In our next session, Rob said, "I told her what I knew she wanted to hear, but I know I can't recommit to our marriage the way it was. I think we each deserve to be happy and feel desired. And even though divorce isn't consistent with my religious beliefs, having sex outside my marriage—even if Mia and I agreed to this—is even harder for me to fathom than divorce." This was the first time Rob had entertained the idea of ending his marriage. I checked this out with him. "It sounds like you're considering changing something much more fundamental in your relationship with Mia. Is that what you're saying?"
"I suppose I am," he responded. "I never thought I'd be in a place where I'd even consider not being married, but I'm not sure staying in this marriage is fair to Mia, me, or our kids. After dating, I don't think I'd even be satisfied in a mixed-orientation marriage or a closed-loop relationship. I need to talk to Mia about what our next steps should be."
For several sessions, Rob and I rehearsed this conversation with Mia—where he might have it, what her reaction(s) might be, and how he'd manage his reactions to hers. I encouraged him to clarify his thoughts by writing down what he wanted to say, and to write back to himself from Mia's perspective, to help him get the larger picture of what was going on for both of them. The conversation was difficult, but both were empathic with the other and honest about their own needs. In the same conversation, Mia shared that she'd decided months ago to seek a divorce.
Rob returned to therapy filled with relief, guilt, fear, and hope. He said he'd wanted to come out to his children when they'd shared the decision to divorce, and Mia and he had agreed to tell them about his sexual orientation and the divorce at the same time. Again, I encouraged him to write down what he wanted to say to his children and to share it with Mia, who helped him fine-tune what he'd say. He asked me for a referral to a family therapist that they could all see after he and Mia had told the children, in case they needed support in reconfiguring their family.
As Rob's divorce was being finalized, his dating turned into a serious relationship, but it soon ended. The feedback he received from his partner was that he was "too intense" and "moved too quickly." Rob desperately wanted a relationship, but now he wanted with a man what he'd had with Mia. He talked about how awkward dating was for what felt like the first time in his life. Not only was he dealing with what every divorced person deals with upon entering the world as a single person again, but he was entering the world as an available, out, gay man. He was in the process of reconciling his faith with his sexual orientation—which, for him, meant finding one man with whom to be monogamous. Gently, I encouraged him to look at his expectations about the speed with which he'd find a partner. I asked him what he'd say to his 15-year-old daughter if she told him she was looking for the person with whom she'd spend the rest of her life. I watched his face shift from confusion to acknowledgement. He answered: "I'd tell her she was too young to make a decision like that, and she needed to meet lots of people, slow down, and get her own life on track before she settled into a relationship or marriage."
I've seen Rob, on and off, for five years since he and Mia divorced. His co-parenting relationship with Mia has remained solid, though it's seen moments of strain when either or both of them have been dating someone more seriously. He's remained sober through these years, and continues to date with a greater sense of contentment and less pressure. He's found a Roman Catholic religious community that's accepting of his sexual orientation. Still, he sometimes grieves for the loss of how he used to view the concept of "family," and he struggles with reconciling his divorce and sexual orientation with his faith. We recently reminisced about our first meeting, and I reminded him of the first words he'd shared with me. "I'm so much less clear about who I am," he joked, "and that feels so good."