My Most Sincere Condolences for the Loss of Your Marriage
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
The New York Times published a story called "The Art of Condolence," about how difficult condolences can be to express. How it can be challenging to find just the right words. How awkward it can feel to comfort others in times of loss.
Straight spouses are often on the receiving end of awkward condolences...if they receive condolences at all.
"How did you not know?"
"At least she didn't leave you for another man!"
"You're so lucky you didn't have children!"
"So does that mean you're a 'fag hag?'" (Yes, someone actually said this)
"You must be so happy for him/her finally living an authentic life!"
Insensitive comments and intrusive questions are part and parcel of the straight spouse experience. Although it's not the titillating bit of gossip that it was back in the late 80s when my husband and I split, a marriage ending because one partner is LGBTQ remains a curious anomaly to many.
As Jean Schaar Gochros wrote in her 1989 book, "When Husbands Come Out of the Closet," straight spouses experience a profound sense of "unique isolation." One aspect of this isolation is called "disenfranchised grief"; that is, grief that others - society, our families, our ex-spouses, the LGBTQ community, the church -- don't feel we're entitled to. Because perhaps we're somehow complicit in the deceit. Because we stayed. Because we didn't know. Or because we loved and married a closeted LGBTQ spouse, we deserve ridicule, not compassion. But just as our exes deserve compassion for their struggle, so do the unsuspecting spouses who are left devastated by the truth.
You don't have to make sense of it, because we certainly can't, particularly as it's happening. Instead, you can simply say, "I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what this must be like, but I'm here for you.