This is part I of a two-episode series with Dr. Ty Mansfield and his wife Danielle where we talk about their personal experience with their mixed-orientation marriage.
In this episode, we explore Ty and Danielle's personal journeys, how far Ty has come with his own journey of healing and growth, as well as Danielle’s perspective as a wife of a man who experiences SSA. We talk about spirituality and God's love, vulnerability, intimacy and growth. What are the challenges of going into a mixed-orientation marriage, and how can we navigate that? How can we cultivate more intimacy in this marriage context? How do we deal with other people's assumptions and judgments? These and other relevant questions are explored in this episode.
Assalamu alaikom warahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh, and welcome back to “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, this podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and Islam. I'm your host, Waheed Jensen, and thank you for joining me in today's episode. We continue our series of episodes addressing the larger community, including parents, family members and spouses. As you guys remember, in the previous episode, we had a full episode directed to spouses of individuals who experience same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, and in today's episode, we continue this discussion with an interview with Ty and Danielle Mansfield.
Dr. Ty Mansfield is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and an adjunct instructor at Brigham Young University. He is also a co-founder, past president and current board member of the nonprofit North Star, which is a faith-based support organization for Latter-day Saints addressing sexual orientation or gender identity. He chronicled his own journey with same-sex attraction as a co-author of the book In Quiet Desperation, which was published in 2010, with a focus on personal narratives and faith-based approaches addressing sexuality and gender. And he compiled the anthology called Voices of Hope, which was published in 2011, and this is an anthology of personal essays on the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity. He directs the “Voices of Hope” project, which is a website extension of the book, as well as the “Journeys of Faith” project which features the stories of transgender members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also part of the “Reconciliation and Growth project”, which is a dialogue group between LGBTQ-affirmative and religious conservative mental health professionals who have developed an ethical mental health treatment protocol for working with individuals experiencing conflict between their faith and their sexuality and/or gender identity. Ty and his wife, Danielle, and their five children live in Provo, Utah.
I've had the honor of speaking to Ty and Danielle, the conversations have been so rich that I just had to divide the content over two episodes. These two episodes, they're not to be missed. There's so much to learn from all of these conversations. Whether you are an individual who experiences same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, whether you are contemplating marriage, or if you are in a mixed-orientation marriage, if you are an individual who doesn't struggle with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria but you have a spouse who does, or if you're a parent, family member, friend, teacher or community leader, whoever you are, there's so much to learn from these two episodes, inshaAllah, this one and the upcoming one. So, they are not to be missed. We talk a lot about Ty's personal journey, Danielle's personal journey, how they came together, Danielle’s perspective as a wife of a man who has same-sex attractions, Ty’s perspective as a husband and father dealing with that, and how he has come to where he is right now, together with his wife and his children. We talk about spirituality, we talk about sacrifice, we talk about God, we talk about love, vulnerability, healing, growth and recovery. There are so many gems in these episodes. So yeah, let's get started!
Dr. Mansfield and Mrs. Mansfield, thank you so much for joining me on “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, and welcome to this episode!
Ty and Danielle 04:19
Thank you. Thank you. We're happy to be here.
Thank you so much. We're going to be talking about so many things related to your life. We're going to be addressing some issues related to marriage, same-sex attractions, your individual stories, your collective stories together, the challenges you've faced before marriage, within marriage, within your community, the role of faith and God in your lives, as well as the projects that you are leading within the Mormon community. So, let's start in general, I'll start with Ty: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you have come to where you are right now?
Okay. I'll give you the digest version. So, I was born and raised in Utah, United States, in a Latter-day Saint family. And we lived here most of my life, we did a bit of a stint in Japan, my dad works for a company that was contracted by the military, so we lived over there for about two and a half years when I was younger. But other than that, my life was in Utah, in the United States. I graduated from high school, went to Brigham Young University for my undergraduate and served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The same-sex attraction, I think, was not on my conscious radar for most of that. When I was in high school, there was certainly like, I would notice other guys and things like that. I didn't quite know how to make sense of it, and how I've interpreted that in story has kind of changed over the years.
There was a period of time when I identified as gay. This time, I did not. I always had this feeling that I wanted a family; I wanted to get married, and I wanted to have kids. I could imagine that, conceptually, I could imagine that, I could imagine being happy in a marriage, but there was this idea of dating where there was just this block, like I just didn't, I wasn't attracted to women. I had lots of girlfriends, dated a lot. You know, in our community, teenagers are encouraged to do a lot of social dating, not to get serious or to pair off per se, but to do a lot of like, you know, to get exclusive, but we were encouraged to date a lot. And so I did and got to know a lot of girls. It was a good social experience, but I never really found myself romantically or sexually drawn, and we weren't supposed to, anyway, so that was kind of easy for me.
The focus for me was mostly just getting to know people. You know, the idea in our culture is to prepare for a mission. So, my focus was just having a good social experience, and then preparing for these two years that we typically serve as a missionary for the Church. And so I did a year of university, still wasn't conscious of anything. I mean, it was sort of there, but in the backdrop, I didn't know how to make sense of it, and whatever it was, I wasn't going to let it get in the way of these goals, i.e. to get married and have a family. And so, after my mission, though, that's when dating becomes intentional and serious. Now you're not just dating for social experience, you're dating to get married. And that's when it started to feel like more of a block, and that block became more pronounced and more distressing. But I still didn't quite know how to make sense of it.
This was still kind of back in the early days of the internet. So, I had a brief exposure to pornography when I was 11, when we lived in Japan, and it was heterosexual stuff, and I found myself kind of drawn to it, but I was like 12 years-old. So it was mostly like seeing an adult naked male, like that kind of thing was just like… I hadn't seen anything like that before, so I kind of fixated on that a little bit. But then pornography just wasn't accessible beyond that, when we moved back to the United States. So, even before my mission, I'd never had internet. So, it wasn't until after I got home that I was even really exposed to pornography much. So, as I was dating, I really wanted to get married, and there were girls that I thought were really just aesthetically beautiful, but I just still felt this block. And, at one point, I just realized that this was becoming more conscious, and I started to feel more of a pull around it.
And so, at one point, I went to go visit a - kind of a minister, it's called a bishop in our church – so I visited a bishop, because I had always had this little inner dialogue that would run through my head occasionally, you know, “If I had the opportunity to be physical with a man, would I?” And I could always say “no” in my head. because I thought this was a spiritual problem, and I thought, “If I can just be more spiritual and pray more and read Scripture more, and go to the temple more and do more ritual ecclesiastical worship, this should decrease.” But that wasn't happening. It was increasing, the feelings were increasing rather than decreasing. And so, at some point, I think I just had a bit of an existential crisis when I couldn't say “no”, because, again, that now disrupted this entire story that I was living within. The paradigm wasn't working; I didn't have another paradigm. So, I eventually would talk to the bishop, and then he recommended a counselor.
So, I started seeing a counselor, and that was helpful to some degree, it was very cognitive, kind of a cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy. It helped work through some of the shame, because I was at least talking about it, but it didn't change any of the feelings. And I still felt very alone, I'd never met anybody else. So, probably about a year into that, maybe a little longer, I tried looking for other people, and this is all pre-social media, I didn't know of groups, you know, so it's hard to find other people. But then most people who are kind of open and talking about it, at least at the time, there certainly weren't resources or groups, that I was aware of, for people who were trying to navigate this within a faith perspective. It was mostly like dating websites. So, to find people, if I could find people, to find people who wanted to navigate this in the way that I was hoping to, I just couldn't. So that increased some of that feeling of isolation.
And then, eventually, I just kind of broke into the weight of that, I just thought, “I've got to figure this out!” So, I kind of started exploring dating with guys, for about a year, and then into that, I had some very powerful, mystical and spiritual experiences with God, with God's love, and at one point, one of them was, “Don't worry about marriage, it's okay if you don't marry. I just want you to focus on Me.” And there was something in that spiritual experience that I had that just took all the pain, and everything kind of melted away. I felt at peace, because in our culture, there's such a strong [emphasis on marriage], our doctrine of marriage, that marriage isn't just for life or mortality, it's for eternity. So, that's a lot of pressure, right? When we're talking about dating, and in our culture, there's a very strong focus on marriage. And so, to have all of that pressure, it was what I wanted anyway. So, the idea of not being married just had never felt okay.
But in this experience, I think it just took God just kind of taking and working on my heart in that way, and to feel fully at peace. “If I never get married - I really kind of believe that I wouldn't - it's okay, I just wanted to be able to live my faith in a life-giving way.” I wasn't open to just white knuckling. But I felt at peace that I could have a meaningful life and meaningful relationships if I didn't get married. And so, I kind of continued to move forward in that, and Danielle and my story only kind of briefly intersected in that. Actually, before my mission, I was friends with her brother, we were in a choir together, and he had invited me to sing with him and some of his brothers and another sister who was going on a mission, and so we sang in their church. And I met the family, met Danielle, very, very briefly, I think we probably shook hands and said “Hi”, I don't remember anything else. I loved this family, but that was it for like the next 10 years. Like, very brief. And certainly there was nothing, no intimation that we would ever get married.
But then, as I had this spiritual experience and felt kind of at peace, moving forward, that became the focus of my life. “How can you be a happy, healthy, single person who is living a chaste, celibate life?” And this is just me. I mean, now I'm a therapist, and I have a lot of therapeutic understanding and more human developmental understanding. At the time, I'm just a kid who's trying to do his best, so there's a lot of naivety and all of that, but that's what I was trying to figure out. I didn't have the words for it then, but even to just integrate your sexuality and to feel sexually whole, if you're not having sex - because I think, in our culture, that's how you're sexually whole; you just have to be having sex. When I say our culture, I mean, like, broader, at least Western culture. And so, that idea of “How do I do this in a healthy way?” just became the journey.
So, after I graduated from university, I moved to Washington DC, continued to see a therapist out there who identified as a former homosexual - and I wasn't looking necessarily for therapy with a former homosexual, I mean, I was kind of at peace with myself, I wasn't looking to even change my sexuality, I was just trying to figure out how to do life in a happy, whole way. And that also felt like an important starting point for me, because what I see a lot in a lot of “ex-gay” communities or like “unwanted SSA”, there's still this kind of shame that continues to fuel people's drive, and I don't see that as sustainable. I think, certainly, living within your faith is sustainable, but it has to come from a place of sufficiency, not deficiency. I see that a ton in “unwanted SSA”, “ex-gay”, etc., you know, different people identify and use different language, but I don't see that as sustainable.
At this point, even as I really recommitted to my faith, I identified as “gay”. I was doing this as a “gay man”, and continued to do some therapeutic work. Again, this individual that I was seeing, I just had kind of a spiritual draw to this individual. I didn't know them, but I just had this kind of spiritual impression like, “I needed to meet with them.” And I didn't know what the goals would be, I didn't know what the focus would be, I just had this recurring spiritual impression that I needed to seek them out. I wasn't sure what that meant, if I was supposed to start therapy with them, or just have a conversation or what, but ended up starting therapy with this individual. And their approach to therapy was much more attachment-based, a lot of deeper emotional work, and that's when that kind of inner transformation started to happen for me, and I started to feel that the pull of the attraction just started to lessen. But even now, I still find men sexually attractive, but it's not a need, it doesn't feel like a pull, it's not something I feel like I have to have in order to be happy. It's just like, you know, any sexual person is going to find lots of people attractive, right? Someone who's attracted exclusively to women is going to continue to find women attractive, even once they're married, but they're focusing that, they're not just out there doing whatever they want, ideally.
So, that pull just lessened over time. But that kind of block with women, that decrease in that pull [towards men] didn't necessarily also translate into finding women more attractive sexually, or romantically, at least. But I felt that the conflict was decreasing in a way that this idea of “I can do this in a way that can feel healthy.” And I spent about two years with that therapist. And that was, again, a very healing time for me. And at the same time, the idea of a gay identity started to feel a little more suffocating. Like, I just wanted to be me, I didn't want to have to be “straight”, I didn't want to be “gay”, I just wanted to be me and let my experience be what it was. And all the labels, and the boxes, and the way we talked about this as a culture, just felt a little oppressive. And while this was happening, I had another very kind of clear spiritual impression that, if I continued to identify as “gay”, that would limit my progression.
So, I just made a very conscious decision at one point that I was going to not identify as “gay”. But it wasn't my goal to then “become straight”. So, it was more of “I just want to be me, figure me out and do me in the healthiest way possible”, and all of this felt really good. Looking back, I think it was very much a God journey as much as it was a therapeutic journey and all these other things. Like I felt God has been with me all along the way, kind of giving me little pieces that would help me kind of take the next step. But I was single for about seven years. And I know you're familiar with, you know, I think I've seen you interviewing some people, “People Can Change” that’s now “Brothers Road”, and “Journey into Manhood” (JIM) community. Also, somewhere in this, I did the “Journey into Manhood” weekend, and then I did the “New Warrior Training” adventure, and both of those in this spirit of this deeper emotional work, recognizing my shadows, I didn't have any language for this. The idea that we have emotional needs, that was a totally foreign concept, right?! I didn't know. I mean, I grew up in a… I wouldn't say entirely emotionally repressed family, but we didn't talk about emotions. I mean, people have emotions, but like in terms of being able to work through them, or that they have a need that they're trying to communicate or something, that we could listen and then work into emotional wholeness, I had no frame for any of that.
So, the idea of emotional needs, and that there are ways that you can identify those and meet those, including meeting needs for healthy emotional connection and intimacy with other guys, and that I could do that in platonic ways that felt congruent with my faith. I mean, I just didn't have a frame for any of that. So that became a big part of my focus, and I think the therapeutic work that I was doing, as well as some of the concepts from JIM and even “New Warrior”, in terms of understanding shadows and doing shadow work and all that, that was all, again, little pieces that were all kind of converging and intersecting that were really helpful to me.
At some point in there, I had started to be more open about my own story, and then people started to reach out to me. And, again, I’m just this kid who was in my late 20s, at the time, and I was learning a lot about my story, but I didn't know how to help other people. And I started to then kind of think like, “I probably need some better tools.” So, my undergraduate work was actually in business and Chinese studies. So nothing therapeutic. That's kind of why I moved to DC, because it was like this melting pot, political, ethnic, religious, you know, social, and I loved that, I loved the diversity there, and that was one of the things that drew me there. But I always saw myself working for the State Department, that was kind of my goal. But in this, I had this kind of feeling like, “Okay, maybe I'll go back to school in family therapy”, and that felt really right.
So I went back to school. Again, I was a single guy, probably wasn't ever going to get married. But I was drawn to family therapy, because it's very systems-focused. People are wounded in relationships and heal in relationships, it's much more relational-focused than intrapersonal-focused, and that was what I was getting a lot out of JIM and New Warrior and just all of this stuff. So that approach was very appealing to me. So I went back to school, got my master’s, and, again, I'm this single guy, and then I was kind of turned on then to work on kind of some Eastern contemplative practices, mindfulness, and even turned on to some of Rumi's work. And that kind of contemplative approach to life, I felt kind of led to that too, and that became a very important part of my journey.
And so, all these little pieces, again, kind of converging, you know, “Today's minute today, tomorrow's minute tomorrow”, I was kind of learning, “Okay, you've got to learn to take life a day at a time”, and that the God journey is really trusting that God will give you today's bread today and tomorrow's bread tomorrow. And then, at some point - I don't know how “digest” this is, as this is obviously maybe a little longer than I was thinking! - but at some point, in my master’s, I'd never thought of going on to get a doctorate. But it was in my master's program that, all of a sudden, it started to feel like a really positive next step, and so I moved to another university where I started my doctorate. And it was then, in that first semester, that I started kind of reconnecting with Danielle. I had run into her briefly at one point, and we ran into each other in a store, and she's like, “Are you Ty Mansfield?” And I was like, “Yeah!” And she looked familiar, but I couldn't place her. She's like, “I'm Clint’s sister” or “Olivia’s sister” - Olivia is the other sister.
I said “I was a Palmer."
Yeah, she said she was a Palmer. But I knew what that meant, because I knew the Palmers, and I love the Palmers. So, I was like, “Oh, how’s your family?” We had this sweet exchange, it was brief, but it was kind of fun to reconnect or re-intersect with this family that I really loved.
It was when he was doing his pre-requisites for his grad program.
Yes. Before I did my master's, so this was just before my master's program. Fast forward, and then she had added me as a friend on Facebook because of that, it was just like, “Oh, let’s reconnect”, but it was just occasional interactions on Facebook, but she's very witty and very funny, and sometimes she would say things that I would just find myself like, a day or two later, I would still just be smiling when thinking about this thing that she had said that was funny. But that was probably a handful of interactions over two years, right? But then that first semester of my doctoral program, and I was living in Texas, and she was kind of in Utah but staying with a friend in another part of Texas. But we weren't in the same place. She had got her master's in business and was working as a recruiter for a company, and was thinking about… Actually why don’t you say this part of your story?
Yeah, so I don't even know why I did this, but I went and got a master's degree in business. I think I was like enticed by the potential income. Because it's not me.
It's not her personality.
It's not my personality. And even in business school, I was kind of miserable, but I thought, “If I can find the right job, then I'll be happy.” And so, I was working as a recruiter for Hewlett-Packard, actually, after my grad program, and I was miserable. I hated it. Just nothing about business felt good to me, I didn't enjoy it, I was pretty sad in my job. And so I reached out to Ty, because I realized I had become kind of a point person for friends who would come to me with their problems. And I had had therapy in my 20s and during grad school, because I was so miserable, I had really gotten into therapy. And so, I had some kind of knowledge, I was self-aware, and I could usually help people try to figure out stuff, and I thought, “You know what? I should get paid for this!” And so I reached out to Ty and said, “What's the path to therapy? I have no concept of how you become a therapist. What do I need to do to become a therapist? What did you do?” And he was like in the midst of finals, and he said, “When we're both home in Utah, I'll take you out for your birthday, and we can talk about it then.”
Because I knew her birthday was in December, I was going back for Christmas break between semesters.
And I would go home too, because my family lived in Utah.
And that was it. But it was also sort of a weird …. Because again, so much of this journey, for me has been very spiritual, this kind of spiritual overlay has been really kind of the key component. But even in those interactions, I had this kind of feeling, and this always feels weird to tell people, because when you've never been on a date with somebody to say that you think you're getting married feels crazy. But I just had this really kind of subtle [feeling], “I think this is who I'm gonna marry”, and I didn't know what to do with that, and I was very cautious in how I interpreted that, I didn't want to read too much into it. But it was kind of this undercurrent to some of these conversations. And then I remember this prayer where I was like, “Okay, God, if there's something here, I will do my part. But You have three weeks to do yours.” So I was going to be in town in Utah for only about three weeks, and I had told her, “We can go out for lunch”. And that was part of my thinking, because I was like, I could have answered her questions there, but in some of these conversations, I was like, maybe if there's a chance here, this would be better to have in person. So, I just said, “Let's go out”, I knew her birthday was going to be then. So, “I'll take you out for your birthday, and we'll just talk about how to do therapy, and MFT (marriage and family therapy)/educational stuff.”
Can I just say, we never talked about how to become a therapist, ever! We never talked about it. We still have never talked about it.
The only thing was that she thought she might want to be a therapist, but we've never talked pathway.
Oh, so you're not a therapist! Okay, interesting.
Yeah, she continued for the first two years in business, she continued to kind of work in her MBA school, and then once our second child was born, she stayed home full time, and she's been home full-time since then. So, we went on this date, we had lunch and just talked, and it was a lot of catching up. So then, I asked her out again, and at one point, I think it was maybe four or five days in - I was being very intentional about this, and I was also giving myself space, because I can put a lot of pressure on myself for things too, and so I was very intentional about giving myself permission, this had to be inside-out. I wasn't going to do this because I should; it was important to me to do it because it was something that I wanted, not because of pressure from someone else or even pressure from myself. And I think that inside-out, internal motivation, again, I didn't have all the language for this, at the time, but that was very important to me. It also bears out satisfaction and stability with mixed-orientation relationships. But we can talk about that in a little bit.
And Ty also, at some point, you know, in all this journey, he had actually said to himself, “I'm never going on a date again, unless I actually want to, like I will not go on a date just because I feel pressure, or because someone wants to set me up. I'm not interested in any of that anymore.” Because, culturally, people are always like, “Get married, get married, get married! Are you married? Are you dating somebody?” So, he was just like, “I'm just not going to participate in any of that, unless I actually want to go on a date.” And all this, I had no idea. So let me just interject really quickly here – Ty and I met when he was pretty close to 19 and I was 20. He was in the BYU Men's Chorus with my older brother, and we loved BYU Men's Chorus. So, we would go and watch their practices, we would go to all their concerts, my sister, my best friend and I. And we knew who Ty was, because he sang two solos that year, and we thought he was like really cute. All three of us had a crush on him.
And I didn't know any of this for like the next 14 years later.
Yeah, so we all thought that Ty was really great, and when my sister went on a mission for our church, we had told my older brother, “We really like this song that the men's chorus sings, if they could come sing in our congregation the same day that she's talking to everybody about going on her mission. That'd be awesome. Please make sure Ty Mansfield is one of the guys that you invite to come sing.” So that's the only reason that he and I ever met. And it was when he had probably just barely turned 19. It was the month that he turned 19.
Prior to that experience, I had no idea who she was. I was friends with the brother, but I didn't know anything about his family and all that.
And somewhere in all of this, Ty wrote his book, In Quiet Desperation. And you know, everybody goes their different ways after college, and that was actually how our family learned that Ty even experienced same-sex attraction, through him publishing a book. And so we read the book. I mean, I have ADHD, so I read most of it. And we all loved it. And we just thought, “Wow, he's such a great guy!” We thought he was amazing before, but like realizing that he's gone through all this experience, that he was on his own for so much of it, like our heart just really went out to him. And we talked about it as siblings, and just like “Ty Mansfield is a really great person!”
And so during like that time, after we had reconnected briefly in “Bed, Bath and Beyond”, I actually sent him a Facebook post one time, and this was back when everything was public on your profile, everything you ever wanted to say, you said it in front of the world. And I just kind of had been talking to my older sister about my dating situation, and, you know, here I was, early 30s, single, and she had just said something like, “God! It’s too bad, you know, Ty Mansfield’s gay or whatever, because he's such a catch”, or something like that. And so, I wrote on his wall - and this is totally kidding, because like gay people don't get married to straight people, right? - and so I was totally kidding, but I just wrote something on his wall, like “I know you love my family, you know I'm your last hope to become part of my family.” Like, this is like a joke, because, obviously, he has no interest in becoming part of my family or marrying a girl. And it wasn't like totally off the wall. It was just kind of like, “Hey, my sister and I were talking, hahahaha!”
So, anyway, that's the context for my understanding of where Ty was and how any of this worked. I didn't know anything about mixed-orientation marriages, I didn't know they existed, I had no idea that someone was same-sex attraction could feel some level of attraction to a member of the opposite sex, even if they weren't bisexual. I had no idea about any of this.
Didn't you say something at one point that you hadn't even met somebody who stayed in the church? To say nothing about getting married.
Yeah, like I just didn't know anybody who…
Like, in her frame, same-sex attraction or if you identify as “gay”, the people that were her reference point were people who just left and pursued relationships, to say nothing of like actually staying involved and active in their faith, right? If I remember that correctly.
Right. I think at that time, you know, this is like, I mean, I was going to say it's the early 90s. It wasn't like early 90s, but this was still a time when I think just nobody talked about it. The only way you ever talked about homosexuality was to say like, “Oh, that's so bad! Why would you do that?! Why would you choose that for your life?!” It was just this time when people just didn't understand a lot about it still, and so when Ty and I both came home from Texas - we were six hours apart in Texas, so we never saw each other in Texas - but when we both came home from Texas, and Ty and I went on a date, I didn't think it was a date, and we went out several times during the Christmas break, and I was like, “Wow, this is like, I know he has a lot of friends. And I know lots of people like him. This is like really nice of him to be spending so much time with me!” That's actually what I thought, I was just like, “How generous of him and so kind to give me so much time!”
The kind of the joke is, I was dating her long before she was dating me. She was just saying “Yes, and I’m happy to spend some time.” So, the whole thing for me, personally, was “I'm not dating just to date. No shoulds.” And I had to keep checking in with myself, like “Do I want to go on again? Do I want to spend more time with her? Do I want to get to know her better?” And as long as the answer was “yes”, I'd ask her out again. And if the answer was “no”, or like “yes, but I also want to spend some time with other people” or else, that inner kind of dialogue was a big part of this. But I did, I did want to keep spending time with her. So, I would keep asking her out, and she's just, again, being nice. You know, “Why is he asking me out? But hey, I like him. He's nice, too. And so I'll keep saying yes.” And then, at some point, it was actually over New Year’s, right? Isn't that the time?
Yeah, Ty had asked me to come to a party at one of his friend's houses on New Year's Eve, and one of my grad school friends was in town, and I said, “Can I bring my friend?” And he said, “If she brings her own date”, and I was like, “Oh, okay! Alright!” So, I talked to my friend, and she's like, “Well, we'll just get together another time”, and so I went to this date with Ty that I thought was really interesting that he wanted to have like a one-on-one date with me, and all of our other dates had been one-on-one, but I had felt like that was more coincidental than intentional. Like, I didn't realize that, you know, there was a plan behind this. And so I went to the New Year's thing, and it was all couples, and it was not like a New Year's party. It was a New Year's dinner, and everyone was coupled, and people were saying things like, “Oh, it's so nice to meet you. I've heard so much about you!” And I was just like, “Why? Why would you have heard about me? Like, this is so weird!” And so I was just sitting there the whole night being like, “What is going on?”
And just to give you some context, this dinner was mostly like a lot of my friends who also experience SSA but who are also married. So, I would say most, not all, but probably most of these were other friends of mine that were also in mixed-orientation marriages, and that's because those were the only people - what I was exploring with her was very much something I kept very private, because I didn't want anybody else's opinions. This was my journey. I didn't care what other people thought, even my parents. At one point, years earlier, I told my parents, I was like, “If I ever get married, I'll tell you. Until that point, this conversation is off limits.” So, my parents didn't even know that I was dating her until we got engaged. But I had this kind of very small handful, two or three other friends, that I would just kind of pepper questions with, that I could ask, and it was really nice to have people who were in happy marriages to be able to say and ask lots of different things.
But anyway, so this dinner was with people who were in similar circumstances, and they knew that I was exploring this, and I would talk about her and I would even process dates with them and with some of the wives, because she would say things that were really flirty, but it could also just be like nice. It was hard to tell what was flirty and what was just her being really nice. And they'd be like, “Oh, she's totally interested, etc.” and like, anyway, she wasn't, it was just her being nice. So, they were kind of feeding this along, but there was just a very small handful of people that I trusted to want to invite into this journey with me.
Yeah, so I went on this date, and I remember, after dinner, you know, people were just kind of like hanging out and talking, and it was towards the end of the night, and two of the wives I was just chatting with, this was the first time I'd ever met them, and at this point, I realized this is a date date, and so these girls said to me, “So you know about Ty’s SSA right?”, and my response was, “He wrote a book! Doesn’t everybody know about his SSA? Of course I know about his SSA!” And then I went home that night, I was driving myself home, because Ty was staying with the family at whose home the dinner was, he was staying at their house. So I was going home in our way. So I drove home, and I remember calling my best friend who was also a Ty Mansfield fan back when we were sophomores or whatever it was at BYU. I called her and was like just talking to her about this, and she was like, “Oh, my gosh! You won! You totally won! Ty Mansfield likes you!”, you know, like out of all three of us, I won the Ty Mansfield prize. And I remember talking to her and just feeling like kind of upset, because I was like - so my best friend’s name is Natalie, her husband's name is Ryan – “Why do you get to marry Ryan who loves you so much, and I am supposed to marry someone who doesn't love me?” And I actually got kind of mad, and I was like, “I have to talk to you later.” Like, I didn’t want to have this conversation anymore. And so, I hung up, and I went home, and I was just like, “What in the world is going on?”
And so, I turned to the information resource of the world: Google, And I just like googled just whatever it was - I didn't know that expression “mixed-orientation marriage” at that time – so I think I looked up things like “gay and married” or “Mormon”, I googled Ty's name, and I just like read a bunch of different things that night, just looking, and I found a website of women who had been married to men with same-sex attraction, women of my faith, Latter-day Saint women, who had been married to men with same-sex attraction, who were all now divorced, and just like kind of a bitter website, talking about like, don't do it, whatever. And I remember looking at this website, and my first impression was to feel like the sense of dread. And then I just remember thinking, “This is not your story. Their story is not your story. Your story doesn't have to be this story.” And I think I just thought, “Yeah, this has nothing to do with me.” And I left that web page, and I just started looking at other things.
But I think I spent all night just looking at different things, reading blog posts that Ty had written, reading different things. I think, at that time, the nonprofit that Ty and some of his friends have started, North Star, was still very small and grassroots at this point, where they had like a little bit online with a couple of blog posts that people had written. And so I just was going through North Star stuff, trying to read things, which, you know, this is my stalker mentality like that. I try to figure out all the information I can in the background. So, later, Ty would say things like, “I read that in a blog post”, of course, I knew about that. But yeah, I spent all night just trying to read things and understand things. Then, Ty had left shortly after that to go back to school, and I sent him like a note - this is so embarrassing now, and he probably has this card somewhere and I'm like, “I hope to never see it, feel free to burn it!” - But I just sent him a card, because I was trying to be, you know, polite and whatever, and be gracious, and I just said, “Thank you so much for all your dates.”
We've been on probably nine dates. This was like a dating blitz. And at the end, I think we kind of had a sense that we were still like, I knew that I liked her, and I think I sensed that you liked me. But I was going back to Texas, like there's no real sense of what that was going to mean. But then we had this conversation that she's talking about.
Yeah, and I also need to say that I had dated. So I dated some nice people who were just kind of their own mess or who just were not really a good fit for me. I dated lots of guys like that throughout the years, and probably in the month of December, or November and December combined, the month before Ty and I started dating, I probably went out with maybe four or five guys who were really high caliber guys who all at least had their bachelor's, some of them had their masters, and they all had jobs. They all were faithful in our religion, and they were all really nice, really good guys. So, I'd gone out with all of these really great guys that I had really liked at different times, and then Ty was kind of the last date that I went on. And then once Ty and I went on our first date, I didn't go out with any of these other guys again during that Christmas period. So I'd gone on all these sorts of dates with Ty, and I was really drawn to him, and so I sent him this card that basically just said, “I had really hoped that you liked me.” I kind of felt sad for myself, you know, and some slightly better verbiage, you know, and just “Thank you for all the dates. I feel sad for myself blah, blah, blah”, and then I sent him the card. And then he got the card. And now it totally…
I had said nothing up to this point that I didn't like her, or that I wasn't interested. This is all…
We’ve basically gone on dates and had no conversation about what it meant or anything like that.
But this is her kind of story of like “People don't do this”, I think. Right?
Yeah, and then just being like, well, he's going back to Texas now, and I don't know what that was. So, “Anyway, have fun in Texas, have a nice life!” So that's what I'm thinking. And so I sent him this card, and now I get it, knowing Ty’s personality, I totally get it that I was hoping that I could just like send this little passive-aggressive card and be like, “I got the last word!” And that's not what Ty does. Ty’s very direct, and we'll just like talk about things, and so I guess Ty was like, “So what did you mean?” So anyway, he said, “Well, I'm coming down to Provo to meet with one of my professors, and why don't we, if we have time, let's go out to eat after I meet with this professor.” And had like this really tiny window, and I was like, “Okay, well just let me know!” And he went to meet with the professor, and the professor was nowhere around. So he went to see another professor and another professor, and it was kind of like, not fate, but that nobody could meet with him, and so he had this bigger block of time than he thought he would.
And so he called me and we went out, and he's like, “So what did you mean?” I was like, “Well, I just wanted you to like me”. He's like, “And what if I do?” And I said, “No, I mean, I wanted you to like me like me, like a guy likes a girl!” And he’s like, “And what if I do?”, and I was just like, “I don’t know! I hadn't thought through it that far!”. And so, then we had to have a talk about, like what does this mean? And basically, we left it at that, he was like, “I want to see where this can go”, and I was like, “Me too”, and we're going back to our lives. So “See ya later!”
So he went back to Texas, and I was like, “This is not gonna work!” and one of my really good friends, thinking like, this is not going to work for us to figure this out with him in Texas and me and Utah. And, at this time, I was going to move back to Austin full time, I had already kind of made the decision, and I'm like, “Okay, well, now this throws a wrench in things, I need to figure out what's going on.” And I had a really good friend from grad school who was doing his doctorate at Ty's university. He was at Texas Tech. He had talked to me several times about coming to visit him, and I was like, “You know what, I am going to come visit you.” So, I made plans to go visit my friend at Texas Tech, and so I said to Ty, “So I'm just like casually visiting my friend in grad school in your town, your tiny town that nobody ever goes to visit. So, I'll come see you.” And so we made this plan, and I traveled for work. So it wasn't that unusual for me to just be like hopping on planes and whatever. So, I went to visit Ty, and I did spend more time with Ty than my friend from grad school, and it was just like four days. And it just felt like, really, this is your home, this is your town, this is your church congregation. Everything just felt like this is your life when I was there, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh! What is going on?!”
Just that it felt very much like home. That was the feeling.
Yeah, and at this point, we still hadn't held hands. We hadn't kissed or anything. But I just felt like, “I'm gonna marry this guy.” And I don't know when, but I just wrote him another letter. He went off to school for the last day, and I needed to catch a flight to get to one of my schools to recruit for my job, and so I left him a letter that just said, you know, “This is kind of how I felt. I think this is where this is going. I don't know when this is going to happen. So just whenever you feel like talking to me about it, let me know.”
And we had never said the M word (marriage). We never said the L word (love). Like it was just us. I mean, this feeling of like we're spending time together and really enjoying this and figuring out where this goes. But it kind of definitely felt like that's where it was going. But it also just felt, again, very spiritual.
Yeah, and it just felt so good and so natural that we were both just like, “Okay, like, let's just keep riding this wave of this is right”, even though, you know, we haven't talked about it or held hands or kissed or anything like that. Because, I mean, at this point, we had dated all of three weeks, and then I had gone to visit him maybe two weeks after he left or three weeks after he left. So, it was like our relationship didn't even feel like a relationship yet. It was all very, very new, and so it was this really weird experience to be just barely getting to know someone, not even to the point yet where you would like kiss or do anything like that, and being like, “I think the next step is marriage!” Like it just felt like we skipped several steps, and so he and I just spent the next week not talking to each other, but like praying and thinking about it, attending the temple in separate locations. I was back in Utah at this point, and then we finally talked about it.
I told her to back up. So, I said, “I need a week to think about this.” Because even though I felt like that's the direction that it was going, and I felt really good about it, neither of us had to vocalize that. And so for this, in this letter that she left me, I was like, “Okay, she was the first person to kind of vocalize that”, and I saw that I need a week to think about this. Like, I just need, you know, like, no communication. “Let's talk next Sunday.” This was a Monday, I was like, “Let's talk next Sunday”, and I think that week, I went through every emotion: I was pissed, I was afraid, I was mad at God, I was grateful to God. I mean, just this total cacophony of emotion and conflicted emotions, and like, I just needed to let myself, I didn't even know why I was feeling all those things. Because it felt really peaceful, and as soon as she sends this letter, I'm like mad. And I didn't know what it was, and I didn't want to read too much, and I've done enough therapy at this point, you just need to feel your feelings. So, I just let myself have all of these feelings, and somewhere around Friday, it started to really level. And I started to build that piece again.
And then, on Saturday, I felt like we could probably talk on Saturday, and I could feel good about that. But we already talked about Sunday. So, Sunday or Saturday, I went to the temple again, just spent some time there, and again, just felt this reassurance, this peace again. I don't even know why I was having this kind of emotional reaction, but it was like four days of just all the feelings, all these different conflicted emotions, and a lot of negative emotions. But still underlying that was like “This is still right.” I just have to know if I was grieving something. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know what was happening. But I just knew. But then that peace came back, and by Sunday, I was like, “Okay, onward and upward.”
And I had just felt a lot of anxiety this whole week - I really like him. I know what I felt, I know what impressions I've had, and I just hope that we're on the same page at the end of the week. So, I remember, when I talked to him, I was actually at a friend's house and I went upstairs to her bedroom, she's a married friend with kids, I went upstairs to her bedroom to just have this conversation with him. And we decided that I would move down to Texas, so that we could date and like really pursue this, and I think it was a week later, I’ve just been having more impressions. And so, again, I'm so communication stunted, but I sent him an email, like “We need to talk”, and so he called me, and I remember, basically, the impression that I had is “We need to get married, like sooner than later.”
You have to understand, at the time that we said “I'll move to Texas”, I thought, “Okay, I'm gonna move to Texas. We're going to probably date for a year, and maybe we'll get married next summer. We'll just take our time and whatever.” And then the whole week following that - not the whole week, I hadn't really been stressing about it. But it was like that day that I sent him the email, I felt like, “We need to get married sooner than later. You need your covenants with God on your side, the protection of those covenants, and you need to be looking at this a different way.” And so I sent him this email, like “We need to talk about this”, and he called me, and I felt so stressed about having to actually vocalize what I was feeling that I actually said, “Can I call you right back?” And he's like, “Okay”. So I hung up the phone and I prayed again, like, “Please help me to just be able to say this, like, this is so stressful for me.” And so then we talked on the phone again - this is so me - I was like, “I think we're supposed to get married! So, I don't know, you're coming up on Friday to get me, are we supposed to get married this weekend?” And he's like, “That's a little too soon!” But we basically decided there without ever holding hands or kissing, that we knew we were supposed to get married, and that we were getting married. We got engaged over the phone and set a date that night. And then, and this is like, really…
But here's how we got engaged. We were talking, if we were to get married, this is all still like theoretical, “So, if we were to get married, like practically speaking, when would that happen?” So, we're looking at weekends. I'm like, “I have classes here, I've got a break between semesters here. These are basically the two weekends that are possibilities, but this one, we have some conflicts. Okay, how about this weekend? Here, this is the weekend.” This is like in early February, and it's like, “Okay, this weekend in May. This is probably the weekend that's going to work best, I’ll call the temple and see if we can get a reservation.” And then…
The temple was closed. We forgot temples are closed on Monday. Yeah, so the temple was closed. So, he calls back and it's like, “Well, the temples are closed, we’ll call them in the morning. And then we're like, “Okay!”
This is all over the phone?
Ty and Danielle 56:19
Yeah. All over the phone.
So the proposal was on the phone technically?
Yeah. And it wasn't like, “Will you marry me?” like flowers and stuff. But so at the end of this, it was like, “So does this mean were engaged with?”, “I guess it does”, “Okay!” Very non-romantic. But it was just kind of this very natural kind of unfolding that felt fine, it felt fine to me.
It felt really good and really guided, and just, yeah, it felt really right. And it was very unconventional. But the whole reason that I think all these details are important is just to understand the backstory, because I think a lot of the other questions that people have about, “Then how do you deal with this conflict? How do you deal with this?” It's like, well, when you look at our courtship and how guided it was, and how clear it felt, and how right it felt that we should embark on this journey together, then some of the other questions don't even matter. It's like, yeah, “So what do you do when this happens?” I don't know what you do, but like, we're obviously supposed to be together, and we feel good about it, and we love each other, and so we'll figure it out together. And so, I would go back to that story of New Year's Eve, when I found that website that was those women who were all divorced, and how I felt like “This is not my story” then, our whole story was really unconventional. So, it just felt like, it doesn't really matter what other people have done, we will figure out together what our story will be and what it will become, and it kind of became like this little saying with us as we write our own story. We decide together, we build our own life, we write our own story early on, what we want to happen together as what we will make happen, and it doesn't matter what other people say.
So, all this to say we ended up getting engaged, and we got married three months after that over-the-phone engagement. So, we did get married, like the impression that I had of “We need to get married soon”, we did get married. So it was like five months and a day or something from the time we went on our first date. So, we got married fast. Ty jokes, as a therapist, he says “I would never recommend that people do this. This is not how I would recommend courtship go.” But when you're living it, and it feels so right, you do it.
You know, because I teach it at the university here. So, when I'm talking to my students, I'm like, “Here's what I would recommend as a professional, and here's what I would recommend as like a disciple.” Because when you're seeking and trying to follow God, like you do, barring divine intervention, if God is guiding you to do something, you can trust God. I absolutely believe you can always trust God. Barring divine intervention, this is how you do it. So, it was sort of like “This is not how I would recommend it as a professional, but I wouldn't have done it any different, because I knew that it was right.” Does that make sense? So, I always have to qualify that when I'm talking to my students.
Of course. It makes perfect sense, actually. So you would say it's more of a connection between the both of you and also the connection with God that facilitated all of that, and you kind of felt it on a visceral level that you were like, “Okay, this is it!” You prayed, you connected with each other, and you saw it as a sign from God that “Okay, it has to go this way”, because it's just real and profound, that you both felt it that way. I love that!
Yeah. Yeah. And it wasn't even a feeling from God like “You should do this”, and I'm just like, “I don't want to do it.” It wasn't. It was just very much this feeling of like divine flow. It was like, “I want this. It feels right, and it feels natural.” Because dating had always felt, again, that kind of clunky, like, “How do I do this? Do I want it?” I was just always kind of hitting these walls, and during our experience here, it just felt like all of that was being kind of slowly eroded away, and God was paving the way for us, and we were riding this divine wave, and it just felt really natural and very good.
Yeah, just to echo that, it didn't feel like we were being pushed into anything by God at all. It’s like, I really want this, it feels really good. I really love him. And it was funny, because it felt like love on a deep, intimate level, but not necessarily like romantic twitterpated kind of love. It just felt like I love being around him, I love talking to him, I feel like definitely this attraction to be with him and to connect with him, and I wanted to talk to him all the time. And then, after we decided, “Okay, this is what we're going to do, this is what we're going to be, let's hold hands, what feels most natural. Okay, let's guess what feels good there.” You know, and like learning almost a little backwards the other things that people who are really hormone-driven jump into first and then try to figure out the other piece. It was a little bit backwards for us, where it's just like, we've felt really connected on a deep level, and like on a spiritually-guided level, and then it's like, “Okay, how does this work?”
And we had to figure out the romantic and sexual piece…
And like, we would have discussions about it even…
Yeah, but I kind of would rather do it, I mean, this way really worked, and I wouldn’t do it any differently.
Basically, the second question that I wanted to ask you is about the challenges that you kind of contemplated before you wanted to get married, or, you know, the discussions that you were talking about right now, with regards to intimacy and sex. So, what kinds of conversations you had, particularly given that Danielle knew about your same-sex attraction, so that was at the back of her mind. So how did you navigate that territory before marriage or at the first stages of marriage? How did you discuss these challenges and overcome them, so to speak?
So let me just say, because I think a lot of people probably are wondering, you know, like, “Why would you ever get into a marriage like this?” So, actually, at one point, I had no idea what all this meant, like, I was really naive. I was like, “Are we gonna adopt our children? Like, how does this work?” I had no idea. And at one point, while we were already engaged, I actually had to, like, for my own sanity, I had to have the conversation, because I think he kind of took for granted what I understood, and I just didn't understand a lot, you know, and so I just said to him, like, “Are you actually attracted to me? Do you actually want to have sex with me?” And I just had to ask really point blank instead of wondering, I said, “Do you want to have sex with me? Like, how's this gonna work?”
So we did have that discussion, we did have that, well, we were engaged and talked about what that would mean, and that kind of laid all of my concerns around that. But the thing is, looking back on it now, it just feels like, “Oh, yeah, we just talked about things, and it was just like fun, and it was great.” But during the time, it was stressful, and it felt like, for me, it was a lot of anxiety of like, “These are hard conversations to have, I'm going to have to make myself really vulnerable here. And I may not like the answer, but we're just going to discuss this.” You know, I think having to do those kinds of things really built a foundation for being able to communicate and being able to talk about hard things, like there's still things that are hard now to talk about in our marriage, but it's way easier to talk about things now than it was then. I mean, even I could spend like easily $10,000 in a day, and Ty is very conservative. So, like for me to even say, “Hey, like, let's talk about how we use our money”, that's still a very vulnerable place for me. So even now, you know, there are places where I feel vulnerable, but that, you know, it's so much easier, because we've had way harder conversations really early on. So, can I have that money?
No, you can’t have that money! So, there's a sense of like, I think as far as challenges and working through all of the sexual stuff, I mean, it was just kind of like, “We'll just figure it out.” Like, I didn't know what it would look like on our honeymoon, right? So I had like a bachelor party and, again, a lot of my friends were people who experience same-sex attraction who were in mixed-orientation marriages, and I had the luxury, and I feel like I wish everybody could have this experience, where one doesn’t have to just figure this out on their own. I was like, “Okay, listen, this is not kiss and tell. But I want to know what your honeymoon was like, your honeymoon experience.” And this was at this, again, this kind of bachelor party, and people just went around the room and just kind of shared their honeymoon story. And they were all so different. Every one of them was so different, that it was like, it doesn't have to look like anything, we get to decide what it looks like.
And so, again, it was like, “I don't know”, but we just kept following it, and it was because it was open, and we were trying to manage expectations. Like it can look like what it looks like, it can look like what we decided it looks like, it doesn't have to look like this or that. But I think, without all that pressure, it just really naturally unfolded. It wasn't hard at all, like it was enjoyable, and it just sort of developed over the marriage. I think as far as like other challenges in marriage, I don't feel like this has ever been much of a challenge. Most of our challenges have been like really normal couple stuff, like life balance, five little kids. At one point, we had five kids - four kids five and under, like it was just so, our oldest is 10. We have five kids, you know, 10 to two-and-a-half. So it's just busy. It just always is, and physically exhausting. So, I feel like all of our challenges are just really managing finances, and what are we going to do with the kids, and meltdowns, and coming home and she's exhausted after a long day, I'm exhausted after a long day, and she's like, “Okay, I need you to do this.” And I'm like, “But I'm tired.” And she's like, “But I'm tired.”
So it's all of these sort of just feels really normal. I think the SSA piece has not been a challenge in our relationship. It's made those early conversations that we've already talked about just that kind of reverse order. I mean, that was kind of unconventional, but I think other than that, I feel like that also set us up to have a really strong foundation of communication, openness, mutual understanding, things that, from a couples therapy standpoint, I work with couples who have been married for 20 years who still struggle with that. And I feel like we got a lot of that really worked out early on. So, we just had a really strong foundation to build on, and then the rest has just been like lifestyle balance and feeling tired with little kids, but loving our little kids, but feeling exhausted because of the meltdowns. I mean, it's just, you know, normal parents stuff.
And just like our own personal issues, like I mentioned earlier, I have ADHD, which has an impulsivity piece to it, and I have my own issues, and so sometimes my issues create stuff that we need to talk about in our marriage. The things that I struggle with have definitely been things that we've had - I wouldn't say points of contention necessarily, but definitely things that we've had to talk through and work through and figure out “Okay, like, how are we going to do this? How are you going to work on your stuff? You know, for me”, So yeah, like, when thinking of conflict in marriage or things that we need to figure out, it's like a lot of what Ty said, just normal marriage stuff and like my stuff.
So, in general, the summary would be, regardless of whatever insecurities or issues that you have, sexual or otherwise, the whole point is to communicate, and then to ride the waves as they come. That would be the take home message?
Yeah, I think also to just realize… So, for Ty and I, we’re both 100% in our marriage, we love each other, we 100% want our marriage to be happy, and to be strong and to be fulfilling for both of us. And so we approach it from that perspective that we are going to create this together, and so there's nothing like societal expectations or what other people have experienced. It's all just kind of irrelevant. We talk about it, we navigate it together, and then we create what we want. And since we're 100% committed, and we do love each other, then it's just “Okay, how do we deal with whatever issue comes up?”
Before we get into a little bit more detail, just a general advice from Ty and Daniele for the men and women listening to us who experience same-sex attractions and who want to go into mixed-orientation marriages, what advice would you give them? Particularly for those who deal with same-sex attractions who want to go into these marriages. And, Danielle, from your experience, what advice would you also give women who don't have same-sex attractions but who want to go into a mixed-orientation marriage, to build a life with a man who does have same-sex attractions and build a family with him? What experiences can you share? So, Ty first.
I think, a lot of this is going to come, as we were navigating our own story, early on, it was just a lot of kind of on the job learning, and with now 11 years of hindsight and working in a therapeutic context with hundreds of couples, research and that kind of a broader swamp. But some general things, I would say, that are really key is you go in with both eyes open, I think that kind of disclosure early on has to be internally motivated, that’s really key. In mental health, there's been a conversation for a long time around religiosity and mental health. A lot of the research shows that spirituality correlates very strongly with mental health, people with high spirituality. But it's hard to measure spirituality, so it typically gets measured through religiosity, and that people who are highly religious, generally speaking, have higher mental health. Or at least there's some research that shows that their mental health is higher, there's lower rates of depression, anxiety, etc.
But there's also some research that shows that religiosity correlates negatively with mental health, and so there were some researchers that were trying to figure out some other variable that's going on here that's moderating this. And they were looking at motivation as a moderating variable, and so what they found was that with people who are highly religious and internally motivated, religiosity correlated positively with mental health, but people who are highly religious and externally motivated, it correlated negatively. And I would say, there's probably some application of that to marriage. Are you getting married because you should? Are you getting married because your family is pressuring you? Are you getting married because you're worried that your God is going to be disappointed in you? Or whatever, like, all those sorts of things, I think, are going to undermine a healthy foundation on which I think a healthy marriage has to be built.
So, first and foremost, you have to want this because it's what you want, not because it's what somebody else wants for you. And even if it's unconventional, in some ways, because I would say we still have a healthy and I think satisfying sexual life, but it's not like, “Oh, I just want to throw down a woman!” It's like, our relationship is meaningful, and it's the spiritual and emotional connection that we have, and this is a means of nurturing that connection. It's not sex for sex’s sake, it's sex for the sake of us and nurturing us. Does that make sense? But I think that, in a lot of Western culture, sex is sex for sex’s sake. And the path to the most meaningful life is sexual fulfillment, relationship or not, you don't even really need a relationship, you just need to be having good sex in a lot of Western culture.
So, it's kind of flipping that, i.e. that people aren't a means to sex; it's that sex is a means to nurturing a meaningful, connected, healthy relationship with somebody that you love, right? And I think also having a really strong sense of self is important. One of the things that I realized early on, this is actually when I did my Journey into Manhood weekend, I was 26 years-old when I did that, and in one of the processes there, I had this kind of painful but also cathartic experience, that I'd spent 26 years living somebody else's life, and I just grieved and grieved this sense of not knowing who I was, because so much of my life was trying to be what other people wanted me to be.
And so part of my journey after that, one of the things I left that weekend with was: I'm not doing this anymore. My life is going to be my life, my journey and my experience with God is going to be my experience with God, and I'm doing this in a way that feels good and right to me. This is nobody else's journey but mine. And so, a lot of the next few years was me, you know, the way Brené Brown says it, if you've read her stuff, is like “the only way to belong to another person is to belong to yourself, you have to belong yourself first.” And so that sense of learning how to belong to me first was like this year’s long journey, and even if I wanted to be married at some point, developmentally, and just that sense of having a strong sense of self, I wasn't in a place to be able to do that. But over the next few years, as I really started to ground more and more me, and I knew who I was, and I knew what I wanted - not in this kind of narcissistic way - but it was just the sense of like, I need to be connected with me, and I need to be connected with God from an authentic core place.
And then, once I got married, I was in a very, very different place. I don't think Danielle and I could have had the marriage that we have 10 years earlier, but a lot of that required a lot of my own self work, and a lot of my own therapeutic work, integrating sexuality and having a strong sense of self, even as a sexual self, even while I was having sex, to really own my own sexuality, and to feel at peace with my sexuality, and more of this kind of mindfulness-based, even attraction to men, I stopped seeing attraction to men as my problem or my weakness, and it just was. It was part of my experience. And rather than being in this conflict with it, it was what it was, and I could navigate it. I could live from a place of values in a healthy way. But it had to be from a place of: These are my values, I want to be chaste, I want celibacy because of my values (i.e. not having sex outside of marriage), but this was my value that I was living out, not somebody else's value.
And so, all of this, this experience that I was having, once I went into marriage, I was doing this, because it was what I wanted, I had a really strong sense of self, and my ideas of love were very much about love is a choice that you make, love is a gift that you offer somebody, not something that you fall into or fall out of. Love radiates from who you are. It's not dependent upon other people's circumstances or behavior. And that felt really liberating, right? Because at one point, she's made the comment - I think we have different interpretations or different remembrances of this experience - but when she came to visit me, and she was like walking through my apartment, and she seemed kind of visibly deflated. I have some stereotypical traits, like I can decorate, and this wasn't just like a man cave, right? So, I could decorate, and I was like, I don't know if I'm ever getting married, I'm not doing the bachelor pad; I'm doing life. So, I had an apartment that was fully decorated and furnished, and I had food in the fridge, and I had a stocked pantry and like all these sorts of things. And then at one point, she said…
I said this when we're engaged. I don't think I had this impression that I had no purpose when we were dating. I think it was after we had been engaged for a while that I was like “Uff!”
Well, she just had this kind of discouraged sense, and she said something like, “I just feel like you don't need me.” And I said to her, “I don't need you.” And to me, this was like a very liberating statement. I loved it. I loved that I could say, “I'm not with you because I need a woman, or because I need someone to cook for me or take care of me or whatever. I'm with you, because I want to be with you. Like I want to create something with you, not because I need you.” And that felt very empowered. And for her, I think it was very discouraging.
Well, when he said it, I was just like, “Oh!” Like it was a paradigm shift, and I appreciated that, and I was like, “Okay!” But, you know, I mean, you just do unhealthy until you do healthy. Like you're just gonna do things unhealthy until you've figured out how to do it the healthy way. And so, I think in previous relationships, I'd been like, “Okay, how can I like make myself needed? How can I make myself like have value in the relationship? So, what can I give or what do they need? I can be like the person that helps them, either I’m so attractive that they just always want to be with me, or I make them food and they just feel like “Oh my gosh, thank you so much, I don't have to eat out all the time!” or whatever it was that I felt like I could fill some need that they have. And I was just like, “You don't even need me!” And he said, “Yeah, I don't need you, I want you”, and that eliminated my little hook that I was looking to get, but it also was kind of just like a liberating paradigm shift to be like, “Okay, someone who's actually choosing to be with me, because they love me” versus “I just really value your cooking”, or “I really value your sexuality and like how beautiful you are, you're just such a great kisser”, or like “You're so funny that I just love who I am when I'm with you”, kind of a thing. You know, it's just like, “Oh, you just want to be with me!”
Because, I think, a lot of Western relationships are based more on utility than love. What is it that you're doing? You're meeting my needs and you're making me happy and these things. That's not love, that's utility, right? At what point is this love something that flows out from you that requires nothing from another. Doing it for the right reasons, but realizing that true love, and I think divine love, is really what should be fueling even romantic and sexual pieces. I think a lot of people, especially in Western cultures, approach marriage from this place of sexual or romantic attraction first, and then that becomes kind of the foundation, and then other things, like aesthetic, spiritual, etc. are kind of supplementary. If we have these other things, then that's good, but they're secondary. And I think that a flip has to happen for people, and I don't even know that that's good for anybody, I just know that that's natural. Because, again, as a marriage and family therapist, I work with a lot of heterosexual couples who are exclusively heterosexually attracted, who have way more challenges and problems in their relationships than she and I have ever had. So that's not the panacea just to be experiencing that.
But I do think attraction is important, but in terms of like different domains of attraction - in sexuality, you historically have kind of the Kinsey scale, most people are familiar with the Kinsey scale, where it's like you have “one” is exclusively heterosexual, a “six” is exclusively homosexual, but that's too simplistic of a construct to fully speak to anything, because you have different domains of attraction. And in each of those domains of attraction for both sexes, you have kind of a scale of attraction and aversion. So, you have like “high attraction” to “low attraction” to “no attraction”, but then you have “low aversion” to “high aversion” in different domains of attraction for both sexes.
So, you could have people who have high erotic for both sexes, they could have low erotic for both sexes, they could even have low aversion or high aversion for both sexes. So, you have sexual, romantic, affectional, aesthetic, spiritual and social domains of attraction. So, for someone to have a healthy, sustainable relationship, attraction is important. I wouldn't want to communicate to anybody to make yourself do it, because I don't think that's sustainable. But I think it's more of a net experience of attraction within all of those domains. Because I even work with heterosexual couples who had similar experiences, like they felt really guided into the relationship they're in, and they might be generally attracted to women, or generally attracted to men, but, sometimes, in some cases, it's like lower erotic attraction to their spouse, but a lot of attraction in other areas. And I've also worked with people in mixed-orientation relationships where they're like, “Are we talking about women or are we talking about my wife?” Or “are we talking about men or are we talked about my husband?”
One woman said, “I have high attraction to my husband in all of those domains, that's not the problem. If we're talking about men, it's very low in all those domains. If we're talking about my husband, it's very high. My challenge isn’t my marriage; I love my marriage.” Her challenge was, she's like, “But I work in a women's organization where I'm constantly interacting with these women. I really love these women, and these attractions will come up.” She's like, “I need to figure out how to manage that. I'm not worried about my marriage. I love my marriage.” I would say, for a lot of people who are satisfied in their relationships, it really is something like that experience that you're building together.
Esther Perel, she's a prominent sexologist in the West, she wrote the book Mating in Captivity. She has this really interesting perspective, she said, “Do you want a love story or a life story?” Because a lot of love stories will never integrate to become a life story, and a life story is much bigger than a love story. And, certainly, I think people can have both. But I think in terms of starting with that frame of, “I'm creating a life with somebody, and we're going to grow in love, not just fall in or fall out. We're creating love together”, and I think that frame is really important for people who, I think, in a lot of like Hindu arranged marriages, they kind of have this anticipation that marriage is a school of love, you don't just fall in love, right? It's a school of love. And you go into it with the expectation that love is something we're going to create together, not something we fell into and just hope that we can maintain it. And I think that frame is actually the best frame for all marriages, but I think it's especially important if you're going to feel satisfied and healthy in a mixed-sexuality relationship.
Thank you for sharing that. Absolutely brilliant advice. Danielle, what would you like to share with us in terms of the struggles of a woman in a mixed-orientation marriage? For any of the listeners who might be in that kind of situation, or anyone anticipating going into a mixed-orientation marriage, what are some of the challenges that you have found, and how were you able to overcome them?
Well, I mean, my answer’s not going to be nearly as eloquent as Ty's. I think, really, you just have to have a strong sense of self and do your own work to be the healthiest version of yourself. There's lots of different things, like concerns that you would have going into a mixed-orientation marriage, like what is the sexual piece like? Can I trust my spouse to be faithful to me? Will there ever be a time where my spouse no longer wants to be with me? All of these kinds of things. And I think, you know, the answers may be very individual, but I can speak to my experience which is that I did have some concerns when we were engaged, where I thought, “What if Ty cheats on me?” or “What if he doesn't love me?” or things like that. And I remember, again, so I have a tendency towards overthinking things and stressing about things and worrying about things that I don't need to, just in general, and with regards to that piece of like wondering, you know, if Ty would cheat on me, or if I could be safe with Ty, I just felt like the sense of peace, and I had this impression, “Ty is who he says he is, you can trust him.”
And I think that comes from having a strong relationship with God and cultivating your spiritual self, that I felt like, “I can trust this”, because there's some things that you just cannot know on your own, and it is a risk in any marriage, mixed-orientation or otherwise. Will my spouse be faithful to me? Will I be able to trust them? And the truth is, you just don't know. You just have to take a leap of faith, and you just have to trust that what you are going to do together is going to be stronger than anything else that could come outside of the marriage. And so, for me, and feeling that stress and like thinking about it, I was lucky enough or blessed enough to be able to receive such a specific impression, where I felt I could relax around Ty, that I could be at peace, and that he was who he said he was, because it was also quick. And then I thought, “What if this is a façade?” To be able to have that impression that “He is who he says he is and you can trust him” really allayed a lot of my fears around that.
Some other concerns that I had, which I think women do when they don't understand how same-sex attraction can exist, like what it actually means. I did have concerns about him spending time with other men one-on-one and in groups and things like that. There was like some insecurity on my part, and we had to discuss that and talk about what that would mean and what would make me feel safe. At first, I had certain rules, like “These are my safe people, these are your friends that you can hang out with one-on-one, you can go to lunch with anybody in a public place, and I don't care. These are my safe people that you can go to a movie with, this friend if you want to”, because there's lots of movies I don't want to see that he wants to see, and I'll be like, “Hey, that's for one of your friends, you go do that.” And so I had like a list of “These are safe friends, this is what I feel safe with.”
And a lot of that has relaxed over time as I've grown in my trust in our relationship and trust in Ty and being able to see what things actually are, what things actually mean, so that I don't really have many explicit kinds of roles. In fact, I don't think I have any explicit rules. There's some that we've not ever like explicitly stated, there are some things that like in a straight/heterosexual relationship that would be expected, like that goes without saying, I don't even want to get into like details, but there's things that, in any relationship, that would not go. That obviously would not go in our relationship. But as far as understanding specific little details with same-sex attraction, I think you really just have to discuss it. That basically is what it comes down to, you have to discuss what you feel safe with and outline some boundaries that can help you to feel safe in the relationship. And those may change over time, and they definitely have for us where I feel like I can just trust Ty, he can make his own decisions, he has good judgment, and I'm fine with what he does. But when you're early in a relationship, I think it's totally fair to be able to say, “I don't feel safe with this particular friend. So, if you want to hang out with this friend, you need to do it in a group”, or “This specific friend, I totally feel safe with, this is a great person to go see Avengers movies with”, you know, things like that. So you just need to discuss it as a couple and decide what makes you feel safe speaking, that's basically what I would say.
Just to summarize what I was saying, I think the most important things are to have a strong sense of yourself, a strong relationship with God and an ability to trust your own intuition and your own ability to have spiritual guidance, and then also to just be vulnerable and willing to have the hard conversations. Because I think the conversations aren't necessarily even that hard, because you both want to connect to be healthy and safe in your relationship. But I think you have to let yourself be in a vulnerable space, to say what it is that you want, and what will allow you to feel safe, and then just navigate that together. So I think, really, I used to think that it took a special kind of woman, and I say when I used to think this early in our marriage, or even before I was married, it took a special kind of woman to be married to a man with same-sex attraction. I don't know that it takes a special kind of woman, it just takes a strong woman who knows who she is, because the love that you have is actually real. The love that you feel in your marriage is real, and so it doesn't take a special kind of woman to be able to experience that love. It's just your love is real. But it takes a strong person to be able to be willing, to be vulnerable, to have hard conversations, and to also have a strong sense of self. Because what I have seen is that, sometimes, same-sex attraction gets scapegoated a lot, or they don't allow their spouse to have healthy relationships with members of the same sex because they're too afraid, and so they don't allow healthy platonic relationships, and that's really sad, because it's really about the woman there, it's about her sense of self, it's about her insecurities, and she is scapegoating the same-sex attraction. And so I think that as long as you are healthy and have the other things that I just mentioned, then you can be very, very happy and fulfilled in a mixed-orientation marriage.
I want to add something to that, because I think part of the challenge for a lot of women who are insecure is that it becomes a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they suffocate the life out of the relationship. One thing I learned through my own journey is how important those same-sex connections, brotherhood, fraternity, you know, intimacy in the true sense of that term with other men is, it’s important to me, and if her insecurities were such that I can't even be with another person, even in a healthy way, because her stuff getting triggered, that's not sustainable. And so, that kind of inner sense of security is important there too.
The other thing that I want to say too, and that I see, because again, I've worked with hundreds of couples, and when women experience SSA, I think there's a difference. And I noticed, it took me a while to put my finger on what it is. But women, like a lot of men in mixed-orientation marriages, when the wife experiences same-sex attraction, you don't see the same kinds of insecurities typically. Or certainly not as often as women, because in our culture, in Western cultures, again, I don't know as much about Eastern cultures, but, you know, we've kind of sexualized and objectified women. And so, a lot of women's sense of value, even though it's problematic, their own sense of value has been socialized to be “How desirable I am sexually?” Does that make sense? And so, even dating cultures, like men ask women, women don't ask men on dates, they have to sit around and wait to be asked out, be desirable enough to be asked out. Does that make sense? And so, even in maybe 20-30% of relationships generally, take same-sex attraction out of it, women are the higher desire partner. I do a lot of sex therapy as well, and so, in relationships, let's take in this instance two spouses who are both exclusively heterosexual, when the wife is the higher desire partner, she wants to have sex more than he does, that creates a lot of distress and for her, because, again, there's a lot of this sense of like, “You're supposed to want it more than me. And so when you don't, either something's wrong with you, or something's wrong with me.” Does that make sense?
It’s pretty normal, you know, and I mean, that's a minority of circumstance, but 20 -30% is a pretty significant minority of women generally, right? It's not to say that anything's wrong with either of them. But, again, because of how culture is, we socialize men to desire and women to be desirable, and so when you now come into a relationship where husband experiences same-sex attraction, that gets amplified, right? “Well, you don't desire me, what does that mean?” And women can start to question your own sense of value. So there is a bit of that. So the woman has to, I would say, counter culturally, in some ways, have a really strong sense of self, and whether or not you're attracted to men has nothing to do with my value and my worth, I'm bringing my value and my worth into the relationship. It's not contingent upon you. And that has to be true for everybody, but I think, again, it's especially true when there’s same-sex attraction. Because when the wife experiences SSA, very often the husband is like, “Okay, so tell me what that means for us, and let's figure it out together.” Those insecurities about “Am I desirable to you?” and “What does that mean for me?” “Where is my value and my worth, generally, or to you?” You just don't see that nearly as often with men, because that's not how we socialize men. So again, that strong sense of self is really critical, especially for female spouses in mixed-sexuality relationships.
I have a question for Danielle. So, if you have a woman come to you, and she tells you that “I discovered that my man has same-sex attractions, I feel so betrayed, I'm thinking of leaving him”, and this is judging by the fact that he had told her after they got married. How would you counsel that woman? What would you tell her?
I think it's a really short-sighted response, for a woman to have that kind of a response. I actually listened to a podcast the other day where this woman was saying her husband tells white lies sometimes, and so she's wondering if eventually they'll get divorced, because he tells white lies. And the interviewer said, “Well, what is actually keeping you in the marriage?” And she listed this plethora of really awesome things about him, but because he tells white lies, it's a deal breaker for her. And I was talking to my friends about it, and we're like, “This lady!” She's like, “He helps around the house. He's like a really good partner and companion, and he's so great with our kids. He's a great co-parent with me. And we have a lot of fun together.” And it was like everything that you would ever want in a relationship, but sometimes he tells white lies, because she's kind of like bossy, and he gets scared of her. And we were like, “Oh, my gosh! This lady like needs to have a clue!”
So, I think you can't just look at “Oh my gosh! My husband just told me that he experiences same-sex attraction, I feel betrayed. And so now what does our marriage mean?” Your marriage means what it meant yesterday. You need to look at the entirety of your marriage, and how you value your marriage and your relationship with this person, and the life that you're building together. And I think also another thing that women don't often think about is that, as men or whoever this spouse is that experiences same-sex attraction, as that spouse is navigating their own journey, when that happens that they don't disclose the SSA before they're married, it's not an attempt to deceive. It's actually a form of usually self-denial as well, where they're thinking, “It's not as big of an issue as I thought, I really love my spouse. If I marry my spouse, this is not going to be a problem for me anymore, and I will be okay, and she never needs to know about this thing that I'm ashamed of.”
And I think that that's what the spouse needs to realize, that he didn't keep this from her because he wanted to deceive her. He kept it from her because he thought, “This is something that I'm ashamed of, and it's not going to be an issue anymore, because I truly love my spouse.” And so when you look at it from that perspective, it's like, he really loved you, he really wanted this to work, that's why he didn't tell you. He made a mistake, and now he's trying to come clean so that you can be in this together and that he doesn't have to feel ashamed about it anymore. That's what's actually happening, not that he betrayed you. And so I think that's really what it is, you have to look at the situation for what it is, even though it may be painful for the spouse that's finding out that her husband experiences same-sex attraction, and there may be some sense of betrayal there. Obviously, that pain is real, that's something that guys need to work on that you probably need to talk to a therapist about to navigate how do you get through that feeling of betrayal, and what does this mean for your relationship, communication and honesty. Those are all really important things, but they shouldn't put meaning on it that is actually not there, which is that it was an intentional betrayal. If it was an intentional betrayal, it was an intentional betrayal; that needs to be approached differently. But just non-disclosure because they thought it wouldn't be an issue and they were ashamed, that's a very different situation. There's lots of things that we don't disclose to spouses before we get married. Like Ty, we had this discussion yesterday, we went to a pet store. I hate pets. I hate pets!
I had a snake coming into the relationship, and she does not like snakes. But I had the snake. So I'm like, “This is a prenuptial agreement. I'm bringing the snake into the relationship.” And so, anyways, it died. And my son now wants a snake and…
I'm like, “I don't want a snake!”, but Ty said “I had a snake!” and I'm like, “But you don't have a snake now, and I don't want a snake!” and Ty is like “But did you know that my childhood dream was to own a pet store?” And I was like “Things that should have been disclosed before marriage, OK Ty?” So, I mean, there's lots of things that we don't know about our spouse, that if we knew it, you'd be like, “No, thank you! I don’t want that all over my house, like, no!” Not to like belittle the experience of same-sex attraction, but my point is, there's so many things that we don't disclose because we think they're non-issues, and really, a pet store is a non-issue. But there's things that we think it's a non-issue or that we tell ourselves, “It won't be an issue”, and it's not really a matter of deception or intentional deception, and so it shouldn't be approached like that.
Yeah. And I fully understand. So our relationship and our circumstances are different, in that I had years to do all of this work personally before I got married. For a lot of men, that self-discovery starts to happen when you're already married. The work that I had the liberty of doing without hurting somebody else all of that still has to be done. So that personal growth sometimes it does require both of them having an individual therapist, and having a couple’s therapist who can help guide them through that. I'm working with a couple right now, they've been married almost 20 years, and he's in, I would say, a really good place, but he kind of shut off friendships, and most of his friendships are really superficial. But then he developed this really meaningful friendship, and it was like breathing air, because he's just hungered for like more meaningful friendships, and she feels betrayed by it, and there's nothing inappropriate about it, but it's so different, and her own insecurities are coming up. They're going to be fine, but it's been really disorienting for her, it’s really kind of a best-case scenario in that he is handling this really well, he's committed to her, but she just feels like men don't do friendships like that, but he's like, “Yes, they do. Look at so and so” and she's like, “Yeah, but they don't experience SSA”, and he's like, “So they can have friendships but I can't, just because I'm attracted to the same sex?” So they just had to work through some of that turbulence, but I do think, obviously, it's ideal if people are working this out before the relationship. But I think it certainly can be worked out together, it just requires some of the things that Danielle’s saying, it requires a high view of the relationship, that we have a lot of resources, you're the same person you were yesterday.
But sometimes people want to choose, I have a couple that I'm working with, and they have a pretty good relationship, but she has felt betrayed because he didn't disclose before, and she’s made the comment a couple of times, she said, “If I had known before, I still would have chosen him, because I love him. But it's just the fact that I didn't get a choice that I'm having a really hard time letting go of.” Does that make sense? But he didn't know. It was basically one of those situations that Danielle described; he loved her, and he thought maybe this would go away. And life is an unfolding journey, where we just don't know everything on the front side, and we have to have a lot of grace for ourselves, a lot of grace for each other, as we're working through a lifetime journey, whether it's around same-sex attraction or something entirely different. We're all kind of works in progress.
I would also say to that spouse in that situation, she should just reached out to other women like her, because I know lots of spouses who are happily married in mixed-orientation marriages, who have already navigated the journey of having their spouse come out after. There's also relationships that they were happily married, and there were incidences of infidelity, for whatever reason, but they're very happy now. And so, whatever the situation is, if the marriage is valuable and the life is worth living and saving, then there are people who have navigated the journey before you, and you just need to find those people. And if anyone needs to find those people, I know several, just send them my way and I can say, “Hey, here are some people who have walked that path who can help to encourage you as you go through your journey.”
A major topic that comes up, whether people are contemplating such marriages, or they are already in these marriages, is the lack of intimacy, whether it's physical intimacy, emotional intimacy even, and the spouse who doesn't experience same-sex attractions would be complaining that “Well, my husband/wife doesn't really want to engage with me physically or is emotionally distant.” What advice would you give those spouses to deal with that?
Well, I think, first off, that happens or can happen in any marriage, and so I think the approach would kind of be the same in that, are you both committed to the marriage? And then if you are both committed to the marriage, then you do the work that it takes to create what you want. And so, for a spouse to just be unwilling to engage and just be like, “They won't engage with me, either in a physically intimate way, or in an emotionally intimate way, where they won't be intimate with me on any level.” That's a problem. So if you have a spouse who's just not willing to engage, but the marriage is worth saving, then you need to get into therapy, basically, if someone's not in a place where they're willing, and you need to figure out why is it that they're feeling unwilling, because if they love their spouse, and they want to be in that marriage, then there's probably something else going on that they need to work through.
And I would add to that, I think that, sometimes, you need other eyes on the relationship that can see what's going on, and I think that's where therapy can be really helpful. But I think like an attachment-based therapeutic model can be very helpful, because you start looking, “Okay, where is that interference coming in? Like, how is this dance in the relationship keeping you?” And because sometimes we just can't see what we can't see, and so I can't address what I can't see. I don't know what I don't know. And so I think therapy in those circumstances can be really just essential, to have eyes on the relationship that can help us see our blind spots.
Absolutely. Makes perfect sense, yeah.
And I would say that the level of intimacy in the relationship can change over time. You know, like Ty and I have been talking recently about how do we create greater intimacy in our relationship when we're so busy with all of our kids, like what are the things that help us to feel connected, because intimacy is not just about sex. If we're just talking about sex, we can just talk about sex. But if we're really talking about like that connection where you feel bonded to each other and truly connected, that level of intimacy, what do you do, and how do you figure that out at whatever stage of life you're at? And so, for us, that may look different right now with all of our little kids around and Ty’s long work schedule, and me are running children everywhere to all their different activities. How do we find time to connect? And what do we do that's meaningful for our relationship? And for us, it just is our relationship.
People have to navigate it themselves. But, you know, for us, having like regular date nights and having nights that we attend the temple together, and holding hands across a sea of children in between us in our bed as we watch a movie, you know, like what are the ways that you connect and you feel bonded together? And that's going to look different for every couple, because people's personalities are different, and their interests are different. And what actually makes them to feel seen and loved is different, as well. But I think that's normal in any relationship. It's something that has to be re-negotiated and re-navigated, depending on what's going on in your life. The way that we experience intimacy now as a couple is very different than when we just had each other and we had no children. And like, how did we connect back then versus what do we do? It's a lot more intentional now than it was back then, because every single day, we were sleeping in the same bed, nobody was in between us, we could cuddle as long as we wanted, we could do whatever we wanted, we could have sex when we wanted. And now it's just like, “Okay, let's get out our calendars and schedule how this is going to look and how this is going to work”, and you know, all those kinds of things.
Absolutely. And then, how do you respond to the criticism that says that mixed-orientation marriages are a sham, they're not authentic, most of them end with divorce, similar to what you had read before you got engaged to Ty, a lot of these stories, that the individual who has same-sex attractions is kidding him/herself, they're not being authentic to their “true self”. How do you deal with this criticism?
So I would say, most of those people who make assertions like that are either well-meaning and ignorant, or they are malicious and ignorant, like they just don't really understand. There are going to be marriages of any kind that may not be built on a great foundation, but to just say “This category of marriages is all a sham” is just not true. And so, for me, as far as criticism that people make, you know, Ty's going to approach it differently than I do, because he's a therapist, he's in the public eye, and he's the one that experiences same-sex attraction. But for me, I usually just think, “Wah wah!”, and I ignore a lot of it. Like, if someone is having a Facebook fight, or someone is like posting things, or people are talking about it, I usually just ignore it, because like, to borrow a cliché, I don't need that type of negativity in my life, and I legit don't need it. I don't want it; I don't need it. And so, I ignore a lot of it.
Like I said earlier, we write our own story, and so I just feel like I don't really care what other people say, it doesn't affect my relationship, and if there's some way that I could help to clear up misunderstandings, I'll totally engage. But when people are just like spouting things, I'm like, “Not interested!” and I just ignore it. But Ty being in the public eye and being a therapist, and sometimes actually having things pointedly said, he has to approach it a little differently. So, how about you respond?
Well, I think, I'm not really worried about popular narratives, you know, I think there's always going to be people who feel that, and I'm not really interested in changing minds on that. What I am interested in is, for people who want that, who feel personally like this is something they want for themselves, or at least want to explore this as a legitimate possibility. What does that look like? So the question for me is not “Do they work?” It's rather “Why do they work when they work and why do they not work when they don't?” Because, clearly, there are people who have gotten divorced. So, there are some people for whom that didn't work. But I want to know why. And it's not just because of the SSA. And when they do work, I want to know why. And it's not just because of SSA or whatever, or in spite of SSA. Like there's just a lot of reasons that marriages work when they work, and why they don't when they don't.
And, you know, we did a study, there's a group, kind of a collaborative, LGBT-affirmative religious conservative dialogue group, we did a study, we had about 2,000 participants, kind of looking at different demographics, and what do we learn. Because the idea wasn't to say which path is better for people, it was to say: Within four kind of roughly umbrella paths of single/celibate, single/sexually active, opposite sex/mixed-orientation relationships, or same-sex relationships, within each of those demographics, you have people who are healthy and satisfied. And so, we’re looking at “why” - the people who are healthy and satisfied, why are they so? Are there things we can tell about them? And the people who are unhealthy or unsatisfied, why? What can we tell about those? And you have people who are happy and satisfied, and people who are unhealthy and unsatisfied in all four of those domains.
And actually, the interesting thing is, it was the very same variable, regardless of the category, that was the highest predictor of wellbeing and satisfaction, and that was having the needs for connection and intimacy (again, in the broadest sense of that term), and mutual understanding met. When those needs were met, people were healthy and satisfied. When they were not met, they were less satisfied. But in the mixed-orientation category, a full 80% reported being satisfied, and we had a sub-demographic of about 530 individuals in mixed-orientation relationships. And 80% of those were ranged from like highly satisfied to more satisfied and dissatisfied, the kind of neutral to highly dissatisfied was about 20% (and those were the ones who are likely to end in divorce). But the ones who were least likely to show up in research data, and who are least likely to be telling their stories, are the ones who are happy. They're the ones who just typically kind of move forward and they want to just kind of blend in and live their life. They don't have an agenda, and they're not trying to convince anyone, they just want to live their life.
And so, it's the people who are telling the stories that define the narrative. And it's hard to challenge that, because we're not getting everybody's story. So part of my work and my mission has been like, “I just want people who are doing well to tell your stories to at least texture the narrative a bit, so that people see it as not something that they should do, but something that, if that's what they want, there are ways to do that and be happy, healthy and satisfied.”
And with this, we have come to the end of today's episode, I hope that you guys have enjoyed it and found it beneficial, inshaAllah. And in the next episode, we will continue this conversation with Ty and Danielle, and we will explore some other aspects related to marriage, as well as Ty's perceptions with regards to same sex attractions and where he is right now compared to where he started first. We'll talk more about spirituality and the projects that Ty has established within the Mormon community and the global community as well, and what we, as a Muslim community, can learn from the Mormon community in terms of helping individuals who experience same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria. So, until next time, stay safe and healthy. This has been Waheed Jensen in “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, assalamu alaikom warahmatullahi ta’ala wabarakatuh.