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What ex-gay men can teach us about marriage

"What ex-gay men can teach us about marriage" Continued...

Could it be this good with a man?

The second thing I learned was that gender matters in making closeness in these marriages. This kind of research is great in its allowance of time to listen to one’s interviewees talk, so I got to hear many reasons why these men treasured their wives. As I pressed them about why they felt that they could not share the same intimacy with a man, a host of explanations issued forth. I eventually distinguished 28 distinct reasons for intergendered intimacy. Some of these reasons concerned the essential nature of women, as these men saw it. Others involved their wives’ gendered practices. But even the latter also depended on their being women. It was not just what they did, but who they were, doing what they did, that made these husbands feel, as one confessed, “To depend on her makes me more me.” So discussion of inherent feminine gender traits entwined with the wives’ consciously womanly deeds.

Some explanations were straightforward, such as making a baby together. In one particularly moving account, procreating another person forged powerful bonds within the couple. Other reasons were not so obvious. Men frequently mentioned the absence of competition in life with a woman, a “face-to-face posture,” unique, they felt, to an intergendered relationship, fostering unity. The lack of testosterone-fueled rivalry encourages sharing and vulnerability. A man will more likely confess his inner workings. Explaining how non-competitiveness fostered trust by removing limits to disclosure, one husband appreciated how his wife, just by being a woman, did not try to “one upmanship me in everything, compete, have the upper hand, so I could trust. …” Furthermore, the husband’s identity is cultivated as he is allowed his own uniqueness. These guys really went deep.

“That thing that’s missing, she supplies”

The most frequently identified way that gender distinction promoted intimacy was, simply, differentness itself. “Richness comes from differentness,” they said, relating how each bringing distinct gifts to the relationship fosters unity; how relying on each other’s varied responsibilities builds trust; how his not doing what she does—or not being able to—creates greater healthy dependence; how her gendered acts of service, distinct from his, support him; and how his identity is secured by how he complements her. Men often find sharing internal things tiresome, but these men’s sharing with their wives rocketed, just so they could find out how womanhood responds. Some studies on what heightens sexual passion in marriage show a similar dynamic often at work.[vii] All of these make sense, of course, once these gender-sensitive husbands point them out to us.

Sometimes the men talked about how their wives, in contrast to their male partners, bring an emotional awareness that cultivates companionship: “A woman brings a lot of life.” The exceptional emotional richness of women encourages even deeper sharing and trust: “Most women have the ability to understand and feel things at a different level from men, so I get a deeper connection from her perspective,” and, “Her sensitivities … give me room to risk things that with a man I would never risk.” One creatively pictured the emotional complementarity thus: “Men are like strings, women like balloons. Women rise in lofty splendor, but need the string to be tied down. But men, without them, are just strings dropped in the mud.”

The wife’s virtues, often dissimilar to the husband’s, constituted another locus of rationale for how gender matters. The husbands admired and were advanced by virtues they find unique in women: “Her femininity allows me to let my guard down,” and, “Her … gentle spirit, it invites me in [to a place of] security [that] unites us.” One husband eulogized, “She is very much an undergirding support of everything I do, and very strong. … It’s all very feminine. There is nothing masculine about her strength, which I love. I find … security and support in that.”

Called out by the other

Perhaps the most profound collection of reasons concerned the personal growth these men associated with their intergendered unions: “Her femininity has very much enhanced my masculinity,” and, “It’s not like my wife is particularly more mature than the [men] that I was with. … It’s just the two of us together … having to. … It’s just deeper. It is,” and “A different makeup, her womanhood … increases my understanding and has helped to unravel lies about me.” One of the reasons these husbands first sought an intergendered union was a lack of spiritual growth in their monogendered ones: “It left me self-focused,” and, “To be perfectly honest with you, when I was in a relationship with a man, I wanted a man to take care of me.” Now, instead, her nature, need, service, and desires call forth growth in him to be proactive for her: “Her femininity makes me want to do more … pulls me to where I would want to please her,” and, “The mystery of male and female union … is about ‘other’ … it called out of me fruit … I’m more awakened to being me. I’m a different man.”

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ENDNOTES

[i] In contrast to statistical research, this kind of research interviews a smaller number of people in great depth, hopefully granting a deep understanding of a particular experience.

[ii] The term is coined in Mark A. Yarhouse and others, “Characteristics of Mixed Orientation Couples: An Empirical Study,” Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology 4, no. 2 (2011): 41, 42.

[iii] Ibid., 41.

[iv] Amity Pierce Buxton, “Writing Our Own Script: How Bisexual Men and Their Heterosexual Wives Maintain Their Marriages after Disclosure,” Journal of Bisexuality 1, no. 2-3 (2001): 155.

[v] Mark A. Yarhouse, Christine H. Gow, and Edward B. Davis, “Intact Marriages in Which One Partner Experiences Same-Sex Attraction: A 5-Year Follow-up Study,” Family Journal 17, no. 4 (2009), 330, found a lowering in the mean reported level of SSA from prior to the marriage to later times as the marriage continued.

[vi] In their extensive literature review, former Wheaton College professor of psychology Stanton L. Jones, along with Mark A. Yarhouse, the clinical psychologist who formed the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University, find that “nearly every study ever conducted on change of [sexual] orientation [by SSA people] found some evidence of change,” especially if the attempts were religiously motivated: Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex-Gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 78, 94. Several dozen studies on change in orientation were published in the 1950s-1970s, but serious research disappeared when DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder from its pages in 1973. In the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of such studies, with more rigorous standards and similar results.

[vii] Sabino Kornrich, of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences at Juan March Institute of Madrid, and Julie Brines and Katrina Leupp of the University of Washington, show that American couples with more gender distinct housework arrangements have more (and more vigorous) sex, in Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, and Katrina Leupp, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” American Sociological Review 78, no. 1 (2013): 30, 42-43. To explain their results, they quote Pepper Schwartz to the effect that “introducing more distance or difference, rather than connection and similarity, helps to resurrect passion in long-term, stable relationships,” 30.

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