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Communication Privacy Management in Mixed Orientation Marriages

Darcy L Wente-Hahn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Mixed orientation marriage (MOM) refers to a couple in which one spouse experiences same-sex attraction and may or may not identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, while the other spouse is heterosexual (Buxton, 2001). There are no data on incidence of MOMs in the United States due to the high level of secrecy surrounding these identities. A conservative estimate is that two million lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals currently, or once were, married to a heterosexual partner (Buxton, 2001). MOMs present complex communication and identity issues for the couple, family, social networks, and larger culture (Buxton, 2001; 2004). Entering a MOM relationship results in difficult conversations for couples, confronting how to reveal and conceal information about what is often a very private matter. I centered the study in Communication Privacy Management (CPM) theory to help understand how people navigate revealing and concealing private information within various relationships (Petronio, 2002). In this qualitative/interpretive study I examined the negotiation and enactments of revealing and concealing within in MOMs. In 34 interviews with straight and not-straight spouses from different relationships, I studied how partners in MOMs interact and manage privacy boundaries and rules, what confidant (receiver of private information) roles were enacted, and what couple typologies were represented in these relationships. Via an interpretive analysis guided by CPM theory, I found multiple motivations to reveal and conceal by both straight and not-straight spouses, inferential and reluctant confidant roles, inferential and reluctant confider roles, representing these in four enacted couple types. I contribute three primary insights for further application of CPM: (a) extended discussion of gender and sexuality motivations, (b) confirmation of confidant roles enacted, and (c) addition and explication of confider roles. I suggest three main practical implications for individuals in MOMs: (a) developing educational resources, (b) applications for therapists to use the couple typologies to help MOMs navigate the complexities of these relationships, and (c) beginning ideas for a popular press book or workshops.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Wente-Hahn, Darcy L, "Communication Privacy Management in Mixed Orientation Marriages" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI27955083.