Forgiveness in MOCs

The Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity has a new study available online on people in mixed orientation relationships. Recall the mixed orientation couples (MOCs) are relationships in which one partner is straight and the other partner is a sexual minority. By “sexual minority” we mean that the person experiences same-sex attraction independent of identity (that is, they may not self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual). That is a definition used by other researchers in this area and it is not unique to us.

Back to the new study. We’ve been conducting a longitudinal study (a study in which data is gathered from the same people over time) of MOCs. This most recent publication examined the experience of disclosure on the part of the sexual minority and the impact of that disclosure on the straight spouse.

Spouses often progress through stages following disclosure and obviously have a lot to navigate. Amity Buxton discusses stages spouses go through following disclosure: 1) Initial shock, denial and relief, 2) Facing, acknowledging, and accepting reality; 3) Letting go, 4) Healing, and 5) Transformation. What we have seen elsewhere is that the impact of disclosure is comparable to what Gordon and Baucom have described in the affair literature. That is, disclosure of same-sex sexuality (which can include disclosure of infidelity) is often experienced as “interpersonal trauma” as it can be experienced as a significant betrayal to the offended spouse.

We were looking at the experience and impact of forgiveness on these post-disclosure experiences. Don Baucom and his colleagues say the goal of forgiveness is “to regain a more balanced and compassionate view of the offender and event, decrease negative affect towards and avoidance of the offender and giving up the right to seek revenge or lash out towards the offender.” New understanding, new meaning–these are thought to be important. Also important: forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness sets a stage upon which decisions about whether to reconcile can be made.

What we found was that forgiveness was shown to play a role in how spouses progress through the post-disclosure stages–particularly moving toward the stages of Letting Go, Healing and Transformation. We also saw movement in both forgiveness and post-disclosure stages over the course of a year. Spouses tended to report less cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disruption over time in response to the offense.

What are the practical implications for people who are providing services or ministry to MOCs? MOCs may process disclosure in ways that are similar to how heterosexual couples process affairs. It may be helpful to create space to talk through how disclosure took place, and how each partner processed disclosure, including relational conflicts, rejection, and emotional distancing before and after disclosure.

Processing disclosure and other experiences allows everyone an opportunity to consider if forgiveness is a potential option, as forgiveness provides a healthy way to address the consequences of offenses by allowing for closure to what has been painful; forgiveness, which is itself a process, can also help prepare the couple for reconciliation. If the MOC has chosen to divorce, then forgiveness would not have marital reconciliation as its goal.

If you are interested in past posts on mixed orientation couples, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and a post with Additional Thoughts on MOCs.

24 thoughts on “Forgiveness in MOCs

  1. I understand the purpose of using the term mixed-orientation marriage. Even so, I wonder whether we’re not giving too much credence to orientation. Our culture has largely come to accept marriage as a legitimate means of satisfying one’s sexual appetites. Peter Leithart describes such an institution as “pornographic marriage,” distinguishing it from the view of marriage that prevailed prior to the late 19th Century. In that vein, the term “mixed-orientation marriage” seems to concede that pornographic marriage is legitimate. After all, why would there be a need for forgiveness, as the article implies there is, unless satisfaction of sexual appetite weren’t a legitimate aspect of marriage?

    We would probably do well to follow Foucault’s lead and give a lot less credence to orientation. And perhaps we should follow Calvin’s and Luther’s lead and begin to view marriage from a more pragmatic vantage point. Oddly enough, Gary Becker sets forth a view of marriage that lies closer to that of the Reformers than the view that’s generally promoted in most evangelical churches these days.

    • But satisfaction of sexual appetite IS a legitimate aspect of marriage. And there is nothing more pragmatic than having marriage be a legitimate means to satisfy one’s sexual desire.

      I don’t know Mr. Leithart but I do know Paul of Tarsus:

      1 Corinthians 7

      8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am
      9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

      • Rosa,

        I’d suggest that you’ve misinterpreted Paul here. At best, Paul is simply saying that those without the gift of celibacy should marry. The Greek word that is translated here as “burn with passion” does not refer to the selfish pursuit of one’s sexual appetite (i.e., lust). Otherwise, the foregoing versus regarding mutual submission wouldn’t make any sense.

        If you want to read Leithart’s article, it’s entitled “Intrusive Third Parties”. It should be easy to find.

        All the best.

      • Rosa,

        I don’t understand your persistent petulance. I clarified what I meant by “sexual appetite” in my original comment. Please honor the clarification.

    • Orientation isn’t just about sex. Most people who use the term gay to describe themselves are referring to the romantic orientation. Just referring to the sexual, I would be classified bisexual so it is more complicated than Leithart makes it out to be. For some same sex attracted folks it is pure lust, but not for all.

      • I think “sexual orientation,” at least as it’s generally defined, is about sex. I’ll concede that attraction can be much broader. For example, one could have an aesthetic attraction and/or an intimate interpersonal attraction to another without necessarily feeling sexual attraction to that person.

        Of course, our culture generally makes the faulty assumption that aesthetic attraction and/or an intimate interpersonal attraction necessarily leads to sexual attraction (or is merely disguised sexual attraction). I don’t know that we need to make that assumption, however.

      • I would disagree. As specifically defined, orientation refers to sex. The general definition of the common man is akin to my own given. Otherwise, why bring up marriage and stories of gay men who have been together for 30+ years?

        You seem to be conflating all loves as one. Forgive me of I misunderstand. The love I feel for a male friend is much different than the love I would feel for a husband/life partner. By the same token, a man’s wife is not merely a friend he uses to fabricate infants. There is more to it.

        I will concede that the culture creates a climate of no boundaries and cheap lust masqueraded as love. That said, your definitions of love are too simplistic, I feel.

    • OK. So, I can now read the abstract.

      It strikes me as a bit disingenuous for one of the blog’s contributors to post a link here to his work, and then ask me to pay $39 to read it. Just sayin’.

      • Bobby, thanks for you interest in the study. We are not the holders of the copyright and do not have permission to post the article itself, which is why I offered a summary of the findings as the blog post. The link was to verify that it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Thanks for understanding and, again, for your interest in the study.

      • Thanks for the clarification.

        Perhaps you could clarify the source o the discussion regarding forgiveness. What is the sin for which forgiveness is sought? Were the same-sex attracted spouses engaging in a gay affair outside of the marriage?

        I ask this question because of my own struggles of coming out of the closet in a evangelical (PCA) context. Even though I’m single and celibate, the session kept wanting me to repent and seek spiritual healing for my sexual orientation. They emphasized that they were not suggesting that I seek reparative therapy; rather, I just needed to repent. But no one would ever identify what my sin was, except to say that my orientation made me inherently unnatural and therefore inherently more offensive to God than a straight person. It was clear that, within the PCA, I was expected to live within the church as a kind of second-class Christian.

        As I pushed the session to clarify its position on these issues, it became clear to me that my sin wasn’t so much against God as it was against a faulty view of masculinity that seems to be fairly pervasive in conservative Reformed circles (i.e., Biblical manhood). Under this view, heterosexual desire is seen as the sine qua non of manhood, and men are rank-ordered based on the strength of their appetites for heterosexual sex. Marriage, in turn, becomes little more than a venue for the legitimate expression of heterosexual lust.

        I’m not an orientation essentialist. I don’t even see that same-sex attraction is necessarily that big of a deal. It becomes a big deal because we swim in cultural waters that assume that any desire for interpersonal intimacy is necessarily of a genital-erotic nature. It strikes me that the evangelical church has bought this cultural/Freudian lie, which has led it to construct a stilted view of manhood–a view that improperly valorizes heterosexual lust, improperly stigmatizes any measure of same-sex attraction, and improperly construes marriage as an inwardly focused institution that is primarily focused on the legitimate expression of heterosexual lust. In that vein, I fear that we’re often asking same-sex attracted people to seek forgiveness merely the “sin” of falling short of the Discollian ideal that prevails in many evangelical contexts.

        As discussed on Kyle’s post from a few days ago, this situation has led many evangelical churches to proffer fairly limited plausibility structures for same-sex attracted Christians to exist within the church community without suffering under a stigma. So, when I hear talk of forgiveness, I wonder: Is the same-sex attracted Christian seeking forgiveness for an actual sin, or simply for failing to conform to the church’s overly restrictive plausibility structures.

        I’ve spent my entire life in evangelicalism, and it was hard for me to walk away. But I couldn’t stay at a church that insisted that I submit to a stigmatized existence merely because I couldn’t conform (or refused to conform) to the rather limited models of masculinity that the church made available to me. So, in my view, it’s my former church that ought to be seeking my forgiveness, not the other way around.

  2. Not all same sex attracted people in relationships have had sexual contact outside of their mixed orientation relationship. When I disclosed to my girlfriend in college my same sex attractions we were both virgins. Still, we went through significant grieving as if there had been a sexual transgression – which there had not. Does the study speak to this?

    • We asked people about an offense related to this topic (same-sex sexuality) and in the context of their relationship, which was for some an act of infidelity. But for others it was not being told about one’s same-sex sexuality prior to marriage or something more along those lines. I don’t recall anyone for whom disclosure was while dating and well before marriage–certainly not enough cases to make that a variable we could study.

      • I’m someone who has also disclosed my SSA, and subsequent change in my sexual attractions, to my then-boyfriend before we became engaged. We did not go through a “grieving process” – there wasn’t anything to grieve. I thought it was important for him to know, and he took it in stride. (Our shared faith in Christ proving to be a great help, along with our shared sarcastic wit.) Although cases like mine and Jon Carl Lewis may be rare, they do exist. And we may be surprised to find out how many do exist when more find the courage to be open about their experiences.

      • I knew about my husband’s same-sex attraction (and he knew about mine) before we even started dating. And we didn’t go through any particular “grieving process” either. (Doesn’t mean there haven’t been hard times in the marriage, relating to this issue, but still.)

      • Both DMB and RandomCatholic disclosed their SSA before marriage, but if someone gets married assuming their spouse is sexually attracted to them I would say there is likely a grieving process… even if the lose is just an idea in our head.

      • I also don’t understand why there would be a grieving process. Sexual attraction does not figure prominently in Christian church’s traditional understanding of marriage. Sexual attraction didn’t emerge as a prominent feature of marriage until the latter years of the Victorian era (i.e., around the 1880s and 1890s), and its origins were secular (e.g., Freud). I see no reason why a SSA person entering a Christian marriage should be answerable to his or her spouse’s sinful expectations of the relationship.

        If the SSA spouse specifically lied about the issue, then that’s a different question.

  3. Bobby – I think I agree with a lot of what your saying, in essence, but you’re making an ought-is fallacy. In other words, you’re saying that “this is the way it ought to be” = “this is the way we should expect it to be” (incidentally, I think your background in the PCA may have a lot to do with this).

    The reality is that we live in a time and culture in which a spouse believes (in accordance with their culture) that this is an issue to grieve over. We don’t get to dictate who has a right to grieve – it comes when our expectations of the world are not met. We are never in a place to judge whether another’s grief is legitimate (it always is).

    Just because they grieve though, is NOT proof that there has been a sin or needs to be repentance. Perhaps this may be at the root of any reticence to accept this idea – a belief that an validation of grief implies agreement over the moral guilt of the “perpetrator”.

    But just because you may not be morally culpable for the “grief” experienced by someone (in this case, a potential mate) doesn’t mean you don’t have to care about it. Indeed, if you don’t think a potential mate’s potential grief is NOT your problem, then I’d suggest that you may not be ready for the self-sacrificing sacrament of marriage in which one is called to crucify oneself daily for the other person and constantly put the other before self.

    I would agree with those who have said that full-disclosure before the sacrament is entered is the only appropriate path. You may not owe it to a spouse on Scriptural grounds, but you certainly owe it to him/her on “common courtesy” and “common decency” grounds. This is a big issue, and holding back from sharing a major piece of yourself with someone until after the “I do” is just rude, even if I can’t with clarity say that it’s sinful.

  4. Dr. Yarhouse –

    As always, I really appreciate your work. I’m interested to know if there is any research of any kind (not specifically on this issue) about couples involved in MOMs? I was just having a conversation with my pastor about this yesterday…

  5. Joshua,
    I think Amity Buxton and the Straight Spouse Network has probably done the most research in this area. It would at least be a place to begin. The links at the bottom of the post also take you to summaries and overviews of research studies I have conducted in this area.

  6. Help! I was in an MoM. She stuck it out a few years after disclosure but eventually divorced. I struggle to see how, if she claims she is “walking with the Lord”, that forgiveness wouldn’t lead to marital reconciliation. How can there be any other result? Ultimately, she desires the passion and spark she would expect from a straight guy who might not be as nice of a guy or as good of a friend as the two of us were.

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