Last week, I met with a woman for the first time who had quite the struggle ahead of her. Just about 10 days before we met, her husband of 24 years came out to her as gay. She was crushed.
This appointment was one of those instances where before I even had the privilege of meeting with her, I was already noticing her strength. She had emailed me to schedule this session and had told me in the email what the topic of discussion would be. And I thought it interesting that she chose to schedule this appointment with a therapist whose website caters to the LGBT community. That let me know, at the very least, that this woman must be in some sort of place of acceptance with her husband’s identity, even though it had only been a very short period of time since he had told her.
One of the first things she told me in our meeting, confirmed my suspicion. She explained that I was actually the 2nd therapist she had seen in the last week. She went on to say that the first one, who she saw the week before, heard about her husband’s coming out, and quickly started to preach morality and Christianity at her, defaming her husband and his “sinful choices”. This client was quite baffled by that and left quickly without scheduling another session. She knew that her husband hadn’t simply made some immoral choice to end their marriage and go be with another man, rather, he had made a difficult, heart-wrenching realization that who he was and what he needed was simply incongruent with the life he had spent over two decades trying to build. He had bawled at his wife’s side as he told her this incredibly difficult truth, and she loved him and knew that he loved her as much as he could. She respected his honesty and wanted to help him to honor his truth while moving forward in a way that was right for them both. So, once she left that therapists office, she searched for a counseling practice where she knew she would be safe from that sort of response.
When she came in, she tearfully identified her best hopes as finding a way to get through this while loving and caring for her husband’s needs, and also taking care of herself. She added after telling me those hopes, that she had a history of co-dependency with her husband in the past. She said she read a book about the topic a few years back and thought as she flipped the pages that she could have written that book herself. She emphasized then, that doing this in a way that cared for her as much as her husband was extremely important.
We had a conversation about what taking care of herself and her husband might look like, and the differences she would notice while caring for him that would inform her that she was also caring for herself. With a few careful questions about the last 10 days since he had come out, she identified ways she was already starting to notice this caring for herself, and for him, in ways she was pleased with. She noted that one of the ways she knew she was caring for herself was that she didn’t cancel a trip she planned. She said that last year she had gone on a trip by herself for the first time in her life, and she found that traveling alone felt really good. She had spent the last 24 years with her husband and two, now adult, kids, and having that solitude had been cathartic. So she quickly scheduled another solitary trip, where she would drive up a few states and stay in a cabin, and as fate would have it, that trip was scheduled for the weekend after our session. She thought about canceling it, after her husband came out, but she realized that she was looking forward to it more than she thought she could in this grief filled state she found herself in. She was scared to go, because she didn’t know what she would feel like when she came back home. Home was so different now.
She said then, thinking about that trip, that looking at the future was the scariest thing about all of this, she had no idea how she was going to move forward. She knew that doing so would be best for her husband, but she questioned if it would be best for her. He was getting to start a new chapter in his life where he got to live his truth, openly and fully. He was both scared and excited by this, and she was excited for him. But, she said, she was already living her truth, so moving forward just felt sad, lonely, and scary to her right now.
Then I asked a very risky question, that I couldn’t be sure would work. But looking back, I’m so glad it occurred to me.
I asked: “So, I want you to imagine for a minute that while you’re on this trip all alone next week, you begin to notice somehow that this future you’re moving towards isn’t just most right thing for your husband, but it’s also, somehow, the most right future for you. What might you begin to notice that would signify this truth as it began to reveal itself?”
She said, instinctively and without hesitation, “Oh, yes, because it really is going to be the most right thing for me.” Then she paused and started to cry. She then said that she couldn’t believe that she really thought that, but there it was. She really did know in her core, that even though this incredibly difficult and uncertain future lay at her feet, she was suddenly moving in a direction that was truly right for both her and her husband. Divorce, moving out of their home, being single in their 50’s, telling their grown children that not only were they divorcing but that their father was gay, all of these terrifying realities were necessary because they were doing what was right for them both.
She went from there to describe how she’ll notice this truth as it starts to reveal itself. She spoke about confidence and finding herself, doing hobbies and laughing with her daughter, going out with friends and getting involved in her community. She spent a lot time talking about all the time she’ll have to really care for herself, in a way that she was only recently learning to do.
Then towards the end of the session, she said she was going to need that confidence because her husband was seemingly more scared than she was. She knew moving apart from each other and getting a divorce sooner than later was what was best for her, but she said that he had started to hesitate a bit on those fronts. He was beginning to suggest that maybe they stay living together for a while longer. I asked her how she would notice her confidence and ability to care for herself while she was talking with him about those things in the coming days, and she said she would simply tell him, “I’ve chosen to move on this way.” Then she looked at me, sort of surprised, and said, “I have choices in this.” And as she was preparing to leave the session she reiterated how meaningful that was to hear herself say.
This incredible client is a great example of how the people we talk to come in with their own sense of agency and the skills and strengths necessary to move toward their preferred futures, even when those futures are quite scary.
Rebekka Ouer, LCSW-S