Our daughter is a clever, kind and loving young woman who recently came out as gay. I’m proud of her for being brave enough to be honest about this and be true to who she is. However, my husband is refusing to accept it. He acts as if it’s just a phase - despite our daughters insistence to the contrary - and just laughs it off if I try to talk to him. I can tell it's hurting her deeply. What do I do?
I can almost feel how proud you are of your daughter. Your acknowledgement of where she is in her life right now is commendable and is only going to support her to grow into a confident young woman. Your description of her father’s refusal to do the same shows how divisive and painful this kind of issue can be within some families. Clearly, it’s causing you both a lot of upset.
However, I’m going to offer something here that might sound a bit challenging. At the moment, I’m getting the impression that you’re telling him how he should respond, rather than exploring his response with him. This is understandable, but it may not be the best way to get through. I’ve worked with many couples over the years where, whatever the issue, communication has broken down because each person has been describing it to their partner in the same way over and over. As a result, things have got stuck in the pattern of: ‘I can’t hear you because you’re not saying anything that makes sense to me.’
Very often, when we’re trying to get a partner to accept something or perhaps take a particular course of action, we skip trying to understand the reasons for their hesitation. We often do this in our haste to make everything OK and maybe patch up relationships that have come adrift. In a perfect world you would both be at the same place in welcoming your daughter’s news, but the reality is that people often take time to find out how they feel. Sometimes, a way of saying 'I don’t know how I feel and I need some time to work it out' is to simply say 'no'. I wonder if, instead of telling your husband his reaction is wrong, you might have better luck trying explore with him what it might mean to him to have a child who now describes herself as gay.
There are many reasons why homosexuality is not OK for some people. Sometimes, being brought up with the idea that being gay is a bad thing means that when that child becomes a parent there is a belief that their own children should conform to heteronormative values. Having a child who challenges this can be experienced by a parent as having ‘failed’ and, as we know, feeling like a failure can be really hard to bear and often results in unhelpful behaviour. And sometimes a parent may be genuinely fearful that their child may be discriminated against because of their sexuality and think that if they can ‘hurry’ their child through this ‘phase’ they will keep them safe.
By really trying to encourage your husband to share the reasons that he believes (and possibly hopes) that this is a passing phase, you may be able to do two things. Firstly, you may understand things better (always a plus) which could lead to different and more helpful conversations. Secondly, you will be ‘modelling’ the importance of getting close to someone so that you can truly understand how they feel. There is the possibility that your husband will learn from you how he can do this with your daughter.
My final point is quite simply this: I think you should continue to help and support your daughter to be who she is. Your husband may well be watching from the side lines but he will not be able to escape seeing that you love your daughter just the same as you did before. He will see that her friends still love her because she is the same loveable person that she was before she told you she was gay. His belief that this is a phase will be severely challenged by the passage of time, the arrival of same sex partners and possibly children further down the line. All of these things will support him to accept and appreciate that he is lucky enough to be the father to a brave, honest and confident daughter.
Ammanda Major is a Relationship Counsellor and Sex Therapist If you have a relationship worry you would like some help with send it firstname.lastname@example.org*
*We're not able to reply individually to every email we receive, please see our relationship help pages for further support.