Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

The PARE Model: A Framework for Working with Mixed Orientation Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

The PARE Model: A Framework for Working with Mixed Orientation Couples

Article excerpt

Mixed orientation marriages are couples in which two people of the opposite sex are together despite one partner's experiences of same sex attraction. The one spouse, the sexual minority spouse, may or may not identity as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, while the other spouse is heterosexual (Buxton, 2001). It is difficult to estimate how many couples are in mixed orientation marriages. Harry (1990) reported that 42% of gay and bisexual men indicated that they were heterosexually married at one point. There may be as many as 2 million lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals in the U.S. who are or who were previously married (Buxton, 2001).

Why do people enter into mixed orientation marriages? The most frequently cited reason for marrying is love for one's spouse, often coupled with a desire for companionship (Coleman, 1989; Edser & Shea, 2002; Hays & Samuels, 1989; Lee, 2002; Matteson, 1985; Wyers, 1987; Yarhouse, Palowski, & Tan, 2003). In addition to love and companionship, some sexual minorities report marrying to resolve their sexual identity conflicts (Corley & Kort, 2006; Dank, 1972; Wyers, 1987). Others may marry prematurely, before they have achieved a sexual identity synthesis (Dank, 1972; Higgins, 2002). Still others appear to marry in response to familial (or broader societal) expectations to marry (Coleman, 1989; Corley & Kort, 2006; Dank, 1972; Wyers, 1987; Yarhouse, Palowski, & Tan, 2003). Many marry because they want a spouse and children; they want to have a family (Lee, 2002; Yarhouse, Palowski, & Tan, 2003)

In most cases, the non-sexual minority spouse does not know they married someone who is attracted to the same sex. As this becomes known through discovery or disclosure the relationship goes through significant changes. Generally speaking, we see four broad stages of relationship change: awareness, emotional response, acceptance of reality, and negotiating a future (cf., Buxton, 2004a; Hernandez & Wilson, 2007; Latham & White, 1978).

The first stage is awareness. This is the time of disclosure or discovery itself. This can range considerably from the sexual minority spouse who comes to their partner to disclose an ongoing struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction to the non-sexual minority spouse finding implicating email exchanges or images on the sexual minority spouse's web site or in a social network.

The second stage is emotional response, which is often shock, disbelief, anger, and confusion. This coincides with disclosure or discovery, of course, and initial emotional reactivity can eventually give way to more compassion and empathy depending on the circumstances.

The third stage is acceptance of reality. This really entails accepting the fact that one's spouse experiences same-sex attraction. It may also involve coming to terms with any behavior that has been an expression of that attraction. Rather than deny or minimize the experiences of attraction or behavior, both spouses are able to accept that such attractions exist and that they both have decisions to make about their relationship.

The fourth stage of relationship change is negotiating a future. This involves deciding independently and together about the future of the relationship. Many factors are taken into consideration, including commitments spouses have made to each other and to their children, love and companionship that they enjoy together, issues related to sexuality and sexual expression, and so on.

In the remaining space we focus on those couples that are giving serious consideration to remaining together. We offer a four-stage framework, the PARE model, for providing clinical services to mixed orientation couples following disclosure. The four stages are: (1) Provide sexual identity therapy, (2) Address 'interpersonal trauma,' (3) foster Resilience through marriage counseling, and (4) Enhance sexual intimacy.

A Framework for Working with Mixed Orientation Couples

Provide Sexual Identity Therapy

Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT) is a client-centered, identity-focused approach to navigating sexual identity conflicts among sexual minorities (Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006; Yarhouse, 2008). …

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