My question is this: Why does it seem so difficult to forgive? And what negatives or positives go hand in hand with forgiving? How does this apply to situations of mixed-orientation marriage?
First: Why is it difficult to forgive?
When a spouse comes out, it hurts us, really causing heartache and trouble in our lives, and we have legitimate gripes. Many of us know how heartbreaking it is to realize life can't go forward the way we planned it. We are at risk of loosing our family, our status, our incomes, not to mention the loves of our lives. It feels like we'll never get over it - after all, we've been wronged. When that someone is one we've loved and trusted, it aches in physical and emotional ways. All these things can give us justification to hold on to how we've been wronged.
Often, gay people live double lives. For the straight spouse, this might be the most devastating realization of all. Whether this is known for a long time or a short time, it damages trust and feels like nothing is real, or has been real. The details of the actions of the gay spouse cause real damage to the spouse, the family/children, and often in financial ways. Ongoing problems are often the most difficult to forgive.
Many of us, as church-attending, faithful Christians, have grown up and matured to think and believe that being gay is a sin. This belief is as much cultural as it is religious. However, professional organizations have drawn the conclusion that being gay is NOT a mental disorder, nor is it something that can change through various therapy, prayer, or any kind of effort. If we look honestly at those who are gay, we have to know that they didn't choose their sexual orientation, that they cannot be other than who they are, and it is impossible to hold it against them. (I often say that the Bible is a book to guide our lives, but it is not a sex manual.)
One reaction is to hold it all inside. Many straight spouses go into the closet when a gay spouse comes out. (Read Amity Pierce Buxton's, "The Other Side of the Closet.") It can be isolating to live alone with this truth: My spouse is gay! What am I going to do?
Bitterness can consume us. We can talk up the situation with friends, re-hashing how bad the actions were on the part of the "wronger." Sometimes it might feel great to make ourselves the center of attention, joking at the actions of someone who behaved poorly. At church, for example, how easy it would be to point to the actions of someone who walked away, turned their back, or acted selfishly? And, it can be, in a strange way, comforting to have sympathy from others.
But what happens, and how would that feel when the friends take off, and you have to live with no one but yourself to re-hash? Which member of our families would be better off if we behave that way? What good would be served? Does it really pump your ego to frame the "ex" in a bad light? Will it help make him or her a better person? Ask yourself: Will it make ME a better person? Would it be worth the brief inflation of your own ego? I'd say, "no."
The right thing to do...
Victoria Rosner had to decide whether to allow her young son to connect with his father, after he behaved badly and had had no part in his life for the first two years of the boy's life. She consulted with many people in her circle of acquaintances:
I queried friends, relations, professionals: What would you do? The responses were mixed. A friend said: “How could you let him back after what he did? He doesn’t deserve to know his son.” My mother said, “How can you refuse what might turn out to be a last wish?” And my therapist just said, “You’ll know the right thing to do.”
She knew the right thing to do, and she permitted the father and son to be part of each others' lives. Sadly, the father passed away, and there was even more to deal with: how a pre-schooler deals with loosing his Daddy. Sad, all the way around.
For so many straight spouses, you have been "done wrong." Perhaps you always knew something was amiss. Perhaps you even knew before you were married that your spouse was same-sex-attracted. But so often, one doesn't know, and things happen that are damaging to the relationship - you have every right to leave the marriage. Then again, maybe it's just that the gay spouse needs to leave the marriage, even though they have never engaged in relations or a relationship outside the marriage. In any case, you are the recipient of negative feelings, and you need to forgive him or her of the real, damaging, hurtful wrongs done to you. I understand how you feel.
I get a lot of questions because I have forgiven my ex-husband. In a way, I didn't even have to forgive him because I chose to understand. Even so, I decided early on to NOT hold it against him that our marriage was to end. I decided early on to NOT implicate him as responsible, because he did not choose to be gay. So, I forgave him for what? For being honest? Or for not telling me sooner? Yes, for all that, and more, which I had to give up: an intact family, a life-partner, status at church and in our community. Income. His company day-to-day. ALL that changed, and I forgave him.
I now benefit from a free conscience and relief of not carrying with me the heaviness of being a victim. I benefit by being able to hold my head up and talk openly about my situation, but without vengeance. I benefit with an ongoing, healthy relationship with my ex, and I don't blame him for our break-up. With forgiveness I can go forward, hoping that I've done the best I can with a difficult situation. I think forgiveness is worth that kind of living. I recommend it.