Because of the subject matter of this post, I sent a draft copy to a handful of MTF husbands who have come out to their wives and are at various stages of transition. They are also dealing with a variety of reactions from their wives. The prognoses for their marriages range from hopeful to needing a miracle to survive. At the end of my post, I will print some brief comments from five husbands who responded as well as one wife who was willing to make some comments. Then I will have the last word because it is my blog!
On November 25, 2014, I posted about coming out to family. During that post, I indicated that the most difficult family member to come out to is a spouse. I tried to paint the picture as being very difficult, but not hopeless.
I have met one couple that stayed together after the husband went full-time. A second MTF husband I know and her spouse were able to make it through a very difficult part of their process recently, although there are still major challenges to face. She cites honesty and constant communication as being very important.
Meanwhile, I have been pondering this situation since I posted back in November. I was an engineering major for two years, was acculturated male and worked for a company known as “The Problem Solvers” for 15 years. So sue me?
What kept crossing my mind is that transition, while unquestionably a major, significant change in the dynamics of a marriage relationship, is not the only type of challenge that marriages face. I often look for analogies in situations. While some marriages have broken up over jealousy, money disagreements, interfering in-laws, boredom, and maybe even failure to put back the cap on the toothpaste tube, I also know of marriages that have survived severe situations.
So I have come up with a list of many severe situations. While I am putting it in questionnaire form, there are no right or wrong answers. There is no scoring system that evaluates how good you are as a spouse. Nor is it meant to make someone feel guilty for failing to support a transitioning spouse. Its aim is to provide perspective, which is generally helpful. It may reveal something about your feelings towards your spouse and your attitude about marriage in general. Those revelations, if any, are highly personal and only you can decide if you want to make any adjustments in these areas of your life.
Finally, there is absolutely no guarantee that looking at these questions will save a marriage relationship. But I believe that they can, if approached sincerely, promote honest communication. And if that honest communication can save just one marriage that would have otherwise failed, then it will have been worth it.
I do not recommend that the transitioning spouse ask these questions to their mate as in a test or an interview. Rather, it would be better to suggest it as something that could be helpful for your situation, whether you give your spouse a link to this blog post or print out the questions and any other part you want to include. In fact, if you want your spouse to take it, why not take it yourself? It should be helpful and sobering to find out if you are asking something from your spouse that you might not be so willing to do yourself if the situation was reversed.
Most of these questions are gender neutral. I have provided alternatives when they are not. They are applicable to those who are legally married and those who consider themselves married (e.g. a common law marriage). They are applicable to same sex couples as well as opposite sex couples. I am grouping them under various headings.
Separation for an indefinite period of time: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Was serving in the military, captured, and held as a prisoner of war?
- Was traveling in a foreign country, arrested or kidnapped, and held as a political prisoner?
- Was lost at sea or some other remote part of the globe?
Criminal incarceration: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Was falsely convicted of any crime and imprisoned for many years?
- Committed a white collar crime against someone other than a family member and was imprisoned for many years?
- Committed a violent crime against someone other than a family member and was imprisoned for many years?
Health issues: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Is in a coma for an indeterminate period of time?
- Became significantly mentally impaired and deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia?
- Became physically unable to take care of himself or herself, especially if that caused a significant strain, financial or otherwise, on you?
- Is suffering from significant mental illness, whether or not institutionalized?
- Is addicted to drugs or alcohol and refusing to enter or continue with a recovery program?
- Suffers from any other untreated addictive behavior that had a significant negative impact on the quality of your marriage and family life?
- [If your spouse currently has male anatomy] Became permanently impotent through injury or disease? [If your spouse currently has female anatomy] Had a single or double mastectomy to treat a serious illness?
- [If your spouse currently has male anatomy] Became unable to father children at a premature age (other than by mutual consent)? [If your spouse currently has female anatomy] Became unable to bear children at a premature age (other than by mutual consent)?
Social Standing: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Is ostracized or discriminated against in your community and/or neighborhood for political beliefs?
- Is ostracized or discriminated against in your community and/or neighborhood for religious beliefs?
- Is ostracized or discriminated against in your community and/or neighborhood for personal appearance?
Personal Beliefs [if applicable]: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Converted to another religion from the one you both followed or abandoned the religion you both followed?
- Made a significant move away from the political, social or moral philosophy you both shared?
Miscellaneous Situations: would you stand by your spouse if your spouse …
- Took a better job in a location distant enough to require you to leave a job important to you?
- Did something that accidentally led to the death or severe and lasting injury of a loved one?
- And you became sexually incompatible?
- Is unable or unwilling to help restore at least one of these (love, romance, harmony or respect) that disappeared from the marriage or from your spouse?
Situations where the change occurs to you, not your spouse: would you stand by your spouse if you …
- No longer loved your spouse?
- Are no longer attracted to your spouse?
There may be other serious situations that could be added to the list. There were some that I deliberately left off because I personally find it difficult to even suggest that people remain together if a spouse places other family members in danger. And in the case of infidelity, I look at that as a different question: should the marriage be restored now that the marriage relationship was broken by an act of unfaithfulness?
It is not intended that there be equivalence in severity between the situations listed and a spouse transitioning. Indeed, what one person might find relatively easy to deal with, another person might find nearly impossible to handle. Where transition fits in terms of severity will also differ from person to person.
None of the situations listed is a direct analogy to a spouse transitioning. But there are elements of each situation that mirror the types of things that occur as a result of a spouse’s transition, things that non-transitioning spouses cite as an objection. Examples would be loss of one’s sexual partner, concern over what other people will think, a drastic change from the person they married, and even the long-term absence of a living spouse by a means other than termination of the marriage. The point is that there are other life events that can cause the same difficult situations that might be brought about by a spouse’s transition. So the underlying question to the non-transitioning spouse is this: are you really objecting to the consequences of the transition or are you objecting to the transition as being the cause?
Indeed, part of being honest and communicative is avoiding smokescreens that tend to obscure the vision of both parties. One objection that I have heard mentioned on a few occasions is the desire of the non-transitioning spouse to “protect the children”. But while that idea has validity, is it being used to deflect the discussion away from one’s own objections to a reason that sounds more noble and less selfish? Certainly each child is different, but children tend to be more accepting of a parent’s transition than spouses are. What children need to be protected from most is separation, division and rancor between parents.
How can one tell if a smokescreen is being employed? Sometimes it has to be tested. I offer a case in point from my own life. When my mother objected to my choice of my first serious relationship (and future wife), she used the “What will other people think” argument as part of her arsenal.
My fiancé started going to church with me on a weekly basis. And soon my mother had a conversation with one of the more influential church members. She was the wife of a descendant of one of the founding families of the church, a family that still had political power within the community as members of the same political party to which my parents belonged. And during that conversation, that influential church member told my mother how everyone in church thought my fiancé was wonderful. She just knocked the legs out from under one of my mother’s arguments! Rather than concede, however, my mother proudly reported to me how stunned this church member was when my mother replied that she didn’t approve of my fiancé. Unfortunately, instead of reconsidering her position, my mother dug in her heels and made things worse. As one of the teachers in my high school loved to say ironically, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.” Even so, one of her smokescreens had been exposed.
On some occasions, another smokescreen is the claim that this is a matter of choice by the transitioning spouse. Indeed, I would anticipate that some non-transitioning spouses, having answered the questions in this post, will claim the ability to accept certain consequences only when their spouse did not choose the causative event. And we know that there are still many people who truly believe that being transsexual is a matter of choice. For spouses with that belief, one can only present as much evidence as possible (see my links page and some of my posts for some of that evidence) and hope for the best. But I have also heard of cases where the non-transitioning spouse did know better: for everyone other than their own spouse. This is smokescreen and denial and a hindrance to open, honest communication.
Am I saying that the non-transitioning spouse must always stay with the transitioning spouse? Must they always subordinate or deny their own needs for the sake of the transitioning spouse? No! Remember that I said that there are no right or wrong answers to questions I posed. There are only honest answers or dishonest answers. And while the honest answers might help some couples stay together through transition, in other cases it may make it clearer to both parties that an amicable end to the marriage is in order.
Transition is one of the most significant events that can affect a marriage. It is not just about the needs of the transitioning spouse. It is not just about the needs of the non-transitioning spouse. It is about the needs of both. Recognition of that by both parties improves (but doesn’t guarantee) the possibility that the relationship can be preserved. I believe that every marriage that can be saved should be saved.
JB from NJ writes: I can only speak from my own experience as to whether or not this type of questionnaire, presented to a spouse, would encourage communication or enlightenment. I believe it would not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post it. Spouses, even those who “intellectually” grasp that GID is not something that one chooses to have, “emotionally” have difficulty letting go of the notion that the transitioning spouse is not “doing this to me”.
TE from AL writes: I think it is quite fine the way you have structured it and the questions given pretty much cover most issues that may occur in a marriage.
AL from NJ writes: It’s important for everyone who is in a relationship or married to count the cost if they are coming out, no matter if it’s before or after, but especially after. it’s especially difficult if the relationship is long term. I welcome the questions you ask, and I expect even the hardest of questions has more to do with the fear of the answer than the question. We can’t anticipate anything other than the love our dear ones already hold, but that’s no guarantee when it’s a very difficult issue for so many. And even more so in some ways for people of faith.
I think it’s just fine to come from your perspective. After all, you’re asking questions that many of us have asked ourselves, but maybe not on paper. The confrontation of how things are needs to be faced; we are not left without a choice, since even inaction is a choice, yes?
LE from TX noted on the phone: The main problem with the questionnaire is that it tries to solve an emotional issue for the wife using logic. The wife might respond to every question the way we would have hoped, but then add, “But you are still taking away my husband.”
LA from NY writes: I think the article is great as is! I think you hit it pretty well, at least from my perspective. You voiced it in a way that sounds similar to how I would. I know that a valid decision to move on in a friendly way is important. That’s a valid choice and I think knowing that makes it easier, no one feels trapped, no one feels forced into anything.
In the end I think your article did what it was intended to do: it certainly has spurred a quite elaborate and lengthy conversation for the two of us [LA and her wife]!
LA’s wife added these thoughts: What are the problems in the marriage (if any) before the transitioning partner comes out/transitions that are due to one partner being transgender? Both partners need to improve themselves through transition: meaning while the transitioning partner is working on themselves and finding themselves and improving, the non-transitioning partner needs to do work on themselves as well. This work both partners does is sort of like two addicts, both need to get help/treatment in order for the relationship and sobriety to be successful or the partner getting treatment needs to leave.
My closing comments: Knowing all the people who commented to some extent (except for LA’s wife), I was able to do some quick hand-waving analysis of the answers I received (all of which were helpful). Those who tend to have a more optimistic personality and have seen at least some measure of success in the marriage relationship while transitioning were more likely to react positively to the questionnaire. Those who tend to have a more pessimistic attitude or whose marriage appears to be over tended to be doubtful as to the usefulness of the questionnaire.
My first reaction was to be disappointed. It seemed like those who needed it the most were the least likely to use it. But I was encouraged by LA’s e-mails. First she reviewed it and then she showed it to her wife. (As far as I know, this is the only case where both spouses reviewed it.) So I received positive feedback from the only time it was actually used as intended. I took a course in Probability and Statistics in college, so I know that there is negligible validity of the results when the sample size equals one. Even so, my mindset has been that if my blog hurts no one and helps even just one person, one couple, one family, one congregation, then the effort has been worth it.
Some spouses will react with hostility and their minds are made up when their husband comes out to them. There are people who will be very difficult to reach, whether it is a matter of religious belief, or personality, or insecurities being exposed or simply that the love is no longer there. On the other hand, we occasionally read about spouses who publicly stand by and support their transitioning spouse. It would stand to reason that there would be many spouses between the polar opposites.
Casey Stengel was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on the strength of his managerial record with the New York Yankees, winning ten AL pennants and seven World Series in twelve seasons. One time, when he was asked the secret of his success, he replied that on every team he managed, there are players who love him, players who hate him and players who are undecided. The goal, he said, was to keep the undecided players away from the ones who hated him.
Certainly, we would never want to invite an undecided spouse of a transitioning husband to a meeting where hostile or negative spouses will be present. A better solution is to find an ethical, truthful way to win over an undecided spouse to be in agreement with us. One way the indecision may manifest itself is a spouse who vacillates between a logical, understanding response and an emotional intransigent response. Possibly a questionnaire like the one in this post will help the non-transitioning spouse see her responses in black and white and help her hold on to the understanding response. Even if that still does not hold the marriage together, at least it should promote peace between spouses.
If a spouse is willing to work at finding a solution that both parties can live with, yet is operating predominantly in the emotional sphere, the only thing I can think of doing is to reflect the feelings back at her. How would she feel if she was compelled to live under an identity that is not who she really is?
I am also becoming aware of some other strong feelings that play a part in this process: feelings of guilt on the part of the transitioning spouse. And this is certainly understandable. But like anything, these feelings can be taken to an extreme. And if our guilt makes us feel unworthy of being accepted, what subliminal message does that send to our spouse? Ever have or overheard one of these “conversations”? “Hi. You wouldn’t want to go out with me, would you?” [Refusal by the other person] “Oh, okay. Bye.”
Is it wrong to hide something significant from the person we are about to marry? Yes. Is transgender identity the only thing that is ever hidden before a marriage? No! Among the things someone might withhold from a future spouse include prior relationships, experimenting with alternate lifestyles, having been raped, having been molested or otherwise abused as a child, having had an abortion, having a congenital condition that is likely to shorten one’s lifespan, having been an addict, having been arrested. Sometimes we can’t share the information because our mind has blocked it out. Whether intentionally withheld or not, these things have a way of surfacing later in life and requiring both spouses to adjust.
And even when something significant is disclosed, its impact may be minimized or not fully understood at the time. My ex told me about traumatic events to immediate family members that she witnessed in childhood. Neither of us grasped how much that would affect her ability to maintain a long-term marital relationship or romantic partnership.
Going back to the information that is intentionally withheld, why do we do so? Often, we felt guilty about it then, too. We were ashamed to admit it. We told ourselves it didn’t matter because it was in the past or we wouldn’t do that anymore. And often, we were afraid: afraid that if our intended found out, we would lose out on the one chance of happiness with someone who really loves us.
When you are a transsexual of my generation, there are a few other reasons to add. First of all in those pre-Internet days, most of us weren’t quite sure what to make of it. This sense that I was really a woman inside, when considered in light of how it was reported the rare times we were able to find out anything about it: did it mean I was gay; a crossdresser; a perverted deviant; a horrible sinner who was mocking God’s creation? Was it just a phase that I could outgrow or be cured of? In fact, if I marry and have kids and get involved in guy stuff with male friends, hopefully I’ll learn to like those things and cure myself.
While these things don’t excuse, they do explain. They describe mitigating circumstances. They speak to the fact that we entered into marriage with the right motives of a fresh start and leaving behind baggage (not realizing how tenacious baggage can be). We did not intentionally deceive or dupe our spouses, at least not any more than we deceived or duped ourselves.
“Well we all fall in love, but we disregard the danger. Though we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell. Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger? Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?”
At the end of the day, only time will tell if this post and discussion becomes a beneficial tool in these delicate situations, whether employed by the parties to the marriage themselves, or administered by a neutral party such as a therapist. Any further feedback to its use and what resulted would be greatly appreciated.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. – Romans 12:18