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The Fallout: When a Spouse Comes Out

It's a catharsis for McGreevey. But what about those left behind?

(Aug. 23, 2004) -- As Cathy Morton watched Gov. James McGreevey's televised confession last week, she felt drawn to his wife, Dina, who stood at his side with a pained half smile frozen on her face. "I've been there," says Morton, who says she discovered her husband cruising gay Web sites five years ago. "She may not feel lucky now," says Morton, who is now divorcing, "but at least he admitted the truth and took responsibility. That's something."

Few women have to endure the disclosure at a news conference, but Dina Matos McGreevey is hardly alone. Nationwide there are nearly 2 million "straight spouses" whose husbands and wives have come out of the closet, often after decades of marriage, says Amity Pierce Buxton, whose book "The Other Side of the Closet" examines the phenomenon. In most cases, says Buxton, wives or husbands are stunned by the revelation; in about a third, wives or husbands have an inkling that their partner is struggling, but "don't want to face the elephant in the room."

The wave of midlife coming-out crises is explained in large part by growing social acceptance. Gays and lesbians of McGreevey's generation were more likely to conform to the social pressure to marry—especially if they wanted children—than are young homosexuals today. As they approach middle age and watch their kids leave for college, many no longer see a reason to remain in their heterosexual marriages.

But while those coming out can find acceptance, even celebration, in their newfound identities, the partners and children left behind are often devastated. "The gay community is portrayed as courageous, but no one shows the families who are left to pick up the pieces," says Flo Kubes, whose wife left him for a woman in their congregation after 20 years of marriage. Kubes, a pastor in a conservative community in Minnesota, lost his job, he says, as a result (church elders felt the scandal was too distracting). The couple's teenage son was hospitalized for depression. Kubes says he struggled for months to find emotional help before joining Buxton's online support group, the Straight Spouse Network (ssnetwk.org). Many wives of gay husbands are terrified they've been exposed to AIDS. Kathy Rockel, whose husband came out to her shortly before his 50th birthday, says she dreaded telling a clinic worker in her small Colorado town why she needed an AIDS test. (Both spouses tested negative.)

Late last week the chat room was abuzz with speculation—and sympathy—for Dina McGreevey. What did it feel like to hear the truth while standing on a stage? Would she stay—or would she go? Who was helping her while attention was focused on her husband? And there were more than a few invitations for her to log on and find a virtual shoulder to lean on.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc. By Karen Breslau and Debra Rosenberg



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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, September 5). The Fallout: When a Spouse Comes Out, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/gender/depression-and-gender/the-fallout-when-a-spouse-comes-out

Last Updated: October 24, 2015

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