Divorcing a homosexual man often stirs greater feelings of anger and loss than those experienced by women who dissolve a marriage to a heterosexual spouse, says a Brigham Young University researcher.
Women severing such relationships also feel "genderless" and guilty when they realize there were early signs of their husbands' homosexuality they failed to recognize, said Debra Fairchild, a family-science researcher."When these people were first attracted to each other, often it was as good friends. They had a much more comprehensive relationship than the women divorced from straight men and they had to sever a lot of friendship ties," she said in an interview.
For her master's thesis, Fairchild studied the divorces of 22 women, 12 of whom had been married to gay husbands. She said her choice of subject hinged on her knowledge that women from unions with homosexuals had no support structure and may react differently to separation.
Admittedly, the sampling was too small to support more than tentative conclusions, she said, but her faculty graduate committee gave its approval because the topic was unexplored. Others had studied the adjustment of gay men after a divorce, but not their mates.
The number of subjects also was abbreviated by Fairchild's inability to travel far. She received responses from across the country but, feeling it necessary to conduct all the interviews in person, settled for 22 Utah women.
The standard psychological profile she administered to each of the women showed the two groups differed significantly only in their levels of anger. The women divorced from gay men showed more anger than those divorced from heterosexuals, a fact she attributed to the less common nature of their predicament.
Such women often feel they are "writing the script" to their divorces - not following a well-traveled path to separation like their counterparts, Fairchild said.
Many women in the group had never discussed their feelings with anyone before they participated in the study and were relieved when they found someone shared their feelings.
She said almost all the women divorced from homosexuals felt "genderless," more like a sister, mother or good friend than a wife to their husbands. They all said that in looking back they realized there were signs of homosexuality they did not recognize in the relationship.
One woman, who participated in the research and an eight-week support group that followed, spoke freely about her experience on the condition her name not be used.
She and her homosexual husband divorced after a 10-year marriage. She felt alone and, because she is a member of the LDS Church, that no one else had been through anything so devastating.
She met her husband while he was serving a two-year church mission and they were active members of the church, which considers homosexuality a serious moral sin.
All of the women in the study had problems understanding their husbands' desire to include a male friend in family activities. She was no different.
"He would tell me that this guy was having problems and he was trying to help him and he would be gone with him for hours and hours and always include him in family activities like Sunday dinner," she said.
It was her husband's lover who told her about the relationship.
"I guess he hoped if he spilled the beans I would leave and he could move right in, " she said.
But she didn't leave. She and her husband went to counseling and she thought things had improved. The same thing happened four years later. Again, it was her husband's lover that told her. This time she left.
In retrospect, she believes there may have been signs he was homosexual and she just didn't read them.
"He used to tell me that I really wouldn't love him and want to get married if I knew what he was really like," she said, assuming at the time he was talking about premarital experiences with other women.
Her experience mirrored that of many of the women in the study. They blamed themselves for having poor judgment and for not knowing their husbands were homosexuals when they married them.
She, like many of the others, said she was most devastated because she knew there was no way she could compete with her husband's attraction for other men.
"If he had left for another woman it would have been easier, but when he left for another man, there was no way I could compete . . . ," she said.
She and other women who participated in the study are starting their own support group and Fairchild believes they all have bravely weathered their private storms.
"I found these women to be exceptional," she said, "because they came through an emotional experience and are still compassionate human beings."