Joe: To honor myself, and those I share relationships with by being vulnerable, honest, and having integrity. When I sat down with a therapist and shared my struggle with homosexuality, she answered, "I'm honored that you shared your struggle with me." Hearing this, I was able to deepen my vulnerability and be honest with Leigh Anne. By sharing our mutual vulnerability, and honestly communicating with each other, we centered our relationship in integrity.
Leigh Anne: When Joe first came out to me, he said, "I don't know if I'm gay or straight and I've been with a man." After the initial shock, my response was, "I'll stay with you as long as you are in therapy to work it out." I had an intense emotional reaction, but with prayer and therapy, I was able to avoid making any sudden decisions. I learned to be patient with and compassionate toward Joe in his painful coming-out process, while at the same time, expecting him to work out his identity issues. I didn’t blame, but instead took responsibility for working out what I had contributed to the conflict. Through therapy, I began to understand that as an adult child of an alcoholic, I had learned to be blind to what was right before my eyes. Breaking out of denial and learning to see things as they really are, was my part of taking responsibility for the conflict in our relationship.
You two ultimately decided to divorce. What decisions did you make that have had a long-term positive effect on your relationship?
Joe: We made a new vow, to speak and act in loving ways toward each other and about each other, for the sake of our children, and our own health and wholeness. This vow, and our love for each other, created a space for us to change our relationship into a new way of being family.
Leigh Anne: After a year of therapy, Joe became convinced that he needed to embrace his homosexuality to be whole. Knowing that neither of us could be the kind of partner that the other deserved, we decided to release each other from the vows that we made at our wedding. It was a mutual decision, made without malice for the other. Although there is vehement condemnation of homosexuals in my faith tradition, I made a conscious decision to stand against it. I chose not to vilify Joe in any way for being gay, mainly because I didn't want to teach my children by my words or actions to hate. I decided that love would be the filter for all my words and actions to Joe and about Joe from that time onward. This decision paved the way for me to let go of all the hurt that losing our marriage caused and opened me up to the possibilities of love that the next chapter of my life brought to me.
Although your marriage ended under rather unusual circumstances, conflict is universal. Have you learned anything about successfully ending your marriage and creating a new relationship that might have a universal application?
Joe: Yes. I encourage people to remember why they fell in love or what drew them into the relationship in the first place. I fell in love with Leigh Anne's soul: her light, her wisdom, her grace, her unspeakable joy. Treasuring these gifts of her soul helped me treasure the gifts of my soul, and, together, we found healthier ways to communicate our love for each other. Because we love each other, we were able to change our relationship, not end it.
Leigh Anne: Absolutely. Taking care to manage the initial emotional reaction to conflict is a great first step. Talking with a trusted therapist or friend who will help a person think carefully, really helps to calm the emotional intensity of a conflict down. Seeing the person that you are in conflict with as a human being, with his or her own set of struggles, and treating him or her with dignity will speed up any process toward resolution. Taking responsibility for one's self and avoiding blame removes the two biggest road blocks anyone can face in a conflictual situation. Finally, being willing to let go of past hurts and opening up one's life to new possibilities can help any broken relationship enter a season of reconciliation.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Leigh Anne: Successfully navigating through conflict takes two people who are willing to communicate and to be mature. Keep a sense of humor and be willing to learn and change.
Joe: Be kind and gentle with yourself and the other. Honor each other and listen deeply. And, as the spiritual writer, Paul the Apostle, once said, "clothe yourselves in love."