That phrase, "a rough row to hoe," was one of my counselor, Jane's, favorites. Jane would throw in little "witticisms," whenever it suited the situation. If you have ever gardened, you know what it means: a long row of corn or beans has to be tilled by hand, getting out the weeds, turning over the soil with a tool that only works when you work it. In a long row, with the hot sun burning your back and the end of the row obviously not in sight, it can seem like it's never-ending!
Lately I have heard from some married gay men (married to straight women), and they are desperate to be understood by their wives. The ones I hear from usually love their wives, but realize that same-sex attractions are not going away, despite all their best efforts, and truth be told, some of their worst efforts as well.
When I married, I was making the commitment to be faithful to ONE person. That is the vow you take when you stand before, as they say, God and everybody, and declare that THIS one is your one and only. Not merely emotionally, but physically, I was bonded to my husband. This is the expected way of life once one is married, and for Ray and me, it was our mutual commitment. When I learned (after nearly 30 years of marriage) that he was attracted to men, I not only suffered heartache, but as I found what other wives in my situation had endured, in the long run I realized I had a lot to be thankful for - and it was easier for me, in the long run, to be understanding.
With layers and layers of emotion to go through, several things I can look back and realize were helping me to understand. I knew that my husband had put me and our family first during years of effort to remain faithful, and I also believed him because of our history together. This was his EXPECTED marriage commitment, and the history we had created.
Without this history together, my acceptance would have been much more difficult. Even so, once I heard the words, "I'm gay," and learned what that meant, it was very difficult to still believe, "I love you." For me, it took a great effort on the part of my husband (who was becoming my former husband,) for me to believe him, and it took tremendous changes in my mind and in my heart, in order to shift our relationship to a separation. I'm not sure I'm able to get this across, but try to follow me that there were steps along the way that took talking, and actions, and feeble movements of change. It was work - it was a rough row to hoe.
Now let me get back to what I can offer for other couples, those who have loved one another, and have built a life together. When a spouse comes out as gay, the reactions vary, feelings vary, and history varies. There are situations where mixed-orientation couples NEED to stay together: those with children to raise, college tuitions to pay, those whose medical situations, insurance demands, financial situations, public lives, etc., and many other distinct reasons that people relate to.
Sometimes an immediate break happens, and divorce is inevitable. From there a lot can depend on how faithful the parties have been to the marriage relationship. In the cases where relationships OUTSIDE the marriage have transpired, I fully understand the hurt that causes a straight spouse to never understand or want to reconcile in any measure. And it is to those gay spouses that I also, if I may, remind of Jane's old-fashioned saying: You have a rough row to hoe.
Where in my family I had a history of good family life (for me, I thought my life was perfect) and it took months, even years, to be able to accept the truth of, "I love you, but I have to go," other women may find it harder, or even impossible to accept the reasons you have to end your marriage. Giving up a life that I loved and cherished was beyond description, and for others it may be the same or it may be vastly different. For me and for Ray, there is no way we can erase the years we built a life together, and it has been worth it to remain friends. No matter the difficult way it has gone, no matter the fact that we live apart and have new friends in our lives, we are still doing the work it takes to cause no further pain to one another.
At the same time, I don't [yet] offer hope. This is not a great outcome, but the best that we can expect. It sounds so dismal, so I'm not trying to put you all into depression, but there is nothing that SOLVES this dilemna: We love each other, but Ray is gay. Where do you even go with that? There IS NO solution!
My best effort is to support acceptance of young people who are gay, and to support loving, monogamous family life. I hope that those who are drawn to Christian churches will be able to be accepted fully, and to be part of a life they wish for themselves. I don't want gay/lesbian/bi/trans people to carry self-hate, suffer depression, or feelings of being "less than" straight people. And I certainly don't wish for gay people to marry straight ones!
If you, as a gay man, intend to find understanding from your straight wife, (or it may be a lesbian woman with a straight husband) it is going to take work: "a rough row to hoe," - and you can carry out the analogy to whatever way it works for you: pulling out the weeds, chopping up the clods of dirt, caring for the tender plants, sweating under the hot sun.
You are dealing with issues of trust, self-image, and hopefully, love. Every emotion that went in to making your marriage work from the beginning has been trampled, so it seems. If there is relationship to be salvaged, for whatever reasons, or if there is understanding to be gained, I believe it is worth it to work through the pain to keep it.
Regarding the help it will take for the straight spouse to understand, I am not sure what to add. I don't believe that I have some magic formula to prescribe. I offer resources that helped me, because I learned so much and can share those. Because we had the foundation of a life together, I was able to change - and I believe this was due to MANY things that came together.
From here, I keep trying to hoe my row.