Our marriage journey
TFT: Eileen, would you please share a bit about how Tony’s same-sex attraction came into your marriage, and what impact it had on your relationship?
Eileen: I guess, when we got married, Tony was in denial, and I had experienced nothing like same-sex attraction. Then, about six years into our marriage, Tony had a breakdown and everything came out. I had inklings about one of Tony’s friendships being more than just friendship. I remember going to bed some nights and being absolutely terrified that our marriage could end. But God’s grace, His faithfulness and His healing got us through those early years. We had the support of a couple who had experienced similar things. Tony sought help and got involved in Father’s Heart Ministries and Living Waters. That started his journey. At that time, I decided this was Tony’s issue and not mine, so he went and found help. As long as he was getting the help he needed, I was encouraged. We were very busy in church life for many years, and around the year 2000 we experienced a church split. We didn’t go to church for about six years. And that’s when things became far more difficult, and I tried to ignore it!
A few years later, Tony came to the point of leaving me to find the way forward, as his feelings had not changed and he was struggling. During that time, God really spoke to me as well, specifically about my brokenness. It was particularly realising that, although Tony had stuff going on, I did too – I was was really no different. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him before; it was just that I had gained an empathy for him. I wanted to understand more and to journey with him. Tony came to the decision that he wanted to be with me, that it was right and that we do love each other enough to journey together. Since then, we got involved with TFT, and this organisation has featured heavily in our lives and journey. I do still have moments of “ok, what if….” But I know God is greater than it all. I’m just so grateful that we have God in our lives. He will carry us through, and I know that His plans for us far outweigh any fears I have for the future.
TFT: Tony, was your breakdown because you struggled with same-sex attraction and tried to keep a lid on it?
Tony: Very much so! I think that, as well as being in a Pentecostal church and getting regular ‘spiritual’ beatings from the pulpit on sexuality. There was absolutely no safe place to own it, let alone unpack it. That would have meant catastrophe. Also, being in this Pentecostal church since teenage years made it impossible to share.
TFT: When you say “catastrophe”, what might have happened if you had gone and told the minister?
Tony: In my mind, I would have been thrown out of the church. I wasn’t strong enough mentally to deal with anything like that. I got very busy, to the point of burn-out and struggling with anxiety and depression. That’s when I became dependent on another young man in the church, which became more than just emotional. In the end, I got help from someone outside of the church who was a Christian. Over the following year, God used this person to rebuild me to the point of being able to share with Eileen. Another couple who had experienced similar issues just walked with us both and supported us. I did confidentially share with the pastor, who broke that confidence, and remained condemnatory. So, we ended up leaving the church. But, staying together helped to find a firm path for us both, as well as getting help in dealing with childhood abuse I had experienced, which brought emotional restoration.
TFT: Were you communicating during this time?
Tony: Yes, we had gone through the time of confessing and restoration, sharing much of the stuff I was doing through Living Waters. We then went through the church split and were out of a church for many years. This was a time of great challenge and no support. We drew apart, and I struggled and fell. I drank quite a bit as an escape. I made some bad choices, which was when I decided it was time to leave and find a way forward. I couldn’t deny my feelings, and they just wouldn’t go away. What was I supposed to do? I cried out to God! I had struggled since being a teenager, and God hadn’t taken these feelings away! I sensed God point me to the creation story in Genesis. This was while I was looking for excuses to do what I wanted and to see my traditional interpretation of the Bible as wrong. I couldn’t get around God’s intention for a man and a woman. I knew God was revealing a purpose in this for my identity, but I needed to submit it to His will. I needed to stop seeking healing of my same-sex feelings, but instead to experience His wholeness through Jesus. I found peace again! My focus became Him and His promise to give us His best. I could focus on ‘knowing’ through Christ that I am whole, even though in the flesh I’m broken. That’s the only place we can stand as Christians, no matter the issue.
TFT: As that became clear to you, did that feel daunting, or was it a relief?
Tony: I was relieved! Daunted, but that was down to my old way of thinking. I found I was anchored again, which I hadn’t been for a long time. We got back together 16 years ago. We both became involved in TFT, and that’s been amazing. It’s a great place of fellowship and community, being able to journey with others and being able to share a part of ourselves with others.
TFT: Thanks for sharing all of that. Now, some people would describe a marriage like yours as “a mixed-orientation marriage“ since one of you is same-sex attracted and the other opposite-sex attracted. How would you describe your marriage?
Tony: I never think about us being a “mixed-orientation marriage”. Yes, it’s a major part of our lives and relationship. However, our relationship is not just about our sexual identity. It’s about friendship, love and caring for one another. There was a poem read at our daughter’s wedding, which was incredibly powerful. It was all about the fact that marriage moves on from the young, emotion-driven experiences to a more realistic commitment to one another that goes beyond looks and sex. Not that these things aren’t important! We express love in many ways in a relationship. And the longer you are in a relationship, the more ways you find to show and express that love. After 36 years, we still are discovering new ways to show love towards each other.
TFT: Tony, if a Christian man came to you for advice, who was same-sex attracted, but interested in pursuing the possibility of marriage to a woman, what would you want to know about him, and what advice might you give him?
Tony: That is an interesting question. I would ask what he perceives marriage to be about, and why does he want to marry? Is it to overcome his same-sex feelings or to fit into a Christian ideal of marriage? Or is he marrying because he wants to share his whole life with a woman? I think these are questions I would like to scratch around! My situation was that I believed it would ‘fix’ me.
TFT: Eileen, imagine a woman came to you for advice, perhaps the girlfriend or fiancée of the man we’ve just spoken about. What would say to her as she considered whether to marry this man, assuming that otherwise they get along well and are a suitable match for one another?
Eileen: I think I would ask her whether she was prepared to be real about the implications of what it meant, and not go into marriage thinking that it’s going to fix how this man felt. That she would go into it in the reality of what it is. Does she really love this man, and is she prepared to have the grace, compassion and understanding to walk the journey with him? And also to realise that she has needs as well. Is he willing to walk with her as well, because it is a two-way thing?
TFT: Some people don’t think that a marriage like yours can really work in the long-term, or that it’s a sham, just trying to fit in with old-fashioned homophobic attitudes. What would you say to someone who says, “eventually, the gay partner will need to get out of the marriage, causing a lot of hurt to everyone along the way”?
Tony: I guess I’d invite them to our 37th anniversary and show them the scars! Any relationship is a journey. The key thing is whether two people are prepared to work at it. And, as Eileen said, there is more to marriage than just the sexuality. Who’s to say what a sham is? Marriages don’t just fall apart because of issues around one partner’s sexuality - there’s an assumption that this is the case. But there are lots more issues in marriage that might bring it to an end.
TFT: Tony, because of your background in the Pentecostal church and not feeling safe to be open, you didn’t tell Eileen about your attractions before you got married. But what would you say to someone today who has started dating about when they should talk to their boyfriend or girlfriend about their same-sex attractions? Is that something they should say on their first date, or should they leave it a year?
Tony: I think somewhere between the first date and the year! I think once there’s an established idea that this relationship could go somewhere, I think that’s the point where you have to say, “This is where I’m at.” It’s easier for people today to have a discussion in their own head before they get married. Probably one of my regrets is that I didn’t know before we got married. I didn’t have a place to get my head around what it was, because of the world that we lived in.
TFT: What does love in a marriage really mean? Is it having powerful feelings, or is it more a determination to keep going?
Tony: I think it’s a determination to go beyond the issue. The issue is not just about sexuality. I think feelings change and vary, and sometimes you really might not like each other. But love is about a commitment that you make to each other. I think those are things that will keep you focused. Sometimes we’ll get that wrong, and we need to come back to our commitments in our minds and get our priorities right again. It’s also thinking about other people: our children, friends, and so forth. Our faithfulness (or otherwise) impacts them, and it’s good to remember that.
This article was originally published in the winter 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the winter 2021 edition of Ascend