How To Support Your Partner After They Come Out

Coming out is rarely an easy process. Whether someone is coming out as gay, bisexual, pansexual, trans, non-binary, or any other identity, things change for them. There will be those who will support them and love them no matter what, but there are also likely to be those whose opinions of them change. While one would hope that society has evolved past that level of ignorance, the truth is that hate still exists.

According to the results of 2017 poll run by Gallup, 10.2% of LGBT+ Americans are married to a straight spouse. The reasons why someone might stay in a relationship with a straight partner can vary. Sometimes it's about not hurting their partner, keeping up appearances because of their own internalized homophobia, or fear of what family and friends might think of them. Because of this, should your partner come out to you, you shouldn't freak out — it's these types of responses that have kept them fearful about coming out sooner. Keep your mind and heart open as they come out to you.

"Coming out exists on the spectrum," certified sex therapist Casey Tanner tell Healthline. "There isn't one right or wrong way to come out, and it's something that's ongoing."

Sexuality and gender are fluid. Like coming out is on a spectrum, so are these two things. You can't fault your partner for having a different sexual orientation now than when you met, or that they may have hidden that part of themselves because they weren't entirely sure. Either way, it's out there now and you need to be as supportive as possible.

Give your partner a safe place to tell their story

Because coming out is a big deal, you want to make sure you give your partner the floor before jumping to conclusions. Give your partner the opportunity to tell their story to you. If they're coming out to you now, then there's a good chance they've never told anyone, and there's a reason for that. So be kind and listen.

"Most of us don't listen so well when our partners are sharing their most intimate thoughts, fears, dreams, or resentments," neuroscientist, licensed psychotherapist, and certified sex and relationships therapist Dr. Nan Wise tells AskMen. "We are too busy thinking about what we are going to say in response or trying to influence the partner. The most important relationship skill — period — is being able to listen to our partners and hold a non-judgmental space for them."

As you listen, keep in mind that when it comes to suicidal ideation, suicide rates, and substance abuse, those in the LGBTQIA+ community are hit the hardest because of society's inability to accept them as their true selves (via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). So accept them as they are and make sure they know it. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Ask your partner questions

How long your partner has known and why they didn't tell you earlier aren't the most important questions right now. Offering up your support should be the priority.

"For many, one of the most important aspects of coming out is the ability to begin to live life authentically — as the person who they were meant to be," Talkspace therapist Rachel O'Neill, Ph.D., LPCC-S, tells Bustle. "Asking questions can communicate interest and support of their coming out process."

But you don't want to get overly personal with your questions, push your partner to say things about themselves that they're not ready to share, or probe about what they plan to do. You partner may choose to keep this part of themselves private for the immediate future, so let them take the steps they need to take, thank them for trusting you, then let them do what they need to do for themselves with you at their side (via USGA).

Educate yourself

If your partner comes out as non-binary, for example, and you don't fully understand binary versus non-binary, then you need to educate yourself on what it means. The National Center for Transgender Equality is a great place to start. Because so many people are openly embracing the variety of sexual orientations on the spectrum, finding information on this topic — or any sexual orientation/gender identity — is pretty darn easy these days. It will also give you a better understanding on how important pronouns are for people who aren't cishet. 

"Don't push them to define themselves immediately, please!" psychotherapist Mix Thomas tells Elite Daily. "Some folks share this information about themselves before they totally understand it and what it means for them. They may still have doubts and be scared or be battling internalized transphobia. If they're just not sure about things yet, let that be OK."

You'll be a better ally when you better understand the definition of the sexual orientation that they now identify as.

Reflect and share

While in some cases a partner's coming out may not affect the relationship, it can in other cases. For example, if your partner identified as straight when you met them and now they identify as gay, it may not be a relationship that can be saved. But if your partner comes out as pansexual or non-binary, then their attraction toward you may not have changed, or vice versa. Instead, they're coming out to you was to let you know who they are completely. In either situation, the relationship will be impacted and you'll have to discuss it (via The Gottman Institute).

"You can find a way to have a very safe and loving conversation with your partner about your concerns about how the partner's coming out is going to impact you," psychotherapist and relationship expert Dr. Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., tells AskMen. "And if you have strong feelings about their coming out, definitely speak to a sex therapist to explore your own reaction. Or consider setting up a session for you and your partner to talk to someone together. I have worked with many couples going through all sorts of transitions and helped them cultivate relationship tools that make their relationship better than ever."

If your relationship is built on strong communication, love, and respect, it just might make it — despite the changes. 

Tell them you love them

The person sitting across from you is the same person they were before they came out to you. The big difference now is that they've opened up to you about something that they've likely been dealing with alone for a long time, and are extremely vulnerable because of it. When we're feeling vulnerable and exposed, the most important thing we can hear from our loved ones is that we're loved and everything we're feeling is valid. So, that's exactly what you should tell your partner, while keeping in mind that this isn't about you; it's about their journey and you being part of it.

"Many times people feel stuck in their expressions of gender or sexual attraction because of social pressure, wanting to fit in, or fear of judgment," family therapist Mona Eshaiker tells Cosmopolitan. "Be the person your friends and family feel comfortable expressing their true authentic selves with."

One of the cool things about having a partner come out is that it can feel like you've been given the opportunity to explore your own orientation and/or gender identity, too. You may have subconsciously identified as "questioning" all this time and now, while supporting your recently out partner, you can really delve into what the answers to those questions might be, per Psychology Today.