The question, from Nancy is “How to ‘come clean’ with your wife or S/O without ending up with a divorce or split !
How to “come clean” with your wife or S/O without ending up with a divorce or split.
Sit her down and say, “There is something important I have to say to you. It is difficult to talk about, but you are everything to me and I want to be honest with you.” Then briefly tell her what you want to tell her. Tell her what will or will not change and what it means to the both of you now. Do not predict the future. Do not make promises. Practice this with your therapist before you try it in real-life.
Here’s the truth. If you marry or partner with a person who is androphillic- that is attracted to men and masculinity- then you may very likely lose their attraction if you express yourself in a feminine way. If you marry a conservative person you may lose their allegiance if you reveal yourself to be a person who leads or wants to lead an alternative lifestyle. If you have a partnership built on trust and then reveal a secret that you have kept to yourself, or activities and behaviors that you have conducted surreptitiously, then you may well lose that partner’s trust. And, lastly, if your partner discovers these things on their own, the discovery is an injury and may cause a rift that is often impossible to repair. That’s the bad news. You probably know this already.
On the other hand, marriages and partnerships survive many challenges; from infidelity to periods of separation and serious illness. If you know many crossdressers or transgender people then you know some who are in good relationships which have endured and flourished as the transgender or crossdressing partner came out and expressed their gender. Most of those people compromise and put their partner’s desires first for many years, even decades after they come out.
Some people partner with conservative heterosexual women. Some partner with open-minded sexually adventurous women. In either case, the partner may be attached to their male partner’s maleness and disclosure, expression, and/or transition, may be challenging. However, there may be some things that we can do to maximize the odds that down the road you will still be in a loving supportive relationship.
Should you come out at all? I usually assume the partner will find out sooner or later.
When to come out? Early in the relationship is usually is best, but your relationship is unique and no one can tell you what is right for the two of you.
There are no rules about whether or when to come out to your partner. But I do have a rule about what to avoid. Never suddenly show yourself dressed and never suddenly show a photo of yourself dressed. Also, the partner finding out on her own – without you disclosing – is usually most difficult to overcome.
Here are some thoughts. Obviously this is a huge topic and I don’t’ want to take up too much space in the newsletter. I’ll be coming to CDI in March and we can talk about it then. If you are a good partner, then you probably already do a lot of what I suggest.
- Support and cooperate with your spouse. Listen. Acknowledge their suffering, anxiety, fear, loss.
- Cooperate and compromise – One only needs to attend one meeting at CDI to see how hard people work to cooperate and compromise with partners. A typical compromise is the case of a wife who supports their partner in dressing part time and attending meetings, but may not want to see their partner dressed as a woman. The more you understand and accept your partner’s limitations, the more likely you will stay together.
- Engage a therapist to help with the process. I have a front row seat on this and have seen countless times how helpful this can be. The therapist can help you develop a plan, get up the courage to come out, or restrain your impulses to come out. They can offer support for your partner and help your partner to advocate for their own needs and process their experience. Most importantly, see #4. The more supported and understood a partner feels, the more likely you will stay together.
- The relationship has many facets. How are you doing in other ways? Are you spending quality time together? Does your partner feel listened to and cared for and satisfied with the relationship outside of gender or dressing issues? Often partners come into my office and want to talk about other things that are bothering them before they can focus on dressing or gender identity. If your partner has been asking you to clean up your closet or bedside table for years, do it! If your partner wants you to put the cap on the toothpaste, or spend less time on the computer, do it. More action, attention, and eye contact, may be needed to have the best possible relationship. The more high-quality love and attention you can give, the more likely you will stay together.
- Sex. What happened to your sex life as a couple? What can you do to increase intimacy? Many people have excellent relationships. They regard their partner as their best friend and they spend lots of time together. Some have good sex lives, but more often the frequency and quality of sex has diminished over time. In particular, if you have a female partner who likes men and you have come out as female identified, this may diminish her attraction to you. If she is losing her opportunity for a sexual relationship then this may be a very serious loss for her. The more you do to make your sex life fulfilling before, during, and after disclosure, the more likely you will stay together.
- Patience, Patience, Patience. Working with a therapist can help you to assess realistic expectations for timing and timelines. It can also help you to cultivate patience and pace yourself. It may sound cliché, but it is true that you have had many more years to adjust and accept yourself than your partner has had. Too often people wait until they are about to explode with the need to express themselves before they come out. Then they have little patience for waiting for their partner to catch up. This is completely understandable – really, I have a lot of sympathy for the position of someone who tried to keep peace with their partner and lived in fear of coming out and so put it off until the urgency was overwhelming. The problem is that the urgency is detrimental to the relationship because of the pressure that it puts on both of you. But it is a common situation, so that’s what we have to work with. The less pressure you put on your partner, the more likely you will stay together.
- Sometimes, no matter what you do, how hard you listen, compromise, and love, the relationship cannot withstand the stress of coming out as CD or TG. That’s when it is important to have the support of people who understand – like the members of CDI.
Those are some thoughts based on a lot of experience. Thanks for the topic, Nancy!
Best to you all,
Dr. Katherine Rachlin is a clinical psychologist, gender specialist, and sex therapist in private practice in New York City. Her website is www. katherinerachlin.com. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-206-3636