Despite the invitation to couples therapy, Mia refused to join us, fearing that as a gay man, I'd be too aligned with Rob to be able to hear and support her. Several conversations with Mia's individual therapist (who advocated the couples work), along with my own efforts to reach out to Mia, failed to persuade her that couples work would be helpful. Rob responded to this with disappointment and anger, withdrawing further from his wife. At her therapist's suggestion, we explored the possibility that Rob might join his wife with her therapist, but Mia still resisted. She was becoming less willing to think about working with Rob, and was increasingly feeling the pressures from her family and friends to separate from him.
I've found there's a window of opportunity to engage the couple when my initial point of entry is the husband. When I've waited too long—when either or both members of the couple have moved too far away individually, or have separated too much, there's greater reluctance to see couples work as an option. In Rob's case, I feared I'd missed this opportunity.
While Rob and Mia still lived in the same home, they'd moved into separate bedrooms, explaining to their children that Rob's snoring was interfering with Mia's sleep. Not sleeping together enabled them to create some type of boundary while continuing to live together without unrealistic expectations of each other. Meanwhile, I provided Rob with as much information as possible about ways gay married men and their wives have chosen to restructure their contracts with each other. A particularly useful way of doing that, I find, is referring clients to the groups I facilitate for married and formerly married gay and bisexual men who are at various points in their lives and in their relationships with their families.
Some men in the groups have come out only to themselves and the group. Some are out to everyone, including their wives and children, while still cohabitating with their families. Some have chosen to divorce, and are either in the process of divorcing or have been divorced for a while. Those who remain married and still live with their families may have a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM)—a marriage of individuals whose sexual orientations differ.
The group gave Rob a chance to hear from men who'd managed to make such marriages work. Some talked of continuing to be sexual with their wives, but having an open relationship, in which each partner could engage in sexual relationships outside the marriage. Others talked about a variation of an open relationship—in which each partner could be sexual outside the relationship, but with only one other partner, who, ideally, was sexual with only one other partner also—known as a closed-loop relationship (CLR). I myself could have provided Rob with this information in individual or couples therapy, but hearing it from other men who were negotiating some of the same concerns as his allowed him to hear these options as realities, instead of theories. Meanwhile, Mia became involved in a chapter of the Straight Spouses Network, talking with others who were dealing with a gay, lesbian, or bisexual spouse.
Rob and Mia seemed to work out a don't-ask-don't-tell arrangement. For months, they continued to sleep separately, have meals together, engage in social events together, but not discuss whether or to what extent either of them was engaging in relationships outside their marriage. In Rob's individual therapy, he disclosed that he'd been dating men, and was scared to disclose this to Mia. While I didn't advise him to tell Mia, we talked about the ramifications of keeping this secret, and addressed reasonable concerns around safe sex and how, if he were to engage in sexual activity with Mia, he'd explain using a condom again (since they'd stopped using condoms years before).
After months of "don't ask, don't tell," Mia confronted Rob with her suspicions about his sexual activities. Having prepared for this in individual therapy, he was straightforward about them. She felt betrayed and angry. He felt guilty, apologized profusely, recommitted himself to their traditional marriage, and swore he wouldn't have sex with another partner again.