by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
The primary focus of reparative therapy for men is always on the healing of same-sex relationships. A reparative therapist strongly encourages the establishment of healthy, non-erotic friendships with men.
There comes a time, however, when some clients evolve to a point of readiness to enter an intimate relationship with a woman. This readiness must be expressed by the client himself, and cannot be encouraged by the therapist in the same way we would urge a client to seek out male friendships.
Any success with women will not endure without the continuation of the client's ongoing, satisfying male relationships.
To understand the particular challenges of the homosexually oriented man in his relationship to women, we must first begin by understanding the classic triadic relationship which is seen so predictably in the history of our clients. This triadic relationship throws the boy on the side of the mother, with father isolated from his wife and son. This misalignment gives the boy a distorted perspective of himself in relationship to the masculine and the feminine. The boy's father remains a mystery, and his mother is all too well known.
In life, men and women are always challenged to try to understand each other. Straight men are often accused of failing to meet this challenge, and it is said that they are typically insensitive to women. Paradoxically, however, it is the same insensitivity which allows the heterosexual man to develop an intimate relationship with the woman. He is not so attuned to females that he overreacts and loses himself in response to their needs.
To the straight man, women are mysteries, but this is the price the straight man must pay for the development of his heterosexuality.
If the straight man can be faulted for insensitivity, the homosexual man can be faulted for being too sensitive to women and emotionally over-involved with them. Said one homosexual client as he reviewed his failed female relationships, "I have learned to be too open to women in an unhealthy way." Growing up, he had been too intensely tied in to his mother's emotions.
Mothers want a compliant, well-behaved, good little boy. The prehomosexual boy offers this appealing image of the good boy to please his mother--behind which, however, he hides his true self in self-protection. He becomes the good little boy on the outside, but on the inside, he remains intensely confused about his needs and his identity.
As the client approaches the challenge of an intimate adult relationship with a woman, this drama of the early relationship with the mother will be re-enacted.
For the man with a homosexual background, the challenge is to enter into a relationship with a woman while maintaining a sense of self-possession. The job of the therapist is to monitor the client's internal sense of self as he approaches the woman. The therapist keeps the client honest with himself and prevents him from falling into the false self, which he will easily do as he did in relationship with mother. While there may be numerous versions, the typical false selves that emerge in a relationship with a woman are:
- The passive-compliant.
- The theatrical entertainer.
- The empathic counselor.
The therapist is watching for the client's tendency to abandon himself and slip into one of those false selves when he is with her. By becoming too sensitive to the woman's expectations for him, he abandons all of his needs and wants and desires for her needs, thus losing his self-reference.
The successful shift to heterosexual marriage is all about trust:
"Can I trust this woman with my feelings? Will she manipulate and confuse me? Will she fail to see me for who I am, and smother me with her expectations? Will she act like she cares for me but really use me or try to control me? Will I be able to be myself?"
The role of the therapist is to listen for the man’s compromises of selfhood.
The Ongoing Need for Male Friendships
No matter how successful his relationship with his wife, the man with the homosexual background will always need to have good male friendships. Many wives--even those wives who did not know that their husbands had a homosexual problem--have told me that when their husbands spend time with their male friends, they are happier and more attentive at home, and more emotionally available to them and the children. When their husbands shrink from men and fail to maintain male friendships, they become withdrawn, moody and emotionally unavailable to them and the children.
The married man with a homosexual background may find conjugal relations with his wife to be less intense. However, he is left with a sense of rightness, contentment and well-being. Rather than feeling left depleted by sex (as he felt with men) he is renewed and feels satisfied and good about himself, as he experiences himself to be more fully a participant in the gendered world.