As a couple’s therapist and relationship coach, I’ve worked with a lot of same-sex couples over the years, and the interpersonal problems you face are not that different than those of straight couples. Regardless of sexual orientation, people are people at heart, and each one brings personal baggage to a relationship.
But there’s no denying that gay and lesbian couples experience some unique threats and challenges that your hetero counterparts don’t – a major one being that of total and automatically assumed acceptance in society. Regardless of what the Supreme Court has decided, and despite the ban on same-sex marriage being overturned in Florida and many other states, the pressure for excluding you from the free exercise of this equal right and all that should flow from it may be stronger than ever in some pockets of society.
Knowing the pain of exclusion, and facing the continued possibility of hostility is tough to deal with even in our ever accepting culture. The pressure this puts on a relationship that may also have interpersonal troubles is real, and too often underestimated.
So it’s understandable that you might still feel some trepidation about being totally open with regard to your relationship. And as a couple, you might each have a different sense of safety about it. One partner may not be out, publically, professionally or to your family. This difference between you can create a great deal of stress on a relationship.
For example, John and Bill were still in the closet with everyone except their closest friends and this created a tremendous amount of pressure for them. Even though they lived together, they told their families and co-workers they were roommates. The biggest difficulty was that each one thought they were right about their stance.
Spending your life lying to your family about who you love creates a great deal of frustration, anger, and fear of “being caught” – even though being honest about it would relieve you from the lie. Still, the question of safety is a strong prohibition, and like John and Bill, you might be experiencing some emotional conflict about it that’s affecting your interactions as a couple.
Ultimately John and Bill began to come out with the straight people in they could trust, and this cut their arguing by half. They could then focus on interactional issues.
Even when you are out as a same-sex couple, you have to deal with people who aren’t accepting of you relationship. Your partner may be fired, or risk losing their job. People may be openly critical to the point of being hostile about your relationship. Businesses might find ways to refuse service, or at the least be unfriendly to your patronage.
Hetero couples don’t have to worry about if where they go for dinner is gay-friendly or not. But for you it’s a daily worry, and your stress level from this and other sources can be affecting your health, your happiness, and your work productivity.
All of these things do create conflict between two people and interfere with day to day life. The key to resolving angst is differentiating between societal stress and interpersonal stress.
There are myths about same-sex couples. You know the popular ones -- that gay men can’t be monogamous and that lesbian women fall into ‘death bed syndrome’ once committed to a relationship.
All myths have a grain of truth but all generalizations are false. These are just that – myths – and don’t inevitably apply to you as a same sex couples any more than they do hetero couples. But, people have affairs, and sex isn’t always as hot as it was in the beginning. Working on issues of fidelity, trust, and keeping emotional intimacy alive are as important for you as for any straight couple.
In another example, Ana and Ruth were struggling with Ana’s leaving her marriage to honor what she realized about her sexuality. Ana had children and a punitive ex-husband. Ruth was resentful that Ana had not come out to her family. They have been together for a number of years and ultimately worked through their intimacy issues which were about Ruth’s lack of trust that Ana would stick and stay.
Sure, they disagree and fight. It doesn’t mean that a same-sex couple is doomed, no more than an argument means divorce for a hetero couple. They addressed their problems like any successful couple does – before it gets out of control and with loving compassion.
In the end, people are people and love is love. Even with the unique challenges you face as a gay or lesbian couple, there are solutions for having a strong and healthy relationship.
Talk to me about your relationship. I have decades of experience working with same sex couples – with the skills, experience, and guidance that count. Nothing happens for those who wait.