.
You will have to decide for yourself what these specific sacrifices would be and if the investment you’ve made with your partner after all these years is more important to you than the individual growth potential you might have to give up to an extent to respect and accept your partner’s needs for privacy and anonymity. It’s also possible your partner just needs more time and you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to wait.
So while you may feel like you’re in a powerless position, you actually do have some control over your future…it’s just that they’re not very fun decisions and they have the capacity to lack guarantees and can be extremely life-changing.
So avoid being impulsive and reactive at all costs. I would recommend before doing anything else to avoid getting into power struggles over this issue because your partner can’t take those personal journeys until he’s emotionally equipped and ready.
I would also recommend you seek the services of a trained therapist who can help you dialogue further about this with each other as a couple, and this might be a good segue for your partner to find the strength to do some individual work on his own to work through his fears and build his self-esteem and confidence to promote a positive gay identity. You could also benefit if you desire help sorting through your values and clarifying them for sound decision-making and problem-solving.
My fingers are crossed for you, my friend. My hope is that you both find the courage to keep striving for your own individual and couple growth-potentials to have the greatest quality-of-life you can! You deserve it!
All my best,
© Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach
The suggestions and feedback offered in this column are but one perspective of multiple approaches to dealing with problems or challenges. Information provided in articles and advice columns should not be used as a substitute for coaching or therapy when these services are needed. None of this information should be your only source when making important life decisions. This information should not be used for diagnosing or treating a particular problem, nor should it take the place of a consultation with a trained professional. It is your responsibility to consult a professional prior to making any life decisions.
Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, contributing author to GAYTWOGETHER, is one of the leading love coaches for the gay community. As a licensed dating and relationship coach, Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, DHS, MSW has over 18 years experience as a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping GLBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successful and fulfilling intimate relationships. He holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Western Michigan University. He also runs a successful private therapy practice, Personal Victory Counseling, Inc. http://thegaylovecoach.com