Mixed Orientation Marriages

Here is an interview with Amity Pierce Buxton, founder of Straight Spouse Network, a non-profit that provides support and resources to heterosexual spouses who are or have been in a mixed orientation marriage.

It is an interesting interview on several levels. First, Buxton is clearly in favor of same-sex marriage and makes several points in support from a heterosexual spouse perspective, which is interesting to hear.

Second, and perhaps more what I have focused on in clinical practice, it is important to hear and understand the experiences of heterosexual spouses who find themselves in a mixed orientation marriage. Sometimes they learn of their spouse’s sexual orientation through disclosure on the part of their spouse; other times through discovery. Based on several studies we have conducted at ISSI, disclosure is preferred. But in either case there is often an interpersonal trauma associated with disclosure/discovery, a point that Buxton makes at one point in the interview. She notes that the trauma can be experienced around lies and secrecy, and it can also have to do with affairs. In some ways the research/writing on affairs in general discusses an affair as “interpersonal trauma”; it is a way of framing the experience of the spouse who did not have the affair. As we have seen in a more recent study, forgiveness (often in relation to an affair) is an important consideration for the non-offending spouse in terms of their own movement through stages of change.

A third observation I would make has to do with the love and regard Buxton displays toward her husband. We have also often seen this in our work. There are many ways spouses respond to disclosure/discovery of their spouse’s sexual orientation or gay identity. Sometimes it is relief (in the sense that circumstances now make sense – puzzle pieces from the past now fit in place); other times it is anger, confusion, and so on. These reactions can also occur in stages, if you will. But we have also seen this element of love and regard for one’s spouse.

Let me add another perspective: Although Buxton does not say much about spouses who stay together, we have also studied those marriages (what we refer to as “resilient” marriages). Although most mixed-orientation marriages do end in divorce, other marriages stay together for a number of reasons (e.g., love of spouse, commitment to marriage, children, financial issues, etc.). Forgiveness can be important here (again, in terms of addressing “interpersonal trauma” and moving through various stages), as can finding ways to meet sexual intimacy needs, which in our study was shown to be important for marital satisfaction and relationship outcomes.

In any case, it is an interesting interview. Amity Buxton is a leading figure in this area, and the experiences of people in mixed orientation marriages have not been adequately researched. So there is more work to be done.

It is noteworthy, too, that the organization that did the interview presumably bases its name on the 10% prevalence estimate from the Kinsey studies of the 1950s. Kinsey actually did not say that 10% of the population is gay, and we see much lower prevalence estimates from well-designed studies today. But that is a topic for another post.

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