Our Decision to Divorce and Remain a Family
by Laura Skaggs Dulin & John C. Dulin
Over the years, John and I have repeatedly felt our souls are connected. We feel that again as we share this part of our journey with you.
Sixteen years ago, John was the first person I ever felt safe enough to come out to; just a year into our marriage.
He was also the first person ever to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me — nothing about me that needed to change — and that I was loved and loveable just as I am.
After living the first 24 years of my life learning to hide, minimize and feel ashamed of my orientation, his words of love were the most soothing my soul had ever experienced, and this strength has been a hallmark of our marriage.
For 17 years, John has lovingly walked alongside me; tenderly listening as I slowly began to process my orientation, offering comfort around the pain of social rejections and losses, and repeatedly encouraging me to further explore and understand myself. Neither one of us knew fully what was or wasn’t possible for our marriage, but in his nurturing care, I walked carefully forward and felt a loving God gradually teach my spirit about what it meant to be gay and to live a healthy and joyful life versus one of trauma and fear. These experiences helped me to become the therapist and voice I have felt God wanted me to be for others. They also evoked within me a sense of love and gratitude for John that is unmatched by any other human in my life. For this reason, even though I had come to understand that being gay was a wholly good part of me — full of beautiful relationship potential and congruent with a spiritual life — I could not ever imagine parting with John in order to live into what I had learned about myself. John IS my family and I didn’t want to lose my most precious relationship.
And so my belief or plan was to grieve and let go of the loss of never having a wife and stay in my marriage. Something I wrote about here.
Many years since beginning that endeavor, however, my mind and body was still not better, nor allowing me to move on as I’d hoped. For years, I had tried to grieve and let go of never loving as I am made to, but in reality there remained a hole inside of me that no matter how much I processed it or what I did to patch it up, had never gone away or healed. So often, I felt like I was putting a fresh bandage over a chronic wound only for it to bleed through again. Each time I felt that bleeding afresh, I could feel the life leaving me and the word I kept coming back to was withering. “I am losing life, withering in my mind and body and I have never truly found a way to stop it.”
As I started to spend more and more time in bed, immobilized from what I was experiencing, I began to feel like a hypocrite. As a mental health therapist, it’s my job to help those who are suicidal, but here I was, my own mental health slipping away from me. I began to worry deeply about where this was going.
For many years, when John would see me in pain, he had begun to gently ask questions like: “Do you think you would be healthier in another path? Or “ Can you at least find ways to be close to someone else like you?” But I would always adamantly reject any suggestion of moving in another direction.
After 37 years of doing this, however, and honestly processing everything I could about it, it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that what I was doing wasn’t working.
In this confrontation with my harsh reality, I was finally willing to do something different — not to leave my marriage — but to at least allow myself to be open to connecting more with others like me: Queer Latter-day Saint women, just like me, in hopes to find a middle way to feel close while keeping my covenants.
And so I gradually began to allow myself to daydream. And I imagined I could hold a woman’s hand and feel closeness and warmth. Just in that daydream alone, I could feel a spark of hope return inside of me. And so I let myself continue to dream: that there was some way to finally be ok; to be close to a woman while staying in my marriage.
For the last two years, that is the space that I allowed myself to explore and I have learned several things about myself in that time.
1) My mental health improved vastly in becoming close to a queer woman. I learned what it felt like to have a zest for life; an expression I had never experienced or understood personally before. The difference inside of me felt like going from night to day.
2) It was the most psychologically complex endeavor to try to let myself be close but not too close. This is a space that requires far more intentionality than anything I have ever experienced or believe I can sustain over the long run.
3) The closer I am to a woman, the more difficult it often is to connect to my spouse in multiple ways. As a metaphor: I am right handed, and I’ve learned that relating to a queer woman in this way feels like being able to use my right hand while relating to John as a spouse is more like using my left; requiring much more conscious effort and sometimes difficulty.
4) When I have stepped back from this space, my depressed mind and body gradually returns, and my previous existential dilemma resumes.
5) While my spouse encouraged and supported me fully to explore this avenue out of his deep concern for my mental well-being, the dynamic it created has not been good psychologically for him as he developed his own depression and sense of being displaced.
6) Mind, body and spirit, my entire being feels most grounded, healthy and at home in connection to loving and being loved by a woman.
John has been my confidant and fellow traveler throughout this exploration and witness to these increased understandings. Exploring and stepping in and out of this space, neither John nor I felt like it was a sustainable solution. After spending our adult lifetimes listening to each other in countless hours of honest wrestling, seeking and experimenting on how we might navigate our orientation differences and related problems in a mutually healthy way, we found we had exhausted all avenues we had ever heard of or could imagine attempting.
For both of us, coming to this place has held a combination of sincere grief, humble and honest discussion of divorce, and then in leaning into that path, a sense of finally landing on solid ground.
A big part of that solid ground has been in repeated spiritual feelings that we are still a family. That our family is still bound together in our love for one another and for our daughters, with plans to remain close. Our peace also comes in the knowledge that we are loving each other best by living into the light and understanding we’ve gained about our situation and nurturing each other into new relationships congruent with our respective orientations. Or as John put it so tenderly when we told our girls, “This is what I am doing to take care of my best friend.”
We regret the messages in society and our communities that continue to tell LGBTQ people that what is inside of them or the relationships they form are no good. We continue to work for increased understanding that leads to change.
Neither one of us regrets our family or the love we found within it. “To love another person is to see the face of God” and we have loved and seen each other deeply.
For the last several weeks the words of this hymn keep coming back to my mind and expressing my heart:
For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild
Lord of all to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise
We are grateful to those who have supported our family in so many meaningful ways over the years and for those who support our family still as we walk forward.
I have shared 17 beautiful years with Laura Skaggs Dulin as her husband. They were amazing years, challenging years, full of problem-solving, wonder, and deep connection. I love her today more than ever. Our friendship has grown leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. The reason for this growth will surprise many. We have decided that the best thing we can do for each other is to change one part of our friendship, that is, the husband and wife part.
To be clear, we are separating, with the plan of legally divorcing. This term is inadequate because it is a very strange divorce. A more adequate term for me is a rearrangement. My family is going to be rearranged and, eventually, expanded. There is only one reason for this divorce. I am a man and Laura is gay.
Some context. When we married, Laura believed she had only two options: marry a man or be alone. We had a great connection and even attraction. But after so many great years together, it has become clear that we have put ourselves into a perpetual game of twister. In that game, the bodies stretch and twist, pressures are placed on strength and balance. You can hold those positions for a time, it can even be enjoyable, but for how long?
Laura is made to be with a woman, to have a wife. It is a divine, life-giving attribute. Being denied this has taxed her spirit to the breaking point, slowly eroding her life force, and denying her the full capacity to love and be loved. It took us so long to reach this conclusion because of the depth of our bond. But, now, we change our formal status as an expression of our bond, of our care for each other. I extend this to her as a gift and experience it as the full flowering of our love.
Though we will divorce, Laura is my family. She always will be. When Laura falls in love with the woman of her dreams, that woman will also be my family. Someday, I hope to have the honor of walking the mother of my children down the aisle, of giving her away and sending her home.
But first, we must end our 17-year game of twister. We now help each other to our feet. Now we stand, both feet on the ground, leading each other by the hand to the places we belong.
Thank you, Laura Skaggs Dulin, for choosing me as your fellow traveler on this fascinating, soul-expanding journey. I love you with all my heart.