Being with a Closeted Partner | Advice

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I’m out, my partner isn’t and it is creating conflict in our relationship.

I have been with my partner for three years. We met at work and had an instant connection. I am so in love with him but I feel unloved in this relationship and can’t see how things will turn out long term. I’m 40 years old and have been out since I was 21, he is 35 and is not out to his family but is out to friends. When his family is around, he tells me to act like his best friend, which feels like a huge rejection for me. I bring this up to him and he tells me that “You just don’t understand what it’s like” and it turns into a big fight. I don’t see how we can move forward with our relationship like this.

Navigating a relationship where one partner is openly embracing their queer identity and the other remains in the closet presents unique challenges and I empathize with how difficult this is for you to navigate. It's essential to approach this conflict with an in-depth understanding of the complexities involved so that both of you feel heard, seen and understood.

The concept of the closet is multifaceted. Some individuals might be open about their sexuality or gender identity in certain contexts, such as with close friends, but not in others, like within their family or community. This selective disclosure can be influenced by various factors, including societal pressures, cultural norms, and personal fears. It's crucial to recognize that an individual's decision to remain closeted is not a reflection of their commitment to the relationship but rather their personal journey and the challenges they face.

Effective communication is paramount in navigating this dynamic. Partners need to express their feelings and concerns while also being receptive to listening. By understanding the hesitations, fears, and vulnerabilities of the closeted partner, both individuals can work towards a mutual understanding. If things start to get heated during the discussion, take a break and come back when both partners feel more grounded in their emotions.

It's not a matter of questioning the relationship's authenticity but recognizing and understanding the personal narratives and choices that shape these decisions. While being out to family might be a dream for many, it may be dangerous emotionally, mentally or physically to others. It's vital to find a balance that respects both partners' comfort levels. Think about what you would need, shy of him coming out to his family, to not feel rejected or hurt. 

If you feel like you are at an impasse with this issue, couples therapy can be an invaluable resource. It provides a structured environment where both partners can explore their emotions, address challenges, and develop strategies to strengthen the relationship. It may also be helpful to join an LGBTQ support group that can offer a sense of community, providing both partners with insights and understanding from others who have faced similar challenges.

It is common to feel rejected when you want to show your relationship to the world and your partner doesn't but coming out is a deeply personal and individualistic process so it is important to communicate your feelings to your partner without expectation that they will out themselves to their family or friends for you for the sake of the relationship.

Queerly Beloved is an expertly curated column dedicated to the world of LGBTQ sex, intimacy and relationships that provides education, insights and actionable tips for the reader to enhance their pleasure journey. This column from Kelly Ghweinem, LCSW, will answer questions and provide advice to readers to deepen intimate connections, elevate pleasurable experiences, and empower people. Ghweinem is an established queer- affirming therapist and business owner who champions the LGBTQ+ community through activism and advocacy utilizing a queer, feminist, anti-racist lens. A University at Buffalo graduate, Kelly came to Fort Lauderdale from Manhattan in 2022.

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