No matter who you love, love is tough. In relationships, we constantly contend with our differences. We need to learn how to compromise. We have to forgive and be forgiven. Despite all the rewards of being in a relationship, it’s also a lot to juggle. And while same-sex couples face all of the same hardships and rewards as heterosexual couples, they also confront additional layers of complexity.
Even as same-sex marriage and progressive family values become more ubiquitous in the United States (and across the globe), oppression, discrimination, and alienation are still unfortunate forces in many LGBTQ people’s lives. In this article, we’ll walk through how same-sex couples can confront strains on their relationship—from common relationship conflicts to unique LGBTQ challenges—with couples counseling.
Discrimination at home, school, work, or in your community, in general, is a traumatic experience. While the severity of these experiences varies by individual, it truly impacts your relationship with yourself and others. Discrimination and homophobia can lower self-esteem, decrease your perception of self-worth, and develop anger, resentment, anxiety, and depression. All of these feelings and manifestations of trauma also strain relationships. While being in a relationship can be an incredible pillar of strength, the effects of trauma on both parties can also be trying. You don’t have to whether these alone. Whether you talk to a counselor on your own or together, it’s completely normal and encouraged to seek support.
Unlike heterosexual relationships, for which society has set out a distinct relational progression, same-sex couples often need to take extra steps to determine what’s next for their relationship. Even as social norms change and same-sex marriage has become legal across the United States, LGBTQ couples may find themselves asking, “What’s the next step in our relationship or commitment to one another?” “Should we get married?” “Should we have an open or closed relationship?” “What does it take to make this work?”
Whether you and your partner want to decide on your next step or how to move forward, couples counseling can help. You can attend premarital counseling, discernment counseling, or participate in individual sessions to work out these important decisions.
One of the most trying challenges for LGBTQ couples is each individual’s “out” status with their family, co-workers, friends, or the broader community. It can be exceptionally tenuous for a couple in which one individual is out and the other is not. One person may feel hurt and resentful of the partner who hides their relationship because they are not out yet. On the other hand, the partner who hasn’t told friends and family, may feel pressured to come out before they’re ready to do so.
On an individual level, coming out is a highly personal experience that can be a relief, a trauma, or a mix of emotions. Adding this to a relationship can be extremely tough. However, with open communication, commitment, and a strong support system this is something you can get through. Talking to a couples counselor with experience in LGBTQ challenges, specifically, can be especially important for couples going through something like this.
If you’re looking for a relationship, read why it’s recommended to be with someone who is equally closeted or out.
Whether we agree with it or not, society engrains us with gender-based expectations in relationships. Heterosexual couples grapple with these norms too, but LGBTQ couples may face even more tension or confusion with gender roles at home or in a relationship. If you and your partner find yourself in conflict over societal gender norms, try to be aware of why certain situations make you or your partner uncomfortable, resentful, or angry, and discuss these with a couples counselor.
It’s also important that you discuss roles together and come up with your own rules. In fact, this is an amazing opportunity to strengthen your relationship! Because roles are not necessarily assigned by the expectations set in a “traditional” home, you and your partner can discuss roles based on your interests, time, or intentions, and build what works best for both of you.
Because same-sex couples may face a lack of support from family, colleagues, religious communities, or other social circles, they often need to construct “families of choice.” This essentially means building an adequate social network that develops as a chosen family. Of course, coupled with a feeling of alienation from what should be a strong support network from one’s family and social circle, this can be both a challenging and tenuous endeavor.
Ultimately, any relationship has its own challenges. And, like all relationships, you may also grapple with:
Fortunately, what makes a relationship strong and resilient is the same no matter who is involved. Individuals in a relationship seek:
As we’ve chronicled, while LGBTQ couples possess unique challenges to grapple with, they also have unique strengths! With a couples counselor experienced in LGBTQ relationships, you will uncover the important relationship skills you and your partner need to leverage your strengths and build a resilient relationship.
Call 312-416-6191 to ask questions or to make an appointment with Couples Counseling Associates.
Our experienced associates can help you and your partner:
In our efforts to bring value to your life, or if you are not in the Chicago area, Couples Counseling Associates has developed a series of lessons that could have a major impact on effectively improving your relationship. We encourage you to dive into the series and discover how these resources can benefit you and your partner.
Remember, it's the positive habits we develop that guarantee us success in all areas of our lives. Discover the seven healthy habits that improve relationships or get in touch with us to learn more about Couples Counseling Associates.
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Also in Arlington Heights
Associated Therapist Giulia Casani MA,LMFT
Kate Engler, LMFT, LPC
All the mental health professionals practicing at 737 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 2130, Chicago, IL 60611 or any other locations, are individually licensed by the State of Illinois and practice independently and separately. They have no legal relationship to the practices of each other and do not incur in liability for services of one another or to Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum.