Although transgender issues have been in the news lately -- from the very public transition of (and backlash against) Caitlin Jenner to lawmakers in South Dakota attempting to ban transgender students' use of same-sex bathrooms -- these issues may seem far from relevant to your life. This can change in an instant if your spouse or partner reveals to you that he or she is considering gender transition or sexual reassignment surgery. When should you seek marriage or family counseling to help you emotionally adjust to this process? Read on to learn more about the types of counseling that can benefit your relationship and own mental health during a complex and potentially tumultuous process.
What types of counseling services are best for those going through the gender reassignment process (and their partners)?
Gender identity issues can take a variety of forms, and the emotional (and physical) adjustment to these changes can vary widely. However, if your spouse's revelation took you by complete surprise, it's likely you'll be able to benefit from both individual and marriage counseling to help you make sense of what this will mean for your life, what you can do to provide physical and emotional support to your spouse while he or she is transitioning, and what both you and your spouse want for your joint (and individual) futures.
During your individual counseling sessions, talk therapy may provide the most benefit. Traditional talk therapy utilizes leading, open-ended questions to help you verbally express your feelings and opinions on a variety of situations. Once you've worked through some of the issues aloud, your therapist may provide you with some advice or additional factors to consider. For example, you may be concerned that your spouse will want to seek a divorce after transitioning or be worried about your own ability to remain physically attracted to a very different body than you married. Your talk therapist will help you work through the potential outcomes of each situation or ask you questions that will help you dig deep and identify your true fears and desires. Even those who were aware that a spouse was dealing with some gender identity issues (but not sure of the extent) can often benefit from counseling to help work through the wide range of feelings accompanying confirmation of this news.
Marriage counseling will allow both you and your spouse to freely air your feelings and worries in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere. Your counselor will help ensure that each of you are communicating necessary information to the other spouse and -- more importantly -- comprehending the information being received. You may want to use this opportunity to talk through difficult topics, like your spouse's sexual identity and plans for the future (including gender reassignment surgery or the use of hormones). Although these discussions can be fraught with emotion, your therapist will be able to ensure that rising tempers don't impede the lines of communication.
How can you find a counselor experienced in transgender issues?
Although you don't have to seek out a transgender-specific counselor or therapist to help you and your spouse work through these issues, it can be helpful to engage with someone who has dealt with transgender couples before and has some first-hand knowledge of common issues ranging from hormonal mood swings to handling friends' and other family members' reaction to the change.
Many therapists who have this experience will bill themselves as skilled in transgender relations on their own websites -- but if you live outside a major metro area or are otherwise having trouble tracking down a therapist or counselor who meets your criteria, you may want to begin discreetly asking other transgendered individuals in your community whether they've ever sought therapy and, if so, who they found most helpful.Share