An Additional Thought on Mixed Orientation Marriages

Triangular-Love-TheoryI just finished a four-part series on mixed orientation marriages, but I had I was recently asked if people in mixed orientation marriages might have advantages or strengths relative to people in heterosexual marriages. It’s an interesting question. I don’t think we have any data here apart from anecdotal accounts from people I’ve known personally and professionally, so let me say that up front.

At the same time, when I was asked about the possibility of relative strengths, I first thought about Robert Sternberg’s triangle theory of love in which there are thought to be three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. According to the theory, marriages grow and reflect different types of love, depending upon the relative strength of these three components. Intimacy refers to a couple’s connectedness or sense of “us” or emotional bond. Passion refers to romantic love. Commitment is concerned with the decision to stay together and how a couple will develop accumulated shared experiences over time.

What you get, then, with Sternberg’s triangle theory of love are different kinds of experiences of love. A romantic love is the result of strengths in romantic and intimate components, while a fatuous love combines passion and commitment (think “getting married in Vegas after meeting the person five hours ago”). A companionate love reflects relative strengths in intimacy and commitment.

So to return to the question of possible strengths in mixed orientation marriages. I don’t know, but if I were to develop a hypothesis, it would be this: that perhaps these unique marriages have an opportunity to experience a companionate love in ways that could be stronger than what is seen (on average) in heterosexual marriages, which might reflect any of these three types of love, and perhaps companionate love to a lesser degree because the other variables are more in play. So mixed orientation couples may or may not foster “more” of this kind of commitment and/or friendship than what a heterosexual couple has the capacity to develop. But perhaps these dimensions are cultivated more intentionally (and out of necessity) for some.

I have known couples who seem to have developed a strong emotional bond, a sense of “us”, a cohesion, and so on, while also honoring a commitment that they have made to one another. They may have to be more intentional about sexual intimacy, and “passion” might not be a word that they often use to describe times of sexual intimacy. But, so what? Why would others judge what that should look like for this couple? Why not respect the relative strengths that different couples would have? I think what is most important is that both know what they have together, what they are able to enjoy most readily, how to grow in areas that are not necessarily strengths (and if they want to nurture or grow in those areas), and so on.

To me, it’s a research question rather than a position I hold. It is difficult to say, but it is certainly an interesting consideration. Keep in mind, too, that whether or not it is the case on average, those averages do not speak to any specific marriage. There is a uniqueness to every marriage that also needs to be part of any discussion.

4 thoughts on “An Additional Thought on Mixed Orientation Marriages

  1. Since May 2013, I have discovered that without knowing it before, I have been 33 years in a Mixed Orientation Marriage, when my wife ‘came out’ to me and to herself as a lesbian. And it’s hell. At least for now, I cannot see any possible plus side. So we’ve gone from a low-sex to a no-sex relationship. And I discover that the VAST majority of research and examples and books and articles in mainly on str8 women married or living with gay or bi- men. The str8 men with lesbian partners are few and far between. Almost all the books are written by women, str8 women who discover that there husbands are gay, or married women who discover their lesbian attractions.
    We’re trying to stay together, and to make our relationship work for us both – but there seem to be zero examples and encouragement. One of the authors I’ve corresponded with told me that she doesn’t know of a single long-term successful partnership str8 man-lesbian woman….

    • Thanks for sharing a little of your experience. I think one reason we see more mixed orientation relationships that are str8 female-gay male is that there are more gay males than there are lesbians in terms of prevalence estimates. We could speculate on other possible reasons, I suppose, but I will leave it at that. For what it’s worth, I can think of a couple of str8 male-lesbian relationships that I would describe as stable (as much as you can know another couple), one of which is long-term.

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