Brokeback Marriage: Wife Starts Over -- With a Woman

PHOTO Shira Neuberger poses for picture with Kelly, the woman who moved into her home after her husband moved out.Courtesy Shira Neuberger
Shira Neuberger poses for picture with Kelly, the woman who moved into her home after her husband moved out.

By all accounts, Shira Neuberger seemed to be living a happy life. She had a handsome husband, two beautiful daughters and a pretty suburban home outside Philadelphia.

But last year, she stunned neighbors in her small town by splitting with her husband of seven-and-a-half years and inviting a new partner into her home.

Even more shocking to those around her, her new love was not another man -- but a woman.

Wife Begins New Life, With Another WomanPlay
Wife Begins New Life, With Another Woman

Shira said that if someone had told her in July 2001, when she married her husband, John, that she would ultimately end up in a relationship with another woman, she would have been stunned. She said she entered her marriage blissfully happy, believing it would last forever.

Just a year later, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Karis. A second daughter, Sosie, followed in 2004.

As the years passed, though, doubts began creeping in about her marriage.

"We don't want to have those doubts of, 'Is this not going to work?'" Shira said. "I mean, that's a very frightening feeling. But the nature of our relationship was really changing."

As her marriage to John became increasingly unhappy, Shira found their sex life fading as well. Soon, depression had taken over, even getting so bad at one point that she resorted to electroconvulsive brain therapy -- once known as electro-shock treatment -- looking for relief. By 2006, Shira said, she was sure her marriage would not last.

"When I look where I am now, and I look where I was, it's a dramatic shift. And all the changes were very difficult. There's loss involved -- there's a lot of loss," Shira said.

A struggling Shira began to lean more on her female friends for emotional support. One of those friends was Kelly Durand, whom Shira had met at her children's gymnastics classes a few years earlier.

At first, the relationship was platonic, because although Kelly was a lesbian, she knew Shira as a married mother of two.

"I think there's something about it being off-limits that confines you to behave in a certain way," Kelly said. "I think it probably always was there, but like, you sort of keep your distance."

Brokeback Marriage: 'This Tension'

Shira had always considered herself a heterosexual. With the exception of an affair just after college with a woman, she only had been with men.

But in the months that followed the collapse of her marriage, she found herself increasingly drawn to Kelly. The two women grew closer and soon began spending more and more time together.

"As I developed feelings, I think at some point, I said, I sense this tension," Shira said. "I knew this was going to be very hard. It was very difficult to deal with the end of a marriage and then to feel like, 'OK, I'm now interested potentially in a relationship with another person. And also, it's a woman.' People do kind of have an extra level of horror for that."

Shira was about to experience one of society's last taboos: the switch from a straight mate to a lesbian lover. Although there have been recent examples in the media of this phenomenon -- on the television program "Grey's Anatomy" and with actresses Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche -- many still find switching one's sexual orientation hard to grasp.

Both Nixon and Heche dated men before their headline-grabbing relationships with women. Since famously splitting with Ellen Degeneres in 2000, Heche once again has been romantically linked with men.

Dr. Lisa Diamond, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Utah, has studied female sexuality for years and believes such "sexual fluidity" can be common among women. Whereas men respond heavily to visual cues, Diamond said a woman's desires are far more likely to be swayed by emotions and personalities than by looks or gender.

According to her research, women in their 30s and 40s, just like Shira, are more likely to newly discover same-sex feelings as they become more attuned to their emotional needs.

"Fluidity suggests that a woman's sexual desires and her sexual motivation can actually swing back and forth between men and women based upon her relationship with that person, based upon where she is in the stage of her life course," Diamond said.

Brokeback Marriage: Beyond Platonic

As Shira struggled to understand what she was going through, she took to the Internet looking for answers and support. One of the resources she found was Joanne Fleischer's website,, designed to reach out to married women questioning their sexuality. Fleisher, who herself was married to a man for 12 years and had two children when she fell in love with a woman, hosts support groups for these women to talk about the changes they are experiencing.

There are married women just like Shira who do keep their feelings a locked secret particularly when there are children to consider.

"For a lot of women, it's this secret life," Shira said. "And it's hard enough to deal with having an attraction outside of the marriage, but that it's to a woman, I think that can be absolutely terrifying."

Although Shira struggled internally for a long time with her own sexual identity with the help of Joanne Fleisher's support group. She decided she was ready to move beyond the platonic relationship she had with Kelly for so many years.

"It just sort of happened," Shira said. "It wasn't that I came to a realization and said, 'Oh, I'm a lesbian.' I became closer and closer to her emotionally and I think I was open to starting to feel romantic feelings for her."

In the spring of 2009, Shira's husband, John, moved out of the house, and soon Kelly moved in. Shira said most of her friends as well as her parents were in a state of shock.

"Shock, horror. And here are my parents who theoretically are very open-minded, very accepting, very tolerant, when it came to their daughter, that was very difficult for my parents to deal with," Shira said.

Shira and Kelly believe their relationship is for life and hope to be able to marry if gay marriage becomes legal in Pennsylvania.

Shira's ex-husband now lives a short distance from them and shares parenting duties with Shira and Kelly. Although it has taken some adjusting, Shira said they are all content with how their unusual, loving family has turned out.

Today, Shira has learned to move beyond what people who disagree with her life choices think. And although it may seem like she's made a drastic change, she said, in many ways she is still the same person she always was.

"I think what really made the difference for me was realizing that I am trying to raise my children to be who they want to be, to really live out their dreams for themselves," Shira said. "I realized I needed to have the courage to continue making the changes that worked for me."