Thursday, February 11, 2010

Joe Kort on Mixed Orientation Marriage

By Mister Curie

I read an interested article on Mixed-Orientation marriage recently, or "The New Mixed Marriage" as Dr. Joe Kort describes it. From his website:

Dr. Kort graduated from Michigan State University with dual majors, in Psychology and Social Work. At Wayne State University, he earned his Master's in Social Work (MSW), then a Master’s (MA) in Psychology and has received his doctorate (PhD) in clinical sexology from the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists.
Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level.
Psychotherapist, coach and author Joe Kort, Ph.D, MSW, MA has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills.
Dr. Kort is also a Board Certified Sexologist specializing in sex therapy and sexual identity. He is also a Certified Sexual Addiction, therapist, responsible non-monogamy/monogamy, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, chemical dependency, mixed-orientation marriages, coming out, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals.
Dr. Kort's practice is mixed with straight, gay, lesbian and bi-attractional individuals and couples.

In the article, Dr. Kort claims the problem is not so much the mixed-orientation of the marriage, but the secrecy that often pervades a mixed-orientation marriage, saying:
I’m not against mixed-orientation marriages per se. They can, and do, work well for some couples. What I don’t support are mixed-marriages that are steeped in secrecy, which is how these relationships too commonly operate.
He then shares the story of a 48-year old man who after 25 years of marriage accepts his homosexuality and how he and his wife struggle with this realization and strive to find a place of honesty and integrity in their marriage from which to make decisions about the future.

Dr. Kort uses this couple as an example to illustrate a process that he believes most mixed-orientation marriages need to pass through: humiliation, revenge, renewed hope, rage, and, finally, resolution.

Humiliation - often the straight spouse experiences a feeling of humiliation that they have been "duped" into marrying a gay spouse, or that they didn't recognize their spouse was gay through the years of marriage. The gay spouse often feels a sense of humiliation at having to reveal their homosexuality and when the spouse has a strong emotional reaction to the revelation, they often have a reinforcement of "a lifetime of shame about [their] essential 'wrongness'." If infidelity has been involved, the straight spouse may also feel humiliated by the affair and potential social ramifications.

Revenge - often the straight spouse will lash out at their gay spouse in a subconscious attempt at revenge for the feelings of humiliation they feel. Revenge may also stem from the hurt and breach of trust resulting from infidelity, as well as from feeling that their world is crumbling around them and that their plans for the future may never be realized.

Renewed Hope - the mixed-orientation couple, who sincerely do love each other, will often make a new commitment to each other, which results in the couple entering something of a "honeymoon" period of renewed hope and mutual appreciation.

Rage - after a period of time, the couple often begins to recognize a "limits of the possible." For the homosexual partner it may be a dissatisfaction with the current arrangements of the marriage, particularly when being unable to act on homosexual desires can leave one's life feeling "flat and empty." The homosexual man may return to old behaviors (illustrated in the article by a return to surfing porn sites and hooking up with men). This may reactivate feelings of betrayal in the straight spouse. Spouses may renegotiate their relationship as they try to make it work. Eventually, both spouses recognize the limits of what each partner is capable of accepting.

Resolution - a resolution to the cycle is achieved when both partners are able to honestly admit what they truly need, want and what they are capable of accepting, and from a place of honesty and integrity accepting the same of their spouse. This resolution is different for every couple and is highly dependent on them. Dr. Kort does not believe it is up the therapist to determine what the "ideal" for both partners is, but to guide them toward an honest acceptance and realization themselves.
He says:

I realize that many therapists disapprove of a gay husband and straight wife staying together under any circumstances. Many believe that such an "arrangement" is a clear sign of an intimacy disorder. Some might urge the couple to consider divorce to allow both parties to move on with their lives. Other clinicians might advise the gay husband to remain the sexually faithful partner he promised to be on his wedding day. . . . My goal is neither to help them to stay married or to get divorced. Instead, it’s to help partners come back into integrity with themselves and each other. It’s truly up to the couple, not to me, to discover what’s right for them.
For some, that decision is "to stay married and make a commitment to never again act on homosexual urges." Dr. Kort is clear that his "perspective on this [is] different from practitioners of Reparative Therapy (RT), who tell gay people that sexual reorientation is possible and, indeed, highly advisable. [He] believe[s] that’s nonsense. However, [he] [does] believe that people who self-identify as homosexual, but don’t wish to come out as gay, can choose to create a heterosexual lifestyle."
For others, such as when the gay spouse wishes to identify as gay and pursue a same-sex relationship, but the straight spouse desires a "full-time, monogamous husband - sexually and emotionally" the only compatible situation appears to be divorce. Dr. Kort notes that "many gay and straight spouses who divorce ultimately become friends."
Dr. Kort also believes that a permutation of an open or closed-loop marriage may be a reasonable for some couples, when they are able to honestly arrive at that being a viable solution (otherwise it is simply another perpetuation of the rage cycle). In describing the couples that accept this option, he says:
I’ve now sat with many couples who’ve struggled long and hard over a divorce or separation when, in the end, that wasn’t at all what they wanted. So I’ve come to accept that there are a number of instances in which responsible nonmonogamy between partners is a viable option. One such instance is when the couple is older, has invested emotionally, financially, and psychologically in each other, and want to be together in their later years. Another is when the couple has become best friends, and the marriage is sacred to them. A third is when the man is emotionally heterosexual and physically homosexual.
The idea here isn’t to change the orientation of the gay spouse. That’s impossible. Rather, it’s to accept the couple as they are and honor what they want.
So, where do you find your mixed-orientation marriage on the continuum of humiliation, revenge, renewed hope, rage, and resolution? Have you and your spouse been able to truly be honest with each other?

Right now I think my mixed-orientation is in the renewed hope stage (although we bypassed the humiliation and revenge stages, so I could be wrong). I think we are now trying to feel out the "limits of the possible" and discover honesty with ourselves and with each other.


  1. This article makes a lot of sense to me.

    One thing I noticed while reading it is that the blaming stance of the LDS Church toward the homosexual spouse (who is clearly the one at fault in LDS culture) exacerbates the humiliation, rage and revenge phases. It's not a success factor. The couple has to expend extra effort to work around this. The Church is often the third person in the bedroom in these situations, and three is always a crowd.

    I also agree with Kort that the decision as to whether to separate or stay together should be entirely up to the couple.

    (It's clear that you and Mme. Curie have a lot of success factors going for you.)

    To answer your question, my mixed-orientation marriage has long been at the "resolution" stage-- we chose to separate.

  2. I'm stalled in the secrecy stage. It's easy to say that honesty is the best policy, but at this point in time I feel the damage would be greater than the benefit. What I need to do is to suppress my sexuality, which is helped by decreasing hormones as I get older. The more I focus on non-sexual issues, the more likely it is that the marriage will survive, even thrive. Oh, I know there are all those testimonials about, "Sure it was hard after I came out to my wife, but now the relationship is better," but in the non-blogging world there are a lot of marriages that ended once the closet door opened.

  3. MoHoHawaii - I have to agree with you that blame from the church perspective likely only makes the situation worse.

    Santorio - No doubt you are correct that a lot of marriages end when the closet door opens. I think I heard that roughly 1/3 of marriages end "immediately" upon opening the closet door. If you are able to avoid infidelity, I can see why this would be a viable option for you to stay closeted. On the other hand, if you are unable to, I would think it better to be open about things than trying to live dual lives that could be discovered at any time. Even blogging could be troublesome.