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December 25, 2018 1:49 pm  #1

Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

 I found a rare article that focuses on us, the wives!  For once, something that validates my (and our) experience!  I found it very helpful in thinking about what I experienced.  It would also be quite helpful when you seek or work with a therapist to have read this; the article is critical of treatment  models that proceed from the idea that the goal of marital counseling is to facilitate the wife's acceptance and not to acknowledge her pain and injury.  I'd like to take what I've pasted in below, print it out and make multiple copies, and hand it out to everyone I tell about my situation, just so they know what I've experienced.  

I'm going to paste in some excerpts below the reference.  

Here's the reference.  If you google the title of the article, you will get a link to it.  
 “Attachment Injury Resolution in Couples When One Partner is Trans-Identified” 
Journal of Systemic Therapies  Vol. 31, No. 2, 2012, pp. 36–53
Donna Chapman and Benjamin Caldwell  

Here are some excerpts: 

When a partner comes out as TI [trans-Identified], an attachment injury is almost inevitably created due to the significant role and identity change the TI partner is undergoing. The remaining partner experiences a responding role and identity change—unplanned and uncontrolled—as well. These changes occur whether the remaining partner likes it or not, and that partner has little power to stop them. These changes in role and identity can shake the foundation of the couple’s definition of relationship and their security in their roles within it.

There is no option for the family but to cope with it whether they like it or not, and they have been considered extraneous to the process of evaluation and treatment of the TI partner. Their needs have been marginalized. Consideration needs to be given to remaining partners and their “coming out” experience of sorts. These partners can experience social disconnects on many levels. Straight women involved with TI M2F women may find themselves severed from their support systems in the straight community (such as family, friends, and church groups).

The partners of TI individuals are thrown into emotional chaos. There is little professional help available for this group, while at the same time there is an abundance of professional and social services available for the TI partner. The new gender expression of the transitioning spouse may cause the remaining spouse to question their own sexual identity and how they are perceived, no matter how secure they had been about their own sexual identity (Lev, 2005).

Factors that family members encounter are discovery and disclosure, emotional flooding, loss and grief, current and future status of couple or family, shifting identity. These factors are often experienced by the injured spouse simultaneously, shattering the assumptions that they have about their own identity, about the relationship, and about their own sexual orientation, and triggering responses that meet definitions of trauma.
The emotional flooding stage actually contains grief and mourning which in turn contains the processing stages put forth in Kubler-Ross’ bereavement model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Also occurring at the same time are cascading thoughts of current and future status of the marriage relationship and family relationships, shifting identities and roles, cultural and religious concerns, and the need for support in spite of possible feelings of shame arising that drive the injured party [this article uses "injured party" to describe us, the straight spouses] to hide rather than seek help (Raj, 2006). Out of this overwhelming onslaught of affect can emerge self-defense behaviors in the form of traumatic flashback, avoidance, hyper vigilance, and numbing. These are the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Attachment theory suggests that humans have a natural tendency to create and maintain deep and powerful bonds to significant others. We are hard-wired for this type of connection. This is a reciprocal relationship that is based on “profound psychological and physiological interdependence”(Johnson et al., 2001, p. 145). If we accept core EFT concepts that secure adult attachment exists when the internal answer to the question “will you be there for me when I really need you” is a resounding, unhesitating “yes,” and that adult intimacy is a secure attachment bond created by sufficient accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement, then we can see that relational conflict challenges the security of the attachment bond (Johnson, 2004). The authors suggest that the coming out experience of TI couples is a significant challenge to the security of the attachment bond.

Attachment injury is a specific type of event that involves the violation of trust or betrayal coupled with the inaccessibility of the partner. The partner is unresponsive or unavailable when the injured partner reaches out for support. This creates an impasse, experienced as abandonment, and affect escalates.

Attachment injuries often occur during times of transition, loss, physical danger, and uncertainty. Johnson asserts that attachment injuries are perceived as disproportionately severe and may seem to cause irreparable damage to the relationship. They behave much like PTSD injuries in that they re-emerge in the form of traumatic flashback, avoidance, hyper-vigilance, and numbing and are overwhelming (Johnson et al., 2001, p. 150). These injuries cause the injured partner to question their core beliefs about relationships, the other, and themselves. Their sense of self-worth is shaken along with their sense of security in the world (Johnson et al., 2001).
When a partner comes out as TI and requests transition the remaining partner’s sense of self-worth is shaken along with their sense of security in the world (Lev, 2005). Their core beliefs about relationships, their partner, and themselves are challenged even down to their sexual identification and orientation. The significant difference between the type of attachment injury put forth by Johnson and the attachment injury experienced in a TI couple is that the injury in Johnson’s view is usually a long-past event that ripples through to the present, triggered by the inaccessibility of the distant partner (Johnson et al., 2001). The attachment injury with TI couples is occurring in real time and is ongoing. This is the moment of the relationship trauma.

A state of paradox occurs when the party causing the attachment injury, in this case the TI partner, is both the source of and solution to pain and fear.

The injured party tends to swing from one state of hyper arousal to another. Hyper arousal is a cardinal symptom of PTSD; it is defined as a physiological sense of impending danger, restlessness, and extreme fight, flight, and freeze responses. The injured party often accuses and clings, then numbs and withdraws (Johnson et al., 2001). The level of shock and disruption of attachment system that a spouse experiences when their partner comes out as TI clearly parallels the experience of any other couple experiencing the manifestation of an attachment injury.

The shattering of these assumptions calls into question the significance of oneself to the other partner and challenges the injured party’s view of their lovability and their partner’s accessibility (Makinen & Johnson, 2006). Out of these existential crises can arise symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms are a natural self-defense mechanism; however, they prevent emotional engagement because the wounded partner keeps the other partner at a “safe” distance. This in turn creates a feedback loop that actually maintains relational distress (Naaman et al., 2005).
This type of injury also can be similar to an affair in terms of the level of betrayal experienced by the partner; the relationship will be changing permanently with or without the consent of the injured partner and there may or may not be a recommitment to the marriage (Johnson et al., 2001). Unlike the instance of recovery from an affair, TI couples simply cannot expect a return to earlier ways of functioning in the relationship. Regardless of the marital outcome, partners often need to engage in a mourning process for the relationship as they had previously lived
it, in order to move on.

Recovery from trauma in general includes constructing an integrative narrative of the event, its meaning, and consequences; the ability to regulate and integrate the emotion associated with the event; and the ability to create secure connections with others that offer restitutive emotional experiences of purposefulness, connection, and belonging (Johnson et al., 2001). Creating a safe haven and a secure base is the basic condition for healing (Johnson et al., 2001). In this case the job of the therapist is to create a safe haven and secure base when a couple has experienced a traumatic attachment injury in the form of one partner coming out as TI.
In a real sense the non-TI [or injured] partner may feel the attachment injury in the form of loss, grieving the loss of the original partner every time they look at the TI partner.


Last edited by OutofHisCloset (December 25, 2018 3:56 pm)


December 25, 2018 9:47 pm  #2

Re: Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

Oh.My.Gosh.....yes, yes, and YES!

This is so spot on, and so was your introduction to it. 

I have an appointment will a new therapist next month. I sent her an email with a brief explanation of what I was going through and asked if she could help. Her response to me, in part, was " It is very common for a partner of a Trans to feel pressure to focus on their experience and move toward acceptance while ignoring the impact to the traumatized partner. " And in that one sentence, I felt validated. In that one sentence, she confirmed what I have always felt about the "help" out there for us. Seriously, I was on a little mini-high for a couple of days. Finally, I feel like someone "gets" it. 

There are so many parts of this article that ring true for me, but the very last line hit me. When my spouse started to present full time as a woman, I couldn't even bring myself to look in her direction. Seeing my spouse dressed up like that just hurt too much. Every glimpse of her was like another stab in the heart or gut. I was accused of being trans phobic because I wouldn't even look at her, but it wasn't that at all. It just physically hurt.

Thank you, OOHC, for posting this.


December 25, 2018 10:33 pm  #3

Re: Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

 I'm glad this article was useful to you.
 I, too, felt validated, but I didn't have a mini-high from it.  Instead, if felt as if finally I am "allowed" to feel my hurt and grieve, as if my hurt and the grief is legitimate.  This was my first Christmas as a divorced person, the first in 36 years I was alone on Christmas morning and throughout the day (my adult son came over in the late afternoon and was here for supper, and that was wonderful), the last of the "firsts" for this first year of being separated/divorced.  I really really hope that the "seconds" are better.  
  How wonderful that you have found a therapist, Stronger, that gets it.  I hope I'll be able to find one who has a similar understanding and perspective.  
  I, too, found that last sentence to be so true: to have one's spouse reject his maleness and alter himself so that he disavows his maleness and his entire past, to become physically someone who simply "reminds" one of the person one was married to is to live with a continual trauma. How hurtful for you, that others would read your pain and your hurt as "transphobia"; it's a profound failure of imagination and empathy that others cannot conceive of the magnitude of our loss, the change, and the pain it brings.
I'm so sorry for your loss.

Last edited by OutofHisCloset (December 25, 2018 10:33 pm)

     Thread Starter

January 10, 2019 8:27 pm  #4

Re: Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

Thank you very much for posting this!  I have seen one therapist and am looking for another.   I will bring this up with them.  I related to having hyper-arousal at this point.  I have all sorts of emotions and cannot tell whether I have an "attachment injury", but I know I need to see a therapist especially since my spouse is pre-transition and I am in the closet with them.  And I'm still married...

I am sorry for the pain both of you, outofhiscloset and stronger, have  experienced.  I feel a little less alone  having found some posting online of women who had a trans spouse.  Do either of you have children?  I have one young child.  


January 13, 2019 1:11 am  #5

Re: Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

Thank you so much for posting this.  It's been 4 months now since crud hit the fan and I'm getting on with life, but reading the article made me sob because it so accurately describes how I've felt and feel, yet never saw reflected anyplace else.  Even the EAP social worker/counselor basically told me, "Well, can you stay with him and adapt or not?" She never addressed how I might feel about the situation put on my life. 

I live in a state that is very liberal, open, accepting, and that is generally well and good, but it leaves little support for spouses of transgender individuals.  I'm pretty sure that around here we're supposed to say they are brave and beautiful and wives who can't "accept" are phobic, even when checking out of the relationship and into self was truly the most damaging issue of all. 


Last edited by Calamity (January 13, 2019 1:11 am)


January 15, 2019 1:41 am  #6

Re: Resource for women married to men who come out as transgender

Reading this info was definitely validating. Thank you

Last edited by ConfusedSis (January 16, 2019 2:26 pm)


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