There are not many good things that can be said of AIDS. It is a disease that robs people of not only their lives but before that, their dignity and savings. Of those it touches, it also invades their privacy and that of their families; it exposes to public scrutiny an individual’s sexual life and erotic pleasures. Perhaps one of the positive outcomes of this, however, is it allows sexual behavior to be more openly and candidly discussed and sex education is indeed increasing. In the past, for most Americans, such education was little more than an excuse for teaching menstrual hygiene to girls and indoctrinating boys not to masturbate and stay away from homosexuals and prostitutes. The AIDS epidemic has simultaneously brought to public awareness the large and active reality of homosexuality. It also has alerted the public to bisexuality; being erotically attracted to both males and females. With it, AIDS has not helped give bisexuality a better “press”.
This book is about wives whose husbands are bisexual. It is about women who find the men they live with are erotically attracted to other men; sometimes more than they are to them or other women. At times the men reveal their secrecy. While several other books have dealt primarily with the men and their dilemmas in such relationships, this volume is less involved with the men themselves. And it is not specifically concerned with AIDS, although such issues are discussed. Rather, this book is primarily about the women involved in the literally millions of such marriages. These are women who, often without a previous hint of such concern, are confronted with the reality that such an intimate part of their husband’s life was completely secret from them. And their marriage and families may be severed as a result.
These women, like the men they have married, are your neighbors, friends, fellow workers and members of your own family. They pray as Roman Catholic and Mormon, or Buddhist and Baha’i and every other religion. Some of these women profess no religion at all. They work as politicians, physicians, lawyers and laborers, tailors and teachers. To all outward appearances, the couples discussed in this book are no different from the other married couples you see around you. And you and your marriage may be one of them.
I have said that such couples number in the millions. That is not an idle guess. According to statistics that are seemingly as true today as when first reported by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues, some 1 in 10 husbands is bisexually active. The ramifications of this type of living arrangement, trying to deal with its emergence as a factor to be reckoned with by spouses, and the emotional costs and benefits to each as well as their families, is the subject our author tackles. And she does so with skill and sensitivity.
The book begins with vignettes that speak to the common emotions of wives coming to grips with the knowledge that their husbands have been having affairs with other men. In some ways the experience is akin to finding out that a husband is having an affair with another woman. In other ways it is very different. Unique taboos are being broken and quite new ways of thinking are often called for. Also, the heterosexual affair is much more common. Wives, while typically not approving of such, are usually more mentally prepared – by the media and their own collective experience – for this assault on their marriage and feelings of self worth. Few wives, however, are prepared for the double barrel shock of having to deal with their husband’s infidelity and bisexuality at the same time. And, of late. they often fear the ramifications of AIDS.
On the positive side, dealing with an homosexual affair doesn’t force a women to doubt her own abilities as a woman. She knows no amount of added feminine wiles or “technique” will help. It is not in her power to compete with her husband’s male lover. She is, however, forced to confront her lack of ability to detect this major characteristic and need within someone she thought she knew intimately. She asks herself, “Why me?” And she, like her sister with a husband attracted to another women, also has to decide what to do about it.
More than the anecdotes of a therapist who has counselled couples with marital problems of all sorts, the book offers the results of research. Correspondents and informants were sought out from several cities across the United States. The result is in-depth study of 33 women and an additional 70 studied less intensively. They were older women and younger, those with children and those without, those deeply religious and others who were atheists. The book documents the feelings of women who stayed with their husbands and women who divorced or separated. Some of the women are quite bitter, others more philosophical.
The book describes couples who worked things out satisfactorily and others who were devastated by the experience. We meet couples to whom the revelation was seen as a “growth” experience for the relationship and others to whom the event was cataclysmic, painful and hell. All provide grist from which Jean Gochros offers not only food for thought, but a better and clearer insight into the subject; one which allows a truer picture to emerge. Perhaps the greatest value will be for the involved readers who, for the first time, will be able to see that they are not alone and are offered insights into how they may deal with the situation. There are several different roads that can be traveled. There are options.
There is a need for this book. Bisexuality or extramarital sex and attraction of any sort is not a new phenomenon brought on by the flower children of the 60s or the yuppies of the 80s. It was written of in the Bible and is part of the religious and mystical lore of religions and cultures since time immemorial. And the practices will not go away. What remains current is the emotional price such behaviors extract and the need to have cogent ways to deal with the situation.
The book will be found helpful to men and women in the predicaments depicted, to the families and friends of such couples, and to those of the general population who are trying to understand such conditions. The book will clear away myths and replace them with insight and information. Comparisons and contrasts are given to dealing with any high stress or grief situation. For some the book will even offer hope.
It can be predicted that this book will bother many people. Several underlying theses are certainly controversial. On the one hand, the bisexuality discussed is not condemned outright. Neither is extramarital sex. Indeed, in many ways the author talks of how to preserve the relationship and come to terms with both the bisexuality and extramarital behavior. Sometimes incorporating both into a couple’s marriage is seen not only as a way to save the marriage but even improve it. On the other hand, others will condemn the author for trying to save the marriage at a cost of personal integrity let alone an affront to religious doctrine. The option of remaining together as a monogamous heterosexual couple is at best seen difficult in the light of other research and experience.
And “Why”, argue some gay liberationists or feminists – each from their very different perspectives – “should either man or women, compromise?”. Both groups of activists claim neither needs the other and neither should give in. Either the husband or wife is seen as trying to impose unwarranted restrictions on the other. They are told: “Leave the blighted marriage and follow your own path.” But leaving for those involved is not necessarily any easier than staying.
This brings up another point which the author makes quite strongly. The existing relationship and marriage can be filled with love, fairness, compassion, and understanding or be without these features. The revelation and its aftermath can be filled with growth and warmth or hate and anger. The crises may be of long standing concern and chronic or it may be episodic. And although the overall condition is very common, each couple’s situation is always unique. Advocates, family, friends, strangers, therapists and clergy all might offer advice. Although this input can help, and indeed be crucial for maintaining the husband’s and wife’s sanity and self-worth, it is the two individuals that must themselves come to grips with their plight. Not a how-to manual, this book will, nevertheless, offer some paths and insights helpful in finding a solution.
I think the book will be welcomed by the therapeutic community as well as the much wider population at large. Gochros offers hints on helping technique and perspective But more importantly she offers a philosophical approach and set of caveats. “Don’t”, she warns, “regardless if you are male or female, be a male chauvinist expecting it is only the wife that has to change.” And, she cautions, it is superficial to see this simply as a male-female matter or a heterosexual-homosexual conflict. The problems are those of any two mature people trying to meet their own changing needs as individuals while society changes around them. In this I heartily agree. She sees this phenomenon as part of the broader picture within “liberation ethics”. The broad question remains: “How does a person satisfy his or her own individual needs that might be at odds with another’s?”
Another area, which I fully support, is Gochros’s questioning of contemporary “crisis theory”. Conventional wisdom holds that a relationship crisis will be relatively short lived; over in a few weeks or at most a few months. And it is only during the “crisis” that support is especially needed. Her research has shown, and my own clinical experience supports the contention, that the crisis may persist and remain chronic and long lasting rather than be fleeting. The healing process may take months and even years and be accomplished as much from a therapist’s assistance as the person’s own efforts and developments in the surrounding world. In some cases, aspects of the crises may persist life long.
Gochros ends her book with a plea that deserves emphasis here in the beginning. Basic to solving the problems recounted in this book, she calls for an end to bigotry and intolerance inherent in narrow views of sexual preferences, sex roles, marriage contracts, and just being different. I agree whole heartedly. Such tolerance and understanding will go far to helping solve many relationship difficulties and other problems as well.
Enjoy the book. It has a great deal of human interest and it provides insight into the broad scope of marriage and human relationships in our changing times. It should, as the author hopes. shed light to help prevent future tragedies.