Before I first began working with gender dysphoric adults in 1994, I thought I would serve many wives and few husbands. The reason? I had been married to a man who came out as a woman, and I understood the deep ambiguities affecting a spouse’s decision of whether or not to stay together. I knew all the hurt, angry and fearful ways wives felt and thought:
- Denial: “It’s a sickness and therapy will fix him”
- Fear: “I’ve got to keep the kids from knowing/seeing “her” or it will damage them and ruin their lives”
- Co-Dependency: “If I leave, he’ll kill himself but if I stay I can prevent that”
- Dependency: “If I leave, I won’t survive economically/emotionally”
- Illusions: “If I tell him he has to choose me or “her” he will choose me and everything will work out”
Thank Goodness, I also knew some of the many loving and wise ways wives could respond that honored their own as well as their spouses’ boundaries and realities. Ways that blessed reality for what it was, and that encouraged each partner (and their children) to “trust into” that reality and seek grace in it by:
- Recognize that gender dysphoria is real:
“Gender dysphoria refers to discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth (and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics).” WPATH.org (see Resources page)
- Recognizing one’s own honest ability or inability to re-negotiate the marriage commitment together
- Staying married, or leave, as she learns where her healthy boundaries are, and honoring the other’s too
- Maintaining a commitment to each other’s individuation–each partner’s God-given task to become who one needs to be
- Loving each other–even if that can be only as the dearest of friends, and not rushing the necessary mourning and closure to the marriage that can no longer be.
- Supporting the children in their need for both parents, in ways that are developmentally sound for each child
Many years ago I introduced my ex-husband-turned-best-girl-friend at an awards dinner in her honor for her work as a psychologist in the transgender community. I opened with this claim (and I still believe this today):
“There are many kinds of love.”
I offer to you spouses, my encouragement to trust in your process of coming to know your capacities for loving this very important, dear person in your life, while honoring yourself without co-dependency. Loving takes many forms: as spouses, as friends, and as people in your heart, even if you decide you cannot live together or remain married.
Use your mind and heart to discern what is right for you. I work with both transgender people and cisgender spouses, parents and older children. While I cannot ethically generally work with both parties individually, I can meet with both together or meet periodically with the spouse of my primary client who gives consent. This is a case-by-case decision I make after much careful consideration. The feedback I get is that I am able to help each party understand the situation and concerns of the other.
Denver has support group meetings for spouses and partners, called S.O.s, meaning Significant Others. See the Resources page for more information.