Help! I’m Letting Down the LGBTQ+ Community with My Divorce

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

After two years of trying everything we could to make it work, my wife and I have decided we need to get a divorce. This is the end of a 12-year relationship, much of which was spent in a political climate that didn’t even allow us to get married. Finally, we married in 2012 after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington state. I still look on that day as one of the proudest and happiest of my life, because we felt like we were affirming something we’d known to be true our whole relationship: that we are equal to anyone else and deserve the same rights and privileges. We felt like we were doing our community proud by exercising this right, and we were excited to be living proof of a gay relationship that is just as healthy and successful as any heterosexual relationship. We longed to stick it to anyone who thought gay relationships were doomed or bad for children or threatening to society.

I’m devastated that we’ve ended up showing we’re just like everyone else—just as capable as anyone else of entering into a relationship that ultimately fails. Logically, I know statistically LGBTQ+ people are probably no more or less likely to stay together than anyone else, and that divorce happens all the time regardless of sexual orientation. But emotionally, I can’t help feeling like we’re letting down the LGBTQ+ community by failing to be the exemplary couple we wanted to be. So in addition to the pain of divorce, I’m experiencing grief associated with letting down people who are just like us, who may have looked up to us for taking this step. Can you help me reconcile these feelings and understand why that aspect of this situation is affecting me so much? —Broken Up

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Dear Broken Up,

It sounds like this has been a very painful decision for you and your wife to make. Now that the decision has been made, not only are you dealing with your own feelings of loss and disappointment at the end of your marriage, but you also feel the weighty responsibility of being a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a trailblazer can come with a good deal of pressure. People who are among the first to do something often feel a deep sense of responsibility to do that thing nearly perfectly in order to represent their community well. Anything short of near perfection can feel not only like a personal failure, but a failure to the community as a whole. Marriage is an incredibly difficult endeavor, and despite the very best efforts, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This is not a failure. Sometimes relationships, even marriages, just aren’t the best fit for the people in them anymore. It doesn’t have to mean the union, while it existed, wasn’t real and deep and meaningful.

It seems to me that you have an opportunity to be a trailblazer for your community here, too. Sometimes divorces are ugly and hateful and other times they are respectful and kind, acknowledging the love that was shared as well as the need to move on. You have an opportunity to work to reflect the latter kind of divorce.

It seems to me that you have an opportunity to be a trailblazer for your community here, too. Sometimes divorces are ugly and hateful and other times they are respectful and kind, acknowledging the love that was shared as well as the need to move on. You have an opportunity to work to reflect the latter kind of divorce. While this shift in thinking might help alleviate the disappointment you feel about divorcing as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it also seems important to try to take a look at why this aspect of your divorce is so painful.

You say your wedding day was the “proudest and happiest” of your life because it was an affirmation you were “equal” and “deserve the same rights and privileges.” I find myself wondering if your marriage and your sense of equality have become linked in your mind such that ending your marriage poses a threat to your sense of equality—and perhaps even the equality of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole? Of course, this is not true, but sometimes when things become linked in our minds, strange things can happen. Your equality exists simply because you are human. That is enough.

This is just one hypothesis that may or may not resonate with you. Partnering with a therapist could afford you the opportunity to explore this and other hypotheses in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of this part of your response to your divorce.

Respectfully,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC, is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • Nathan

    February 24th, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    You are not letting the community down
    as a matter of fact I still applaud you for having the courage to live in today’s hostile environment together and still try to make things work out.
    Marriages end all the time in divorce and you should not be made to feel like you have to carry the entire weight of this community on your shoulders.

  • Cheyenne2

    February 26th, 2017 at 1:22 PM

    If you and your spouse did everything that you could to salvage your marriage and still it didn’t work then you should not feel guilty about anything.
    We all go through times like this, times when we feel like because of one or two bad choices we have not only let ourselves down but also let others down as well.
    No one wants you to have to carry this around with you nor would I want to have some one carry that for me.
    We are all responsible for our own actions, and whether or not your marriage succeeds or not has nothing to do with kind of person that you are.
    Chin up- things will always get better!

  • Peter

    February 27th, 2017 at 3:29 PM

    There is always that pressure to make a marriage work out but when it doesn’t work it just doesn’t and it is best for everyone to get out while you still have some dignity and self worth remaining.

  • matt

    February 28th, 2017 at 2:40 PM

    Everything happens for a reason, even a divorce. This could be setting you up to achieve new and even better things in the future. Don’t discount the lessons that you can take away from this one that you could hopefully use again in the future to make your next relationship with someone even better.

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