Further Considerations on Marriage

Following my post earlier in the week where I share some of our story, I wanted to reflect on a few other aspects of marriage as it relates to same sex attraction.

There are a lot of bad reasons to get married, and there are perhaps even more bad reasons to get married when you experience ongoing attraction to the same sex. Bad reasons might include:

  • To convince myself (or anyone else) that I am straight.
  • Because it’s what I’m supposed to do.
  • Because marriage will change my attractions.

There’s one primary problem with all these reasons: they are about me. And the first lesson marriage teaches you is, say it together with me, it’s not about me. Marriage is about the other—caring, loving, providing, and sacrificing for your spouse. That’s not to say there aren’t benefits for me—there are. But a marriage motivated primarily by selfish desires is a short marriage.

Here’s the thing: in many ways a mixed-orientation marriage really ought to be like any other marriage.

It ought not be any less covenantally committed (spiritually, emotionally, and sexually) than any other marriage. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the problems I have with the term mixed-orientation marriage itself is that it suggests that my marriage is somehow of a different type or class from a typical marriage. In reality, it is marriage in the standard sense of the Christian vocation of marriage; it is neither a faux, nor second-class form of marriage. When I talk to straight friends about their marriages, there is more we share in common than not. Thus, it is reasonable to view marriages where one spouse is attracted to the same sex like any other marriage, with the same expectations, responsibilities, and privileges. Are there unique challenges? Certainly. But I’ve found more continuity than discontinuity between my marriage and those typical among my friends.

Like any marriage, a mixed-orientation marriage should not be entered into lightly. It should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people. Like any marriage, an especially high value should be placed on honesty and transparency. No two people know exactly what they are getting into when they say “I do,” but for mixed-orientation marriages, it is especially important that both spouses have talked through the ramifications of sexual orientation in their relationship. There is a substantially greater temptation to be dishonest both with themselves and with others, about their attractions and experience. It is important for the homosexual spouse to clearly communicate the nature of his or her attractions, as well as how those attractions are experienced in life. The heterosexual spouse should also be honest about how he or she feels about the homosexual spouse’s attractions. A substantial gap between the heterosexual spouse’s perceptions and the homosexual spouse’s reality will likely set the stage for serious marital problems down the line. Like any marriage, the key here is honest communication.

For Christy and me, that meant talking through our feelings and expectations about my sexuality in premarital counseling, and continuing that conversation into our marriage. It’s not something we talk about every day, or even every month, but it is part of the ongoing self-reflection that takes place in our relationship. At times it is easy to try and avoid doing any self-reflection on these things as they carry plenty of emotional baggage, but as both Christy and I would attest, our conversations about the role of my sexuality in our marriage always leave us feeling closer to one another and more known and loved by one another.

I’ve seen too many people who experience same-sex attractions have marriages dissolve because there was not honesty up front.  It is simply not a good idea to get married when you are withholding a meaningful part of your identity, sexual or otherwise, from your spouse. If and when your spouse discovers that you are gay (or bi),  the devastation tends to be traumatic, even in cases where the spouse has not been unfaithful (and even more so in cases when there has been unfaithfulness!). I’ve seen some marriages survive the revelation of one spouse’s homosexuality, but I’ve also seen many that have not.

In cases where the homosexual orientation of one spouse is disclosed after marriage, couples should honestly evaluate the state of their marriage and seek counsel about how to proceed. Each situation is different and has different variables (for example, has there been unfaithfulness? to what extent?) which must be taken into account. But it is essential that in such a situation the church would engage each spouse compassionately and seek to walk through the evaluative process with them. I have seen people who learn that their spouse is predominantly same-sex attracted go through strong feelings of shame or betrayal—even if there has been no infidelity. This is the natural fall-out to learning that one’s spouse has failed to disclose such an important piece of information and it may create deep trust issues within the relationship. However, I have also seen situations where the disclosure of same-sex attraction has opened the door to greatly increased honesty and depth in their relationship.

As I hope I’ve already made abundantly clear, marriage does not function as a type of “cure” or therapy for homosexually-oriented spouses. Such expectations are unrealistic and set the marriage up for failure and disappointment when the expected orientation change does not materialize. But this does not mean that being married to the opposite sex will have no effect on same-sex desires. Rather, such an effect is at best measured in degrees, rather than in terms of a full, 180-degree change in orientation. More reflection is needed on this idea of “sexual fluidity,” but I’ll save that for another post.

It’s worth remembering at this point that while marriage can help heterosexual Christians to steward their sexuality in a Godly way, it does not mean the end of attraction to anyone other than their spouse. Faithful marital chastity does not mean the absence of temptation but a willingness to say yes to one’s marital vocation by saying no to temptation. This involves both channeling one’s sexual desires toward one’s spouse, and learning to make sexual intimacy an expression of self-giving love, rather than a merely selfish pursuit of pleasure. In many ways, then, someone like me who is predominantly attracted to the same sex, but is attracted to my spouse, faces many of the same challenges that any other married man does: that of shifting from simply being attracted to good looking women, to offering one’s sexuality as a gift to one particular woman.

Marriage is not an easy calling. Everyone called to marriage, regardless of their sexual attractions, must be willing to die to their own desires and expectations, in order to be transformed by their calling to marriage. This dying to self is not empty sacrifice, however: it is in the service of true love, a love which has the power to transform us so that we look more truly human (read: like Christ) than ever before.

Kyle KeatingKyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating.

14 thoughts on “Further Considerations on Marriage

  1. Very nice post.

    Over the last few years I have begun to wonder if maybe the mixed orientation marriage, when handled well, is actually closer to the ideal that God created than a marriage between two straight people.

    What I mean is that the Bible never pictures sexual desire as good when it precedes marriage or points outside of it. What IS pictured as good is sexual desire flowing from within marriage. Even the song of Solomon describes a relationship between two people who are already engaged, which was seen as marriage by the Hebrew people of the time.

    So the whole Western concept that sexual desires toward the opposite sex prepare you to find your spouse and that the marriage is primarily built on that desires is very non-biblical. Do we honestly consider it “good” that children begin to feel sexual desires at age 11-13, must fight those desires for the next 7 years, during the peek years of their hormone levels, while simultaneously having sexual images shoved in their face and being told to play around with lust by dating many others of the opposite sex until they find the one for whom their lust is so strong they feel they can not live without it? Is this really how God originally designed creation? If so, then why did the antedeluvian people of the Bible not have children until they were more than 50 years old? Is it possible that God’s intention was for a marriage to be built on friendship, commitment and faith and that sexual desire was to come AFTER marriage, maybe decades later, after the couple had a chance to build a real friendship together?

    Has sin, perhaps, marred creation, including our bodies and hormones, so that, regardless of orientation, we are all twisted sinners? Is it not possible, indeed likely, that heterosexuality is just as twisted and perverted as the Church often views homosexuality?

    I have seen many many heterosexual marriages fall apart once sexual desire lessened because the couple had not first formed a friendship. When sexual desire evaporated, there was nothing left. I have seen many mixed-orientation marriages survive because sexual desire was built on an underlying foundation of friendship, mutual faith and respect.

    I think it quite likely that homosexual individuals in opposite sex marriages have quire a lot to teach us today about the godly use of sex and the healthy view of marriage. I also think the Church needs to drop the whole non-sense that heterosexuality is “natural” and homosexuality is “unnatural” and simply proclaim the biblical reality that all sexuality outside of marriage is perverted.

    • I definitely agree that these marriages can help redress the imbalance between the role of sexual attraction and emotional attraction. Friendship is really key here, and thus it’s no coincidence that marriage is a point of interest for the folks here at SF. Perhaps if we have more marriages that have the characteristics of robust friendships, the less likely the end of the honeymoon phase will lead to deep dissatisfaction and even divorce.

  2. @Matt, Alan Medinger decades ago wrote an article that said the same thing about mixed orientation marriages possibly being closer to the ideal that God created than a marriage between two straight people. If other women are not a draw away from your wife, then you have a taste of the exclusiveness that God intended for marriage. I’m Kyle in the above discussion.

  3. Kyle,

    I greatly appreciate reading these posts. You wrote, “It [marriage] should only be pursued when there is a strong spiritual, emotional, and physical attraction between two people.” I wonder if you could expound on that statement a bit more to bring clarity to the nature of “strong” attractions. One the most difficult conversations I’ve had with SSA men centers on the level of attraction necessary to pursue a healthy marriage. You mention those three attraction components as seemingly equal pieces of the same pie. How is a man who is sexually attracted to men to qualify his physical attraction to a woman? Is it tied to spiritual and emotional?

    -Pat

    • I have the exact same question as Pat. I would love to see you develop the point about the necessity of physical attraction.

      You said in your first post regarding when you first started dating your wife: “I thought she was attractive, but more in the sense of “she’s cute” and less in the sense of “I want to lust after her.” As we started getting to know one another more and began dating, I saw my emotional attraction toward her develop into a very real physical and sexual longing for her.”

      It appears that you started dating before you had physical attraction to her. Yet, you say in this post that you think physical attraction is necessary for marriage. So, suppose a guy dealing with same-sex attraction is attracted to a woman in many ways but not sexually. Do you think it would be wise for him to start dating her in hopes that a physical attraction would develop, which would then “qualify” him for marriage with her? In this case, it would seem like he could possibly be setting the woman up for much pain later when he finds that he still has no sexual attraction and cannot marry her. Or should he only start dating a woman if the physical attraction is already present? And if the latter is the case, should he then assume he is called to singleness if he doesn’t find himself physically attracted to any particular woman?

      I have really appreciated you being open about this (and I’m thankful for your wife supporting you in this). You are helping many by your transparency, including me.

      • Both of these comments deserve a lengthier reply, perhaps even another post altogether.

        @Brent, I would say that I felt a level of attraction toward Christy before we started dating, but the degree to which it was sexual is hard to measure. I think I did go into the dating process knowing that that if physical attraction didn’t continue to develop over time in a more substantial way, then this was a relationship that would probably not work out. The key I think in this process is that there is open communication between both people about the dynamics involved. If the guy is counting on attractions developing, then his significant other ought to have a sense that this is an issue. I don’t think you can ever eliminate the pain of a relationship ending, but I think it can be better handled when it doesn’t come out of nowhere for the straight person in the relationship.

        I suppose what I really want to say is that any dating relationship requires you to put yourself out there for a relationship where success or failure (If those are even the right terms for a relationship moving toward marriage or ending. After all, the end of a bad relationship might be a qualified “success.”). There’s always the risk that someone might get hurt because things didn’t develop the way both people hoped, but that doesn’t mean that the dating process as a whole was a failure.

        I think the degree to which someone feels called to singleness is very dependent on their circumstances and their own vocation or calling from God. I think it would be a bit simplistic to draw a straight line (no pun intended) from “I’m not currently attracted to a particular woman” to “I’m called to a life of singleness.” At the same time, it would be equally simplistic to assume that anyone who hasn’t yet experienced attraction toward a woman someday will. Some people are much more “settled” in their orientation than others, and I think that plays a role here.

  4. I have a ton of respect for what you’re sharing, both in this post and your previous. I’m the guy in a mixed-o marriage (don’t love the term either 😊) and the concepts and ideals you lay out are admirable. I fall short of them, but it’s great to read someone who knows what it’s about.

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  6. Its absolutely imperative for anyone who is same-sex attracted to be totally honest with the person they are dating up front and early on. Its unethical to give someone the impression that you are romantically/sexually attracted to them when you are not. Also, I know many straight people who don’t really understand homosexuality and so just assume that somehow the “problem” will be healed, perhaps even in dating, and so have expectations from the relationship that will never transpire. The responsibility is on the person with same-sex attraction to know that lack of complete transparency can cause a lot of pain for some innocent unsuspecting party. Too many people have been terribly hurt by gay people trying to date heterosexually. Be honest up front. The fact is, there is no need to date people you don’t really know anyway. A good relationship is built on friendship. Build a friendship, hang out. That way if the attractions never develop there is no pretense of dating in the first place. Why date if there is no physical attraction? Dating is about getting to know someone better and spending more time with them. That can be done on a friendship level and then if sexual attraction ever develops then a dating relationship can be proposed. Of course, be clear about your intentions that you cannot date right now because spending time with someone might give someone the wrong impression. Communicate extra well. In any case don’t raise the hopes of some poor unsuspecting soul who rightfully believes that “dating” is a romantic interest that could lead to marriage complete with a healthy sex life. Its utterly tragic to not feel desired by one’s partner. Bottom line–don’t think about yourself first. Put the other person’s interest at heart first and make decisions accordingly.

  7. “More reflection is needed on this idea of “sexual fluidity,” but I’ll save that for another post.”

    YES! PLEASE WRITE THIS SOON! I can help 😉

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