I knew my husband was gay when we got married, but I thought I could fix him

I knew my husband was gay when we got married, but I thought I could fix him

The author and her husband at their wedding in 2009. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Bryan

I met Michael in 2002, when his family immigrated to Canada from South Africa. His cousin, a friend of mine, introduced us, and we hit it off immediately. He was funny and outgoing and rambunctious, with the boyish handsomeness of a young Hugh Grant. He was also a talented songwriter, writing lyrics about pain and longing and sadness that seemed totally incongruous with his life. We started playing music together. I’d sing his songs, and he’d accompany me on piano and guitar. I fell for him right away—and always wondered why he didn’t have a girlfriend. Soon I found out: a few weeks after we met, his cousin told me that Michael was attracted to men, but had never acted on it. Only a few family members and friends knew his secret.

At the time, Michael was 18 and I was 21. We both belonged to the same charismatic evangelical church in Mississauga. Between weekly services, Bible studies, prayer meetings and band practice, we saw each other practically every day. Even though our church was full of young hipster types, the theology was staunchly orthodox. Our church leaders interpreted scripture literally and preached a puritanical version of morality that included separating ourselves from secular life. They believed homosexuals were perverted, demonic, broken—and ultimately curable. When Michael’s parents told the church leaders about his orientation, they counselled him for months. They admitted that he might always experience same-sex attractions, but told him he could overcome his struggle, either with monkish celibacy or a commitment to a traditional marriage.

Over the years, my feelings for Michael deepened, and in February 2008, he asked me out on a date. We wound up at a Starbucks, where he revealed to me that he had never been attracted to women. Within a couple of hours, the topic had turned to marriage. We spoke at length about whether a relationship could survive if one person has to learn to be attracted to the other. It sounds like complete lunacy, but at the time, we’d heard about other Christian couples who claimed to have dealt with the same issue and come out the other side. I was confident that I could be the woman who fixed Michael.

On a beautiful spring day, in 2009, with more confidence than I should confess, I became Mrs. Michael Bryan. We bought a townhouse in Mississauga and spent the next two years travelling, making music and developing our graphic design business. Our son was born in 2011. Soon after, we sold our townhouse and purchased a place in Grimsby, where we had a daughter. It was the life I’d always dreamed of: we had two beautiful children, a successful business, a house in a cute little town, lots of family and friends. Everything seemed perfect. Except it wasn’t. We did all the things couples do, but there was none of the passion that accompanies a romantic relationship, none of the excitement and butterflies. Sex often felt like a chore. I convinced myself it would get better.

“We bought a townhouse in Mississauga and spent the next two years travelling.” Photo courtesy of Lindsay Bryan

Three years into our marriage, I became painfully aware that my husband was terribly sad. His energy was gone, his warmth, his humour. He would cancel plans at the last minute and refuse to go out with our friends so he could be alone. One day, after the kids were in bed, I sat him down in the living room and confronted him. “Why can’t you just be happy?” I shouted, tears running down my cheeks. He couldn’t look at me. He said that he’d reached the point where he felt nothing—not when we were watching a movie, or working, or even when we were spending time with our kids. He was completely numb. “I’m living a lie,” he said. “I’m still gay.” I was horrified. As hard as it is to believe, I’d had no idea. And though I was reeling from the sting of his rejection, I convinced myself it had nothing to do with me. I believed it was part of a battle I thought we’d already won.

Over the next two years, we resolved to cure Michael’s predelictions once and for all. We attended couples therapy. He signed up for a 90-day addiction program that applied the 12 steps to homosexuality. He even agreed to a few prescriptive meditation sessions over Skype, led by people from a large mega-church in California. All the while, we made a concerted effort to maintain a healthy sex life—and we have our third baby, another daughter, to show for it. Every day we prayed that Michael would be healed. Sometimes we begged.

In all that time, there was no sense of release, no peace, no hope. Michael was more depressed than he’d ever been, and I felt defeated. When we walked out of our last therapy session, I realized nothing had changed—except me. I realized my love couldn’t fix him, and that we weren’t going to get over this problem with hard work. I realized that God loved Michael, regardless of his orientation. And I realized that I had to let him go. I wanted to put my husband first, and give him the opportunity to find the companionship and intimacy he’d wanted.

One night last summer, we went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. As we sat on the patio eating burritos, I summoned my courage and spoke. “Michael, I love you and want you to be happy—so I think we need to separate,” I told him. He was sickened, and wouldn’t hear of it. We sat in silence for several minutes, and then we both started crying, right there in the restaurant. After that initial moment of shock, he opened up to the idea, and by the time the cheque arrived, we’d decided to release each other from our marriage vows.

Michael officially came out nine months ago, first to friends and family, and then on Facebook. Our families were crestfallen that we weren’t going to be married anymore, but they eventually came around, and now they’re our biggest supporters. We’ve also gone through a religious conversion of sorts. I’ve re-evaluated what I believe, learning to interpret the Bible with more flexibility. For a long time, my religious practice was all about the institution and dogma. Now it’s centred on love and acceptance. I’ve stripped my faith down to its bare bones.

Michael and I still live together, and plan to keep doing so for the foreseeable future. He sleeps in the basement, while I stay upstairs. We’re co-parenting as usual—we still eat all our meals together and play with the kids, and our business is thriving. The only difference is that now we’re doing it all as best friends. A few months ago, Michael started dating men. Seeing how happy he is makes it easy for me. I’m not ready to date; maybe when the kids are a bit older, I’ll have the energy.

Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. Michael no longer feels defective. He’s more patient, more loving. He’s at peace with himself. And so am I.

Lindsay Bryan is a graphic designer. She lives in Grimsby, Ontario. memoir@torontolife.com