The Journal of Marital & Family Therapy is releasing its latest entry on peer-reviewed scholarship about mixed-orientation marriages, and since this is a topic that comes up a lot here at Mormons for Marriage, it’s only fitting that we avail ourselves of the opportunity to see what the state of research is at the beginning of this new decade.
Barbara Couden Hernandez, Naomi J. Schwenke and Colwick M. Wilson of Loma Linda University use their paper, “Spouses in Mixed-Orientation Marriage: A 20-Year Review of Empirical Studies,” to both summarize research so far and to suggest places where research is lacking.
First, the authors set the stage for MOMs (marriages between a heterosexual spouse and a gay/bisexual spouse):
Approximately 20% of gay men marry women over the course of their lives (Janus & Janus, 1993). Buxton (1994) reported that approximately 2 million families must deal with emotional and cognitive dissonance that exist in mixed-orientation marriage (MOM), and that 15% of these marriages continue past a 3-year duration.
With 85% of mixed-orientation marriages lasting less than three years, marital and family therapists are trying to understand the complexities of these relationships and figure out how best to help those involved cope with the aftermath - both surviving/negotiating a continuing relationship and recovering from the pain of divorce. The purpose of this article was to provide a road map of sorts for therapists searching for understanding and considering research and education topics.
An “executive summary” version of the article might read like this:
All the varieties of peer-reviewed research studied (quantitative, qualitative and case study) have found that MOMs are complex. There is pressure to manage homoerotic feelings, to meet the needs of the straight spouse, to balance tension both inside and outside of the relationship. There are often fears of losing family - either family of origin or spouse and children. Concerns about living with integrity and ambiguity are real and important, as are coping with issues surrounding religious belief and community. Sexuality within the relationship often needs regular renegotiation. Bisexuals do better at making MOMs successful, but they are most likely to feel misunderstood by society.
Coming out to the straight spouse is very stressful, and spouses married before 1968 were more likely to postpone coming out than younger bisexual/gay/lesbian spouse have been.
Straight women in MOMs have a variety of reactions to their husband’s coming out - from outrage to relief, but nearly all reported some amount of isolation, humiliation, the need for counseling and attempts to renegotiate or dissolve marriages.
The article goes on to state,
There is not a single theory that accounts for why gay, bisexual, and lesbian individuals marry straight spouses. It was hypothesized that gay, bisexual, and lesbian people choose heterosexual partners based on a combination of early life events, life schemas, societal expectations, religious beliefs, hope to ‘‘cure’’ homosexual feelings, or an overriding desire for family and children. A number of authors offered explanations for their findings based on clinical experience.
Mixed-orientation marriage has only recently been considered a viable form of coupling; however, this is not a universal sentiment. The challenges associated with this unique relationship are many and multifaceted for both spouses. As societal discourse around issues of sexual orientation and marriage become more prominent, a clear understanding of the tasks of MOM families and couples is needed. It is anticipated that this review will encourage further discussion, research, and education on MOM in the field of marriage and family therapy.
The studies reviewed by JMFT were:
Alessi, E. J. (2008). Staying put in the closet: Examining clinical practice and countertransference issues in work
with gay men married to heterosexual women. Clinical Social Work Journal, 36, 195–201.
Buxton, A. P. (2004). Works in progress: How mixed-orientation couples maintain their marriages after the wives
come out. Journal of Bisexuality, 4, 59–82.
Buxton, A. P. (2001). Writing your own script: How bisexual men and their heterosexual wives maintain their
marriages after disclosure. Journal of Bisexuality, 1, 155–189.
Corley, D. M., & Kort, J. (2006). The sex addicted mixed-orientation marriage: Examining attachment styles, internalized homophobia and viability of marriage after disclosure. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 13, 167–193.
Edser, S. J., & Shea, J. D. (2002). An exploratory investigation of bisexual men in monogamous, heterosexual
marriages. Journal of Bisexuality, 2, 7–43.
Hays, D., & Samuels, A. (1989). Heterosexual women’s perceptions of their marriages to bisexual or homosexual
men. Journal of Homosexuality, 18, 81–100.
Hernandez, B. C., & Wilson, C. M. (2007). Seventh-day Adventist women in mixed orientation marriages:
Another kind of ambiguous loss. Family Relations, 56, 184–195.
Higgins, D. J. (2002). Gay men from heterosexual marriages: Attitudes, behaviors, childhood experiences, and
reasons for marriage. Journal of Homosexuality, 42, 15–34.
Higgins, D. J. (2004). Differences between previously married and never married ‘gay’ men: Family background,
childhood experiences and current attitudes. Journal of Homosexuality, 48, 19–41.
Kort, J. (2005). The new ‘‘mixed’’ marriage (with case commentary by M. Weiner-Davis). Psychotherapy Networker,
Lee, R. B. (2002). Psychosocial contexts of the homosexuality of Filipino men in heterosexual unions. Journal of
Homosexuality, 42, 25–63.
Malcolm, J. P. (2000). Sexual identity development in behaviorally bisexual men: Implications for essentialist theories of sexual orientation. Psychology, Evolution and Gender, 2, 263–299.
Malcolm, J. P. (2002). Assessment of life stress in gay and bisexual men with the Gay Affect and Life Events
Scale. Journal of Homosexuality, 42, 135–144.
Pearcey, M. (2005). Gay and bisexual married men’s attitudes and experiences: Homophobia, reasons for marriage,
and self-identity. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 1, 21–42.
Peterson, L. W. (2001). The married man online. Journal of Bisexuality, 1, 191–209.
The JMFT cite is:
Hernandez, B. C., Schwenke, N. J. and Wilson, C. M. , Spouses in Mixed-Orientation Marriage: A 20-Year Review of Empirical Studies. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2010.00202.x