Coming to terms with your sexuality and/or gender identity can be a difficult process. Many people stay closeted for years out of fear, anxiety, or denial. For some LGBTQ+ individuals, this can lead to relationships that, while perhaps fulfilling in other ways, do not allow them to be their most authentic selves. If this applies to you, and the time has come for you to start being open about your sexuality/gender identity, you will undoubtedly have to come out to your partner. Below are some tips to hopefully help make the process a bit easier on you and your partner.
It is never too early or too late to come out to your partner. Often, people are more upset about the perceived deception or secrecy than their partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity itself. It may be helpful to plan and practice how you will come out to your partner. This can include things like writing down your thoughts or practicing with a friend. Practicing may help you feel more confident and work out any kinks in your speech. As part of your preparation, you may want to identify your primary support system outside of your partner, such as family, friends, local support groups, therapists, or counsellors. This way, you have a group of people to turn to if necessary. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be able to rely on your partner to provide immediate support.
Prior to coming out to your partner, it is important to determine what you want out of the conversation based on your individual circumstances. Are you interested in staying together? Having an open or polyamorous relationship? Ending the relationship? Subsequently, preparing for a variety of outcomes ranging from ideal to horrible may better equip you to handle your partner’s reaction. You may also consider identifying middling outcomes, neither favourable nor unfavourable, that you can still work with. If you are questioning your sexual orientation or gender identity, sharing these feelings and experiences with your partner may be just as important as coming out to them. Your partner’s support, or lack thereof, will be something for you to consider and potentially address in individual or couple’s counselling; where possible.
When having the conversation with your partner, consider setting aside plenty of time in a private setting for you both to talk and process. Recognize that your partner may feel upset, hurt, and betrayed by your revelation. If you have taken steps to confirm your sexual orientation outside of your relationship, such as having an affair, recognize that this may come up and will be something you must address. While you may want to spare your partner the details, recognize that an affair may be something that ends your relationship regardless of your partner’s acceptance of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Subsequently, your coming out to your partner should not be used as an opportunity to discuss other unrelated issues in your relationship. This may be counterproductive and distract you from the issue at hand.
Some sexualities or gender identities may be more conducive to remaining with your partner, again dependent on your individual circumstances. However, it is important that you identify warning signs of your partner demanding impossible concessions regarding your sexuality or gender identity in exchange for remaining in the relationship. For example, an asexual individual may feel uncomfortable with their partner demanding sex once a week in exchange for remaining in the relationship. Where possible, a therapist or counsellor may be helpful for working through the emotions arising out of the conversation, either individually or in joint sessions. You may also want to encourage your partner to find their own support group, such as The Straight Spouse Network.
Regardless of the outcome, you may want to check in with your support network after the conversation with your partner to debrief and sort through your own emotions. If the conversation does not go well, you may also have to consider your options regarding separation or divorce. Additionally, if you have children, you may also have to consider how to come out to them, and potentially how to explain the end of your relationship with your partner to them.
Ultimately, being honest with yourself and your partner can reduce stress in your relationship and make you both happier in the long run. You know yourself and your partner and must choose the best time and manner in which to come out.