Are you in an LGBTQ relationship? In addition to the types of issues common to heterosexual couples, you may experience unique concerns due to the influences of the dominant heterosexual culture, such as traditional expectations of gender roles, discrimination, and the process of coming out. To learn about tips on how to handle these different issues, read below.
Issue 1: Tips for Gender Roles
Often, couples within the LGBTQ community will discuss how following/not following stereotypical gender roles can lead to problems in the relationship. On one hand, there are no preconceived notions about behavioral roles in same-sex couples which can be freeing (e.g., who takes care of house responsibilities, who makes financial decisions, etc..); however, sometimes because of this, dividing responsibilities between partners can be difficult.
- Problem Solve. Discuss with your partner how gender roles impact your relationship and problem solve ways in which the two of you could divide up household and other tasks.
- Recognize Your Differences. Do not push each other to follow certain gender roles. Remember, you may differ on how you express gender or your expectations for how gender roles impact your relationships.
Issue 2: Tips for Discrimination
Facing discrimination is very challenging. There is a lot of stress placed on LGBTQ couples because of fear of discrimination from work or church communities, hate crimes/violence, housing discrimination or other common sources of discrimination. For more information on discrimination within the community click here: http://www.glad.org/rights/topics/c/anti-lgbt-discrimination.
- Discuss Your Concerns. Consider discussing the aspects of discrimination that either worry or impact your relationship and problem solve ways in which you can work together as a team to prevent the negative effect of discrimination.
- Reduce Stress. When stress is present in the relationship, it often contributes to relationship distress
- Be Vulnerable. If you are facing discrimination, it is important to be open and honest with your partner about your fears and concerns so that you can be there to support one another. As with any stress, it’s really important that the two of you “turn towards” each other for support rather than “turn away”.
- Find Support. Additionally, it may be helpful to get connected with a local LGBT community center in order to speak to others who may have faced similar concerns and for more resources. To find a local center, click here: http://www.lgbtcenters.org/
Issue 3: Tips for Expectations for Outness
Many LGBTQ individuals express how challenging the process of coming out was for them. Moreover, everyone has different experiences with coming out and expectations for which domains of their life they feel comfortable being out. Because of these differences in experiences and expectations, couples may differ on how open they are about their relationship or sexual orientation. This can sometimes lead to one partner pushing for the other partner to be more out and the other partner feeling frustrated for being pushed. Additionally, couples may find it challenging to manage when one partner has had an easier time coming out than the other.
- Remember Your Differences. Do not push each other to be more out than you each are comfortable with. Remember, you may differ on expectations for how out you should be. Some individuals are out across all areas of their life, whereas other individuals may not be comfortable sharing their relationship with people at work or church or with family or friends. Before talking consider the questions below: How do your emotions and past experiences come into play? Do you each react differently to the external stress caused by navigating the coming out process? Are either of you dealing with other sources of stress that are making this issue particularly difficult? Do your patterns of communication around the topic create more fights or distance in the relationship
- Share Your Vulnerable Feelings. It’s important to recognize that you each may be in different stages of your coming out process or having different relationships with family that are making this tension worse. Share with each other what stage you are on in the coming out process and discuss the positive and/or challenging aspects of your experiences in coming out. It may also be helpful to talk about what it feels like for both of you to have this difference. For example, the one who is more out may feel as though their partner doesn’t value the relationship or is ashamed of it. On the other hand, the one that is less out may feel the partner doesn’t understand the effect it would have if they came out to certain groups in their lives. If you can both recognize the reasons behind your different comfort with outness and how you handle them, you are more likely to rely on each other and feel closer. This will make it easier to problem solve what next to do.
Issue 4: Tips for Relationship Expectations
As a LGBTQ couple, you may face more challenges in agreeing upon marriage, adoption, or having children because of historical context that made it harder or impossible to adopt, have kids, or get married. You and your partner may feel differently about whether or not to have a family or to become legally married which can cause fighting, hurt feelings, and/or like you are not on the same page together.
- Talk Openly. It is important that you are each open about how you want your relationship to look. These issues are unlikely to be resolved overnight, but it’s important that you communicate your needs with each other. It is important to be open about your own emotions, especially your hidden emotions that your partner may not know about. It is also important to be as equally open to listening to your partner’s emotions and concerns.
- Compromise. Think about if there are any compromises you’d be willing to make for one another, discuss your expectations and identify solutions so that you can feel like a team as you handle this difficult situation. No matter what you do, make sure you are making decisions together and are not trying to undermine the other’s feelings or thoughts.
Issue 5: Tips for Familial Relationships
Many LGBTQ couples express familial pressure to conform to “normal” behavior or lack of acceptance within their family which can cause stress and tension in the relationship. For example, one partner might have family members who are not comfortable with the relationship, which can cause the partner to not include the second partner in many family events. This can lead to hurt feelings.
- Set Up Expectations. If these issues are causing you tension within the relationship, talk with your partner about your concerns and try to problem solve expectations for how to address family relations. It is better to set up expectations for how to address family relations beforehand as opposed to after a family event. Remember to be supportive and recognize that your partner is on your side.
- Be a United Front. The biggest tip is to make sure you stay united as a couple and support one another’s needs and emotions.
Issue 6: Tips for a Support System
Many LGBTQ couples have less social support than straight couples because of challenges with unsupportive family member/friends or concerns of openness about the relationship.
- Family and Friends. Make sure to identify the people in your life who will give you support both individually and as a couple – and surround yourself with these individuals. Having external support will help you feel less stressed and may make it easier to navigate any obstacles as a couple because you know other people have your back.
- Support Groups. Consider joining a support group for LGBTQ individuals if you feel that outlet would contribute to having your relationship supported: http://www.lgbtcenters.org/localstatenational-groups.aspx
It may be helpful to talk to other individuals/couples who understand your situation.
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For more resources for LGBT couples, click here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/lgbt-issues