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Posted By Shannon Batts on 07/11/2018

For Spouses of Transgender and Non Binary Mates-Creating a Support Group

For Spouses of Transgender and Non Binary Mates-Creating a Support Group

 Spouses' Group for the cisgender spouse (or unmarried life partner) of mates who are transgender or non binary, held in Portland, Oregon, eases isolation that exist for spouses navigating a difficult and usually unexpected major life changing event.

Our group started with one spouse who wanted help keeping her marriage together after 30 years with her husband, soon to be wife.  After we met a few times, her next words set the course to where we are now 2 years later-28 spouses signed up.  She said in her usual assertive tone, "I need to find the spouses like me-go find them."  And then when it turned out there were no groups of spouses in Portland, "I think you should start this group."

I had some qualms about starting a group of which I'm not a part of the demographic-although therapists do it all the time.  I seek to be an ally, have family and friends all over that rainbow, but I didn't want to presume that I was the one to lead this group. Something about serving people of the LGBTQi? rainbow always makes me think more carefully about what I am doing or saying. They have been through or will go through enough and I want to make what I offer only add to their lives, and take some stress off their plates.  

After a tea date with a colleague, Kate Kauffman who created a transgender focused mental health clinic and more awesomeness at Brave Space, I felt like it just might work out to not be in the demographic.  She is a licensed therapist, trainer and catlayst for much good for transitioning in Portland, Oregon. Kate confirmed it was a definite need in the trans community-support for partners.  The group had been tried before by others and didn't work. Maybe my being an empathic therapist, but not identifying  would be removed enough (as well as my training in my couples' specialty) to make this work. I think this aspect of it is something I am always testing out-wondering if there is a better match for them that will emerge-licensed, skilled, couples' savvy AND a partner of a trans mate.  But I do love them and won't pass them along to just anybody (plus-their decision too).

It was time for me to live one of my beliefs that mistakes will be made so just go ahead and trust to do my best and that I will make it better as I go.  I know I can spend a lot of time letting that fear of it not being the best ever stop me from doing a damn thing.  So this is my workaround these days-just do it and know you can fix it as needed.   I think this is what catapults several of us who are cisgender to get on out there and create resources -even though not trans-because the need is so great,  currently unmet, and growing.

Lately, I have been concerned that they wont have a leader when my time is done on this planet, and started  talking about how they could be a peer led group one day if they wanted to.  I think peer led groups can be great-just need a plan for when they arent so as to not let it fall apart...try out a consultant, keep the power to choose in their hands.  So far they appreciate my role and thank me for screening in the positive people, handling difficult matters that emerge from time to time, providing an interesting space to meet in, giving good support and relationship fortifying tools.

My decision from the start was spot on to find spouses who who were trying to stay-to make the relationship work and filtering out the ones who were staying hostile and planning to divorce.  The positive intention flowed from already positive relationships (most of them).  This makes working with these spouses totally satisfying and rejuvenating as a couples' specialist. Many in the group read online accounts of crappy relationships and predicted failure of transgender marriage.  They were so hungry for relationship success stories and to make those their own.  From this I have created a motto for my work with transgender involved couples, "Love Remains; We'll Sort The Rest Out Together." 

What they have done is created a community that group was only the start of.  They formed a secret online group just for members of the Spouses' Group-all peers.  They discovered it is essential to have their own peeps to share the way through, to swap stories from funny to tearful, to go get a coffee together every week before group, to no longer be alone. Spouses get really brave sometimes and let the others in during really hard times- like a big ole gender dysphoria crash in the house and the spouse needing a phone friend late at night.  Sometimes their mates go shopping together; the families are starting to mingle.  This has presented the next door to walk though-a famiy of trans parent and spouse network about to be launched with our first family picnic.

A good portion of what spouses share are Ideas and referrals all around town for their mates to make the transition easier.  It is the nature of these particular spouses (and me too) to care about the mates-I make sure spouses remember to care for themselves too.

 I like to encourage them to also bring the focus back to themselves, the Spouses, "What do YOU need this week?" "How have YOU changed?"  This journey is a transition for both and getting the whole family through (many have kids from babies to beyond college age) is more likely to happen with a community in which you can all be yourselves. 

 I feel grateful for that first spouse that visited me in session and asked me to start this group back in 2016. She is one of my first "Graduates," who is doing just fine heading for retirement with the original vision for her marriage revised, yet still thriving. She visits the group from time to time and is interested in getting any willing members together to knit.  It has been a real honor and refreshing change to have these often very high functioning couples in my office. What a great community to launch! 

Let me know if you want some encouragement to launch a support group in your city to assist spouses and partners.  If you feel moved and able to do so safely, share this post, or my site, and write your comments or questions below or to me at  And remember my motto, Love Remains; We'll Sort The Rest Out Together. Shannon Batts, MS, LPC 

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