Chris, Jo-Ann, Nikki and Joanne

You never know what you're going to find behind your neighbor's white picket fence. In communities across the country, there are married women who share a secret. Their secret is so life-altering that many never tell anyone...let alone their husbands.

Wives who have decided to come clean say they're happier than they've ever been and are having the best sex of their lives. So what's the big secret?

For seven years, Chris and her husband Joe lived the American dream. Just two months after their wedding, Chris was pregnant with their first child, and then, just two years later, they welcomed their second son into the world.

"I was really, really happy," Chris says. "Joe always made me feel absolutely loved, and we absolutely trusted each other."

Then, five years into their marriage, Chris says something inside her changed. "Oprah would call it an 'aha! moment,'" she says. "I had an 'Oh, no! moment.'"

Chris—the picture-perfect wife and mother—realized she was a lesbian.
Chris and Oprah

As a child, Chris says she wrote love letters to other girls and had crushes on her friends. She even dated a woman briefly when she was 19, but she says she didn't realize she was a lesbian until she was pregnant with her third child, a daughter.

"I got pregnant with a little girl and something in me just wanted to be completely woman identified," she says. "I could not suppress that whole world changed. It was like a little lightbulb clicked on, and as much as I tried to click off the lightbulb, I couldn't get it to go off."

Tragically, Chris's baby girl was stillborn. "It was the worst thing to ever happen," she says. "I thought perhaps I'm being punished because I'm internally betraying my husband and my family. That was the moment when I really knew I have to be an authentic person, and I have to tell the truth, as painful as it's going to be."

For years, Chris says she chose to "shut off" her feelings toward women because she wanted the traditional American family, complete with a loving husband and children. Once Chris admitted her true feelings to herself, she couldn't hide her secret any longer.
Joe and Chris

After years of suppressing her sexuality, Chris decided to come out to her husband, Joe. She planned to tell him that she was a lesbian over dinner, but she says she "chickened out." The truth eventually came out while they were sitting on a curb outside a bookstore.

"I said, 'Joe, I think after lots of soul searching and lots of reading and lots of praying I do believe that I'm a lesbian,'" she says. "It was very painful to do."

Initially, Joe was very supportive of his wife's decision. "He says, 'It's going to be okay. I love you. We'll get through it,'" Chris says. "And I thought, 'I don't know if he heard me.'"

From that day forward, Chris slept in a spare bedroom...and things began to get more difficult at home. "[Joe] went from very understanding to angry as we do [when] we go through the feelings of grief," she says.

Though Chris and Joe were living as "best friends" instead of husband and wife, she says her decision to come out of the closet had nothing to do with sex. "It was about my personal connection with another person," she says. "When I thought about how I wanted to have an intimacy with another person...I knew it couldn't be with Joe anymore."
Joe, Chris and Oprah

At first, Joe and Chris tried to make their marriage work, but eventually, they divorced. Joe says he was blindsided when Chris told him she was a lesbian, and he never suspected that his wife was gay.

Joe says he was supportive of Chris because he loved her...and because he was also gay! Four years after his divorce, Joe followed Chris's footsteps and came out of the closet. "I came to the conclusion [that] I'm not going to be happy until I'm honest with myself," he says.

Much to Joe's surprise, Chris says she suspected all along that her ex-husband was gay. "I thought he'd come out first!" she says.
Alex, Chris and Joe's son

When Joe and Chris got a divorce, their children were just 5 and 3 years old. Today, their son Alex is a teenager who deals with society's misconceptions about homosexuality on a daily basis.

Alex says that the hardest part about having two gay parents is dealing with mean-spirited classmates. "They gave me hurtful nicknames like 'faggot' or 'queer,'" he says. "It made me feel like an I wasn't normal. ... [Everybody at school] is going to have to deal with the fact that my parents are gay, and we're no different than anybody else."

Although Alex has faced ridicule in school, he's happy to call Chris and Joe his mom and dad. "I love them for coming out," he says. "They're not afraid to stand up to other people, and I'm just proud of them for coming out and living their own life."

What does Alex want to say to people who call him names? "You guys are really insecure," he says.
Libby, Paul, Chris, Joe and their two children

For the past four years, Joe has been dating Paul, a man who was also married for many years. Libby, one of Chris's friends while she was married to Joe, is now her life partner.

For Alex, four parents are definitely better than two! "I feel lucky because every day I have four loving parents to come home to, and they're just there for me," he says.

Chris says she decided to come on The Oprah Show to prove to people that gay parents are no different than straight parents. "There are wonderful, fabulous families out there raising great kids like [Alex], and some of us are gay and some of us aren't," she says.
Joanne Fleisher

After 12 years of marriage, suburban mom Joanne Fleisher fell in love with a woman and started a new life. Now a clinical social worker, Joanne has counseled hundreds of married women who are attracted to other women.

In her book, Living Two Lives: Married to a Man and in Love with a Woman, Joanne offers advice for women who are struggling with the decision to come out. "They don't have any place to turn. They can't really turn to their heterosexual friends because most people wouldn't understand," Joanne says. "And then they can't really turn to the gay community because they don't really feel a part of the gay community. They're not there yet."

Joanne says that coming out can be particularly difficult for women. "I think the hardest part for women is they also have the role of mother and they are presenting themselves...[as] the head of a family in certain ways."

When John and Jo-Ann were married, John thought his life was pretty close to perfect. "We were such good friends, it was always a joy to come home to each other at the end of the day." The only thing that wasn't perfect—their sex life.

"Jo-Ann wasn't as interested in sex as I was," John says. "She wasn't as comfortable with sex. I didn't take it personally because I knew that she loved me and we had a good commitment to each other, so I didn't push the issue."

After 10 years of marriage and three children, Jo-Ann sat John down and confessed that she was a lesbian. After trying to work things out, John and Jo-Ann decided to separate.

"I wasn't at all prepared for the impact that it was going have on me and our family," John says. "One of the things that's been really difficult for me is not having someone to share with...when the kids aren't here, it's just an empty house. I cried every day. It just about killed me to be alone and starting over."
Jo-Ann and John

As a child, Jo-Ann says she didn't know she was gay, but in 1989, she says she started to realize she liked women. "When it came time for me, I struggled with it. And [during] my first experience I was slightly inebriated," Jo-Ann says. "Through the whole experience, I cried and said, 'I don't want to be lesbian. I want to get married, have kids'".

In 1990, when Jo-Ann and John first met, she admitted to having had an attraction to women. "At the time I was saying, 'Well, this is just a relationship. You know, we're not getting married or anything,'" John says. "It wasn't a big deal."

Now, as he settles into his new life, John says he has started to come to terms with losing "the dream." In the end, he's happy that Jo-Ann is living the life she was meant to live. "It was relief for her to know who she was."

Jo-Ann says that even though coming out to John was difficult, it was the best thing she's ever done. "I was able to be myself," Jo-Ann says. "I had struggled for so long trying to find out who I was. And once I did that, I was able to flourish."

When Nikki was 20 years old, she thought she'd met the man of her dreams. She married at age 22, but soon after her wedding, things started to change. Nikki began sleeping with a woman.

"I was playing that push-me-pull-you game. I'm gay. I'm not gay. I want to be with my husband. I don't want to be married," Nikki says.

It was after her husband returned home from a business trip that Nikki finally confessed her true feelings. "I remember he stopped in the middle of us making love and said, 'What is wrong with you?' And I said, 'I think I have feelings for a woman.'"

Nikki says she and her husband tried to work it out, but in the end it really wasn't about him, it was about her. "My therapist handed me a book and it was a book about women with two lives. And it gave me three choices," Nikki says. "I could stay in my marriage and be unhappy, I could stay in my marriage and carry on an affair, or I could let both of us go and live my truth. I chose that third option."

Nikki met Carole at a dinner party, and says it was love at first sight. "It was truly a scene from a movie. The room stopped," Nikki says. "There's like this aura around Carole and I'm hearing everything, you know [in slow motion]."

Carole, who felt an instant attraction to Nikki as well, says she had also struggled to come to terms with her sexuality. "[It wasn't] until my late 20s when I started to really feel confident about myself and knew who I was. [And] I started to experience feelings towards other women," Carole says. "I was scared. I was frightened. And I tried to suppress [my feelings]."

Together for five years, Nikki and Carole say they couldn't be happier. "[She's] the love of my life," says Nikki.
Joanne Fleisher

Joanne Fleisher says that Internet chat rooms are full of people struggling to come to terms with their lives. "It happens so much that people don't even realize. I mean, I am active on the Internet, I have a website, and it is just jumping with people who are married and [don't know] what to do."

In an e-mail to The Oprah Show a viewer wrote:

"I've been married for over 25 years. I had a lesbian affair with a woman that lasted nearly three years. I cannot bring myself to tell my husband the truth. We have a comfortable marriage, but I've never experienced true passionate love or even hot animal lust. I'm bitter over knowing that I will probably live the rest of my life just as I am now. Don't misunderstand, I love my husband. I'm not in love with my husband. And I never have been. I guess my destiny is to live the rest of my life as a closeted lesbian."

"I just would say to anybody, whatever secret you're holding, live your own truth," says Oprah. "Life is really short."

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