I've been having a conversation with a friend in England (via Facebook) about her situation with her TS spouse. I feel horribly for her because of the, frankly, pretty bad problems she is having because of her spouse's transition. I think that, while quite drastically bad in comparison, her situation is a very good example of what a lot of non-transitioning partners and spouses end up going through, and consequently what causes a whole heap of guilty feelings on the part of the TS.
I think that this may be the crux of the cause of so many spouses leaving the situation. Whether or not a rift in the marriage existed prior to the TS coming out, the fact is that when the transition takes place, at any point along the way, the partner/spouse is forced to change his/her life because of it. Because the partner/spouse did not choose for any of this to happen, and because... technically, the TS is not forced to make any changes at any point (it really is the TS's choice to do something when and where), resentment can rear it's ugly big head.
The big chore for the partner/spouse is where to direct the resentment.
Take my friend's situation. N is British. Her TS spouse, O, is American. They are legally married here in the US, she's lived here for many years, but for some reason the State Department has decided that now that O is legally a woman, their marriage is invalid. I don't want to get into a tangential conversation about whether this finding is correct, because it's not. The point is that N now has two choices to make:
1. Stay in England without her spouse and children for the rest of her life
2. Return to the US with limited domestic partner rights (she'll have health insurance) and without the ability to work, pay taxes, vote, get a permanent driver's license or pretty much anything else a citizen should have by law. She'd be on a renewable, temporary visa forever, with the possibility of deportation at the SD's whim. Essentially, she'd be forced to stay at home and do nothing.
See? I said her situation is extraordinary, but it makes the strong and very sad point that the struggle she's in now is SOLELY because her spouse transitioned.
One can't help but to feel a little resentment toward the TS spouse, even though it's the State Department's stupidity that is to blame.
My situation has similar qualities to it, as does just about every TS partnership. For me, I have to be willing to accept that, "Oh, you're in a LESBIAN relationship," look from people who realize that I use the term "spouse" and "parent" to refer to Natasha. And there IS a specific look. It's a kind of pitying yet curious look. I've had to accept that there is a woman sleeping in my bed with me and not a man. I've had to have conversations with my very young children about why it's okay that Daddy is becoming a girl but that the two of them will not have to change their genders when they are older. Clearly, these and other things that I'm adjusting in my life are not nearly on the same level of awful as those for my friend N, but they do wear a person down sometimes and I have to remind myself on occasion that it's not Natasha's fault.
Many spouses have this argument with themselves. On the one hand, like I said, the TS never really MUST do something. I hear lots of you lovely TS folk out there saying, "Yes. We do HAVE TO do something at some point." But come on. There's that "some point" factor that lots of folks forget about. How many TS folk have had to wait to progress from one phase of transition to another? Natasha had to wait. She's still waiting for her GRS. Perhaps some TS had to wait because the spouse said if you go any further, we're through and that was enough to stop it. This is not to say that waiting for any period of time is easy or painless. But it IS a choice to move forward, even if it's NOT a choice to be Transsexual.
But then, in my situation, Natasha didn't take any step forward until I gave her permission to do so. In reality, however, I didn't think I really had a choice. My spouse was in mental pain and for me to hold her back felt selfish and awful. So, as much as I didn't want to give her permission, I did because I loved her and wanted her to feel happier about herself. I knew what I was giving up and it broke my heart every day, over and over again. It still does sometimes.
Yet, I still resent the transition sometimes, and that's okay. But for many spouses, it's not okay, and here is where the marriage/partnership ends. I know of several TS folk who basically told their partners, "I have to go through this now and if you can't be with me then that's the way it has to be." Frankly, I think that's completely selfish, but perhaps there already was a previously existing issue in the relationship. If there wasn't, there sure would be at that point! If Natasha had said that to me, you bet I wouldn't be here. Throwing an ultimatum like that into someone's face is just plain rotten. Nobody HAS to do ANYTHING NOW (unless, of course, your organs are failing or something else threatens the finality of your life).
So, getting back to this resentment, assuming that the transition was agreed upon by both partners, we cannot help but sometimes to feel hurt by the situation. For those spouses who really do want to stay with their TS partner, it behooves you to sit down and really think critically about what is causing the resentment. If you want to stay in the relationship but are afraid and angry because your life is changing, think about the actual cause of what's making you angry. For me, one of my causes is that even the kindest people still think same-sex couples are strange. I'm angry at the bureaucracy of name changes. I'm frustrated that school forms still assume that when there are two legal guardians of kids, one must be male. For my friend N, she must remember that it's the State Department being stupid. Now, N has a long legal road ahead of her. That is stressful, painful, fearful and a host of other -ful words that will strain her relationship with O. But if they really do love each other and want to be together, then this is the road she must take. Her resentment toward O is that she doesn't have to go through this in the same way that N does, but N knows that's not exactly O's fault. It just gets hard sometimes to remember where to place that anger.
I use an analogy to explain to people why I have chosen to stand by Natasha and I think they understand (I've mentioned this before, so forgive my redundancy). If Natasha had been in a horrible accident that left her completely paralyzed but her mind was completely untouched, I would not leave her. Who would? She might change a bit in personality. It would dramatically change our everyday lives - what we could or couldn't do, responsibilities, job situations, etc - but the person Natasha would still be there. Yes, I've heard that sometimes people in traumatic accidents actually do change drastically in personality. This is different. Natasha knows that if she likes being a girly girl and spends hours in front of the mirror and insists upon buying lots of clothes and shoes and wants to start going out... well, I think we'll have serious problems. But this is not the case.
I would be so angry if something like that happened to Natasha (the accident, not the shoes). I'm sure there would be days that I would just sit on my bed and cry for hours over what had happened to my spouse and the stresses and responsibilities I would have inherited through no choice of my own. But I would stay and deal with it because she would still be my loving spouse.
Natasha feels guilty at times about what I am going through "because of her." I don't tell her not to feel guilty, but I do remind her that it's my choice to be here. One one hand, she is the reason for so much change in my life. Unlike an accident, she consciously chooses to progress with her transition. She knows that it shouldn't be up to me to let her move forward. I shouldn't have to make those kinds of decisions because, truthfully, then I can only blame myself. She is where she is because I have said, "okay." On the other hand, to deny her the ability to be herself in her right body is cruel. So, she lives with some guilt and I live with some unwelcome changes. But that happens anyway, right? Things change. S**t happens! People feel guilty about stuff.
Whom do we blame when s**t happens? Don't sling anything at anybody until you know for sure where to aim.