I looked over at her and could see the tears forming at the corner of her eyes. The uncomfortable way that my wife folded her arms was another signal for how upset she was getting. Instinctively, I moved closer to her, ready to embrace her, comfort her. Just before I enclosed my arms around her, I paused. “Is this OK?” I asked myself.
You see, we had just recently decided to split up, yet we still lived together and even slept in the same bed. However, the rules of touch had changed. I looked at her and asked if I could give her a hug. When she nodded her acceptance, we both cried, finally acknowledging just how much things had changed in a short period of time.
When I came out as transgender to my wife, we both knew that our marriage would end. We are now getting a divorce. The thing is, we still have a lot of love for each other and understand that neither of us is truly responsible for the end of our marriage. I can’t change being trans and she can’t change being straight.
We are amicable and even friendly as we move toward divorce and we still live together for the time being. Since the financial crash of 2008, there’s been a trend of divorced couples cohabiting post-divorce for financial reasons, so I know that we have some company in this endeavor.
The earliest challenge we ran into was deconstructing some of the affectionate habits we’ve developed over the 15 years we’ve been together. When you spend that much time as lovers, spouses and best friends, you know when the other needs touch or a hug or an encouraging word. All of a sudden we’re divorcing and things have changed. Hugs are still kind of welcome but not out of the blue. Asking for consent is necessary.
Suddenly there are boundaries where there used to be none. I’m not talking sexual consent; that has always been in practice in our relationship. I’m talking about the little things. We no longer assume consent to give shoulder massages. This might be easier if one of us cheated and had been thrown out of the house or if we had deep resentment that finally boiled over. The boundaries would be much more obvious.
There was one particularly painful habit that my wife needed to ask me to stop doing. When I said something that was difficult for her to hear, or if I was apologizing for something, I would add a cutesy “I loooove you” in a song voice. It’s a habit I’ve had for over a decade, but recently my wife looked at me with hardened eyes and informed me that I must stop doing that. Hearing that really hit home. Even the language we’ve grown accustomed to needs to be run through an internal filter before leaving our mouths.
Have you ever stopped and counted how many times you say some variation of “I love you” to your significant other? You’re not aware of it until you’re forced to stop saying it.
Perhaps the most important rule is to establish the boundaries for physical touching, verbal affection and privacy. Are we still allowed to walk in when the other person just got out of the shower or if the other is getting dressed for work? There’s a newfound sense of awkwardness in my household that hasn’t existed in a decade and a half.
My wife let me know early on that sex with her is off the table, and I agree with that. If we’re truly splitting up, then adding sex to the mix would add some very emotional layers to an already awkward and painful experience. Our breakup is still very fresh and neither of us is ready to date, but we’ve already started talking about what our future dating life will look like. Will we talk about our dates? Maybe. Bring dates home? That’s a big no-no.
I don’t think that I’ll ever stop loving my wife — we’ve been a couple and best friends for 15 years — and I think the feeling is mutual. I know that I fundamentally changed the terms of our relationship when I decided to leave the closet and transition. Ultimately, the marriage can’t survive that. It took me a long time and plenty of therapy to emotionally prepare to break my wife’s heart in this way, but it needed to be done. I wouldn’t have survived in the closet much longer. I admire my wife’s grace in all of this. She and I have remained mostly friendly while we file for divorce and we know that we will always be a family; it’s just that our family will look a little different from now on.