Q: How does a widow handle shocking information discovered about her spouse? After my husband died, I found letters and pictures proving he had a past affair with a man.
A: First of all, it’s hard to forgive someone who has wounded you from beyond the grave. This is an extremely painful situation, and unlike being able to confront a living spouse about a transgression, there’s no way to get the satisfaction of telling him how hurt you are or to get some sort of explanation from him.
Please try not to torture yourself, as hard as this may be. Instead, work toward accepting the fact that your husband was human, with all the flaws and faults that humans have.
You are no doubt wondering whether your husband was indeed gay and therefore had no real sexual interest in you. Maybe so, maybe not. Sexuality can exist on a continuum. Most people are clearly heterosexual or homosexual, but others are romantically interested in both sexes.
What’s more, many heterosexual people have at least some homosexual experimentation in their life. For example, they played “doctor” in childhood or adolescence with a same-sex friend. It isn’t unusual for people to have homosexual experiences as a way of testing fantasies in the years when identities are forming.
If this affair occurred before your marriage, your husband could have been experimenting — trying this lifestyle on for size — or he could have been bisexual.
Then again, your husband could have been gay. Some homosexuals have great difficulty accepting their sexual orientation, preferring to lead heterosexual lives with spouses and children. (This was especially true in the not-so-distant past, when attitudes toward homosexuality tended to be more hostile than they are today.) They do love their families. But they’ve chosen a life that means squelching their homosexual desires, which goes against their very nature and rarely works.
Even if your husband was gay, it doesn’t mean he didn’t love you or that you didn’t have a good life together. It doesn’t necessarily mean he spent his marriage faking it with you and wishing he were with a man. It means there was a part of himself that was hard for him to accept, and he chose to make a life with you.
If your husband’s homosexuality did overwhelm his love for you and his family, this would have been apparent well before his death. There would have been many clues that would have made you aware. Or he would have left you to be with a man.
Of course, if this homosexual liaison occurred during your marriage and not before, there is the added burden of betrayal. This is no small matter. It is difficult for any couple to make their way back from infidelity, regardless of the sex of the other party. It can be done with a lot of work and time but, unfortunately, you don’t have that option. This may be the hardest thing of all to accept.
In the end, your difficult task is to come to terms with the fact that your husband wasn’t perfect — he slipped up or harbored unspoken fantasies. However, his painful misstep was just one element of who he was — not everything. You may not have known 100 percent of everything in your husband’s head. Few spouses do.
I would encourage you to treasure the good memories of your marriage. The discovery of some hidden aspects of your husband’s life doesn’t diminish these.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: You can’t work things out with a deceased husband. Time will help you gain perspective and accept the fact that he, like everyone, had human shortcomings.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.