Copyright 2014 Roberta Gallagher
Times they are a-changing. And yet, some things like communication and commitment remain the same throughout time and across the board.
John Gottman, a noted couples researcher, has said, “Lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with everyday ups and downs of close relationships…. [but] We know that these us and downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice and other social barriers that are unique to lesbian and gay couples.”
Indeed, the challenges to maintaining a lasting lesbian relationship are many.
You may both have children, and be dealing with blended family issues. You might have exes with ongoing resentments. Creating a fair system of financial support can be difficult.
There may be a heightened need for coping with disapproval from inlaws. Balancing homelife and career personas can be tricky, especially when not fully out about your relationship or sexual identity. Societal disapproval can manifest ugly and dangerous ways, and there are few real legal protections in this state.
On top of all those external pressures, you might have your own internalized feelings of shame and low self-worth. In combination, it can be quite difficult to come into and navigate a committed relationship when the obstacles are so strong.
I am working with a woman who is in her first lesbian relationship. She told me that she is finding it different because the world around her is in flux. She says, “I am not liking it, but this is the way it is. We can’t hold hands or really touch without people giving us odd looks. I don’t care but my partner is uncomfortable with public displays of affection. I never really thought about it, but I do understand it.”
Overcoming the Obstacles
1. Treat your relationship like you expect it to last. Start with the belief that your problems can be worked out.
2. Respect the boundaries around you. Come to agreements about close friendships and when they cross the line.
3. Respect the boundaries between you. Space is an important element of healthy straight or same-sex relationships. Know that a lack of individual privacy will surely lead to secret keeping. We must all be able to have breathing room.
4. You cannot meet every need that your partner has. Thinking that this makes for emotional closeness is the opposite of what is so.
5. Talk, talk, talk. Do not avoid problems because you are afraid of stirring the pot.
6. Usually our partners will sense that something is wrong and make more of it because you don’t bring it up.
Other Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t use break up threats to win leverage. If you are seriously thinking that the relationship is not meeting your needs, bring it up when you are not angry.
There are many techniques you can learn to help you talk about difficult feelings. Do learn the skills.
Women are socialized to say yes a lot. It can create co-dependency which is not healthy in a long term relationship. Loving is giving so find a balance.
Don’t over-give as it will lead to resentment and expectations.
Don’t think there will be no disappointments. Expect them. The high of the first six months will give way to meeting the real person and not the one you created in your fantasies.
Consider Seeking Help
Get help sooner rather than later.
Go to couples therapy.
Don’t wait until you are already feeling hopeless.
You do not have to prove to the straight world that you are better than “straight”.
Believe that your relationship is worth it.
There is good news! Relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same for straight, gay and lesbian couples. The same approaches to creating (not finding) a deep abiding love apply to all. Those approaches are good communication, fair fighting, empathy, conflict resolution.
And note that I’m saying that we create love, we don’t find it. Rather than being a happy accident or random magic spell, creating love is an active process that takes mindful nurturing. You can do it. I’m here to help.