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Happily married for 32 years, Teresa Upton, 65, got the shock of her life when her loving husband revealed he was leaving her for a man. Here she tells her powerful story...
It was a typical lazy Saturday morning. My husband Lee and I were having our usual weekend lie-in and a cup of tea when out of the blue, he handed me a sealed envelope with my name on it.
“This is for you,” he said. I hadn’t a clue what it was. I muttered under my breath that I didn’t have my glasses to hand and started to tear it open but Lee snatched it back. “You’re going to need your glasses,” he said holding the letter close to his chest. It confused me but I did as he said and continued to open the envelope.
What happened next was like a bomb going off. There in front of me was a long handwritten note from my loving and loyal husband I’d known for 37 years and the faultless father of my four children explaining that he’d been living a painful lie all the years I’d known him – the truth was he’d fallen in love with a man.
My head was buzzing with a million questions. I felt a tidal wave of emotion come crashing down on me. I also felt sheer panic - my husband, my partner for life, was leaving me. How was I going to cope? Not just emotionally, but financially. What was going to happen to me?
I’d married Lee in 1978 when I was just 21, he was 20. He was the only boyfriend I'd ever had. I’d had a very sheltered childhood growing up with three sisters and traditional parents. I’d also attended an all girls Grammar school, so until I met Lee when I was 16, boys had been almost an unknown entity to me.
My parents were my role models – they’d married young and stayed together. So when Lee and I talked about getting engaged two years later, I didn’t question it. Life felt wonderful and I thought we were meant to be together. There was no grand proposal down on one knee, but Lee was very keen to get married.
Now with what I know and what I’ve learned from talking to and supporting other straight people who discover their partners are gay, it’s common for their LGBT partner to rush into marriage as it’s a key part of their disguise for life.
Lee admitted during his shock revelation to me that he’d had feelings for the same sex since junior school. It’s sorrowful he had been in denial for so many years. In my experience talking with those who have been through a similar experience, men hide from their true sexuality because of disapproving or homophobic parents or due to feelings of self-loathing or shame.
Everyone has their own reason and everyone’s situation is different, but to think someone has to live in denial is terrible. My ex-husband Lee buried a huge part of his authentic self for a long time. But he couldn’t sustain it. No one can. Nor should they.
Looking back, did I spot the signs? The answer is no. We had a healthy sex life since being engaged (when I was on contraception), whereas I’ve discovered some people’s sex lives come to an abrupt stop or they have dreadful bedroom failures from the start. Strangely, we had a sex life right up until we split so I never had that particular red flag. But then again, having not had a sex life before I met Lee, I had nothing to compare it to.
For the majority of our relationship, we were very happy. I gradually noticed flickers of stress in the last few years together when our children were teenagers. We were dealing with other family issues at the time, so it was hard for me to target where the stress was actually coming from. But still, I remained very loved.
Lee was by my side every step of the way through pregnancies, births and parenthood. He always wanted children and was a brilliant, hands-on dad. In fact other mums would comment, “I wish my husband was like yours”.
Accepting the new reality
Ten years before Lee broke his secret, one of our sons came out as gay. He was 15 at the time and needed support from us – although he was never one to hide behind a girlfriend. I sensed that it must have been extremely uncomfortable for Lee. As men get older, it’s harder to hide from who you are. To see your young teenage son be more open and honest than you while guarding your own secret, must have been hard.
By the time Lee dropped his guard that Saturday morning, he was in a strange state of euphoria. He was experiencing the high of new love with his partner but also a form of self-love – he was finally being open about who he truly was. That's a very powerful, heady emotion.
It was like he’d taken a truth tablet – Lee went on to tell me all about his new man. After all, I was the only person he could tell. But it left me thinking, “Hang on, I fancy a bit of that too.”
My reaction? Within months I hit the dating apps. I didn't know what the hell I was doing at 53 years of age but I knew I didn't want to be the person who's left sitting on my own at home watching life change around me.
I would never counsel any of my Straight Partners Anonymous (SPA) support group members to start rebound dating, but in honesty, I was so devastated, I went a little crazy. It was my way of tackling the problem, to find a way out of the chaos. Lee had his new partner to move him into his next phase of his life, but who did I have?
Lee told me, “Teresa, you’re a fighter.” He was right, I wasn’t going to roll over and let this happen to me. But the reality was, I was faced with a void. Yes I had lovely children, but they had grown up and were leading their lives. Ironically I’d been looking forward to spending more time with Lee as we got older and planning new adventures, but that was all snatched away from me.
Of course, Lee was also devastated about what he had done to me and the children. Although it wasn’t easy telling the children or my parents that same weekend, I didn’t feel ashamed. Yes I cried a lot, so did the kids, but I never felt shame because we still loved each other.
We had a family holiday booked to Crete six weeks after Lee’s revelation and we all still went. It gave us time and space to process what was happening and work things out. Lee had had his whole life to come to terms with this reality, but it was all news to me. I was racing to catch up.
In my experience, I’ve learned nine times out of ten, a gay partner doesn’t confront their straight partner with the truth until they’ve found someone else. I had to summon my inner strength to move on in my life and also for the children – their reaction is often influenced by yours in these situations.
A new life
After our holiday, Lee moved out to be with his partner and the kids were old enough by then to make their own arrangements to see him. It was too painful for me back then for him to visit the house.
In fact, for six years we only ever spoke via email. It was formal and unemotional. It had to be like that because I needed to recover. I had to understand it wasn’t my fault – I just had the wrong anatomy. There’s no fighting back or problem fixing because the problem is is you’re straight and they’re not. You can’t fix that.
I took myself away on mindful retreats which helped. I met my current partner during one break. It feels very different to what I had with Lee. There are sparks and passion – maybe with hindsight, we were missing that.
I sometimes wish what happened would all go away, but at the same time I honestly wouldn’t have changed a single minute of our lives together. We had a happy life and have wonderful children.
Unfortunately it’s not the same for everyone. I share our story so people who’ve gone through a similar experience don’t feel alone. The straight partners don’t get as much exposure usually. I’ve seen the work the support group does dramatically improve lives. Some people come to us feeling suicidal because when it happens to you, you feel very alone. You can also feel scammed and deceived.
I’ve discovered so much of myself in the last few years of my life after meeting my new partner. It’s exciting and I continue to embrace everything life throws at me.
If you’ve been through a similar situation to Teresa and are looking for anonymous support, contact Straight Partners Anonymous.
*Teresa’s ex-husband Lee has given his consent to her sharing her story.
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