Mental Health Advice: Dr. Darcy Smith
Ask a mental health professional the difficult questions
Dear Dr. Darcy: My partner has recently come out after divorcing her husband, with whom she has three kids. She remains terrified of coming out to her religious father and other family members because she fears their judgment. I don’t fully understand her struggle, because I have supportive parents and family. What can I do to help her find the strength within herself to come out to her dad, even if he might choose to walk out of her life?
I love it (and by this I mean, I hate it) when people break one of my cardinal rules and then ask me for help fixing the mess. Short answer: She’s not coming out to her dad. And, if she ever does, she will never be OK with him walking out of her life.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you haven’t been reading my column for very long. Here’s the cardinal rule you broke:
You should only date people who are exactly where you are on the coming out spectrum. To date someone who is at a different stage will create a power struggle, like the one you find yourself in. The person who is further along in coming out will invariably be dissatisfied with the more closeted partner. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and it’s always the same story.
Each of these couples hopes that their struggle will result in a different outcome, with the closeted partner assuring the out partner that she will eventually come out but that she’s just more of a ‘private’ person, and the out partner swearing that she doesn’t even care if her partner comes out, since the important thing is that they’re together. Sadly, this never works. Both partners become ingrained in their respective positions, which results in a power struggle between the couple.
Here’s what you need to do: Stop wishing it was different than it is. She’s not out to her dad. She’s never coming out to her dad. Find a way to make a life with this woman despite her Biblethumping father – or decide you can’t live like this and end the relationship. But stop hoping she will change. If you can do that, the conflict will end, and you’ll have peace.
Dr. Darcy Smith is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her practice, Alternatives Counseling, specializes in LGBT issues and is located in New York City. Dr. Darcy’s clinical style is very direct, goal-oriented and pragmatic. For years, the media has been drawn to her unique personality. She has provided expert commentary for networks including E! Entertainment and has worked with television producers throughout the nation. Her blog, AskDrDarcy.com, provides free advice to members of the LGBT community. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-604-0144.
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.