Same-sex relationships more complex than traditional ones
Dear Neil: Our grown son has recently disclosed to us that he is gay and that he is in love with another man. He has asked for our support and our advice about how to make their relationship permanent. We don’t have experience with same-sex partnerships and therefore would be grateful if you would discuss the main differences between gay (homosexual) and “straight” (heterosexual) relationships. Are their relationship issues similar in what they feel, what they fight about, how they get along and how they deepen love and commitment with each other?
– Perplexed in Connecticut
Dear Connecticut: Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, goes through similar problems in developing a successful relationship. Difficulties that are common to all relationships include meeting a suitable partner; communication problems; fears about intimacy; resistance to change and growth; issues of personal space and privacy; issues of fidelity, jealousy and trust; and how to navigate through disagreements, conflicts, power struggles, control issues, hurts and disappointments. Everyone has expectations and fantasies about love and the ideal mate. Such issues as sex, money, family problems, equality and power are problems that cross the boards – everyone has to deal with them.
But gay and lesbian lovers must deal with several issues that are unknown to straight couples, which multiplies relationship problems for gay couples.
For gays, there are no automatic, socially condoned rules about what to do on a date, what kind of person makes a good partner or who takes the female role and who takes the male role in the relationship. People do not see thousands of images of gay couples meeting, dating, falling in love and living “happily ever after.” We do not see role models of how two women or two men can divide up household chores, handle finances, deal with emotional stress or initiate sex. As a result, gay and lesbians couples have had to attempt to reconstruct role models from scratch, never knowing whether they’re doing it “right” or not.
In essence, some homosexual men and women follow no rules, and as a result they can become confused, hurt and lost. They may become involved in one destructive relationship after another, engage in promiscuous sex without satisfaction or long-term goals, or simply jump into relationships without first becoming acquainted with the other person. Often they feel they cannot go deeper in a relationship because they feel commitment and marriage are not a possibility, and thus some gay people avoid commitment and intimacy all together and become lonely and isolated.
All people are concerned about being accepted, but people who are gay often have a damaged image in the eyes of family and friends. Consequently, a gay person often experiences guilt and self-condemnation about being homosexual. Gay couples may frequently become upset about a partner’s behavior in public, since they may consider hand holding and kissing inappropriate or too obvious. A relationship built on a foundation of fear can become ruled by “what the neighbors think,” and not surprisingly, being fearful of your own sexual preference can be severely damaging to your relationships.
Gay people desiring military careers, teaching and a host of other careers must keep their sexual preference secret. Thus, homosexuals often feel they must hide their sexual preference, remaining “in the closet.” But sneaking, hiding and living in constant fear of losing family, career and acceptance from others makes relaxed, secure intimacy nearly impossible.
Source: Gay Relationships by Tina Tessina (Jeremy Tarcher).
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boulder. He can be reached at 303-758-8777 or by e-mail at his Web site, http://www.heartrelationships.com.
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