Trapped In the Closet: What To Do When You're Out and He's Not

Though the climate surrounding the acceptance of those in the LGBTQ is changing for the better, coming out is still a difficult process for many.  During your dating journey you will come across men with varying degrees of outness.  Like all other areas of compatibility being out or not is important when choosing a partner.  If you choose a man thats not out conflicts could arise if neither of you is open to compromise and negotiating.

Generally speaking, it has been observed that men of similar “levels of outness” tend to experience less stress and conflict and tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction than those couples in discordant identity arrangements.

For you being the partner with more comfort and pride in your sexual identity, it is likely that you often times feel “held back” by your partner’s lack of security with himself as you are limited in the types of things you can do in public, and even within the confines of your own support network with family and friends. As such, it can feel like you are being forced back “into the closet” after having worked so hard over time to claim a positive self-concept as a gay man.

Conversely, your partner can feel pressured before he’s ready to take on situations that are risky and threatening to him and a perpetual push/pull dynamic gets set in motion in these types of relationships that can make both of you feel overwhelmed, resentful, and unsupported.

Your partner’s closeted lifestyle preference is his issue and you can’t “make” him change his ways , and it’s solely his responsibility to come out to others when and if he chooses. All you can do is communicate your needs and feelings to him and share with him your concerns that your differing levels of “outness” have on your relationship and what it means for the two of you moving forward. You can also encourage slow, gradual, risk-taking behaviors that the two of you do together in terms of public exposure as a gay couple, but again you can only solicit these suggestions to him and he will ultimately choose whether this is something he’s willing to forego.

It will be important for you to determine for yourself how much stock you place in this particular value for your happiness. Is it a negotiable or non-negotiable deal-breaker need for you to be in a relationship with someone who is as “out” as you are? If your partner were to never “come out of the closet”, would you be able to spend the rest of your life in a relationship such as this knowing you would have to continue living with certain sacrifices? These are the types of things you and your partner would benefit talking with each other about.

While two men who are “out” and open and two men who are both closeted tend to fare better because each is living the same reality, men in your situation where one is “out” and the other isn’t can and do make their relationships work, but sacrifices are made. You will have to decide for yourself what these specific sacrifices would be and if the investment you’ve made with your partner after all these years is more important to you than the individual growth potential you might have to give up to an extent to respect and accept your partner’s needs for privacy and anonymity. It’s also possible your partner just needs more time and you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to wait.

So while you may feel like you’re in a powerless position, you actually do have some control over your future…it’s just that they’re not very fun decisions and they have the capacity to lack guarantees and can be extremely life-changing. So avoid being impulsive and reactive at all costs.  Avoid getting into power struggles over this issue because your partner can’t take those personal journeys until he’s emotionally equipped and ready.