Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Same-gender Couples:

Expect and Manage Extra Relationship Stressors

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/gay.htm

Updated  02-06-15

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      This is one of a subseries of articles in self-improvement Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This subseries focuses on improving primary relationships. The article summarizes special challenges that typical same-gender couples face. It  offers options for all such couples and gay stepfamily couples.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the introduction to this site, and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 or 1 thru 7 (stepfamilies)

  • five reasons most couples are stressed

  • three significant stressors all couples face

  • options for coping with others' prejudice

      Gay, homosexual, bisexual, queer, fag, and lesbian are provocative terms in many (most?) cultures. They usually have associations with some mix of bad - wrong - sick - evil - sinful - perverse - unhealthy - unnatural and disgusting. These associations can block clear thinking and merited compassion and respect. That inhibits effective problem-solving and relationship-building.

      Calling heterosexuals straight implies that homosexuals are bent or crooked, which promotes shame and guilt. Typical same-gender partners have enough of those already.

      Bottom line - be aware of your terminology!

colorbutton.gif Realities

      History documents that males and females in all cultures and eras have felt attraction and love for people of their own gender. For psychological and religious reasons, many heterosexuals fear, scorn, and reject homosexuals as abnormal, inferior, and even dangerous. That promotes shame, guilt, confusion, anxiety, pretense, hurt, resentment, anger, and denial for couples and their families.

      The debate about what causes homosexuality (a chosen "lifestyle" or a neuro-chemical response?) is heated and ongoing - largely because of public denials, ignorance, and misunderstanding. A useful, readable book on gender differences is "Brain Sex," by Anne Moir and David Jessel.

      An incendiary core of this debate is the long-outdated bias that natural sexual urges are "sinful" and must be allowed only for procreation. Many unaware people focus only on same-gender sexual behaviors, rather than seeing that as just one component of a normal pair-bonding.

      Committed same-gender couples are slowly gaining legal equality and social acceptance in our Western society. Until that multi-decade process stabilizes, same-gender couples with and without kids face extra stressors. Our society does little to help such couples and their families understand and master these stressors.

      Premise - all bigotry and prejudice spring from:

  • significant psychological wounds, including an inability to empathize;

  • public unawareness and ignorance (lack of knowledge); and...

  • public denial and indifference.

Once aware of these problems, you can reduce the first two, and speak out about the third!

      If you're committed to a person of your gender, what stressors will you two face, and what can you do about them?  This Lesson-4 article outlines common problems and solutions, and provides links to more detail. The second section of this article proposes answers to these questions for typical stepfamily members.

colorbutton.gif Personal and Partnership Stressors

      A "stressor" is some personal or social/environmental condition that causes someone "significant emotional/physical upset.'' If you are attracted to people of your gender, see if you experience some or all of these normal  stressors: guilt, shame, confusion, anxiety, and grief. Let's look briefly at each of them...

Guilts and Shame

      These two normal emotions feel the same, but have different roots and merit different responses. Guilt is an involuntary mental/emotional reflex caused by the belief that you have broken someone's rule (a should, must, have to, cannot, etc) - i.e. you've "made a mistake." Shame occurs when your dominant personality subselves feel inferior, worthless, inept, disgusting, and unlovable. In moderation, guilt and shame help us to regulate our social behaviors. In excess, they cripple our behavior, serenity, achievements,  and relationships.

      Excessive shame and guilts are very common among survivors of a low-nurturance childhood. They are rarely affected by "logic" ("You shouldn't feel that way!"), and are amplified by social rejection and bigotry - specially if survivors are parents

      Until homosexuals are genuinely comfortable with their identity and know how to ignore or forgive social bigotry, they may feel significant shame ("I am abnormal, inferior, and a despicable freak.") - specially if they were raised in a bigoted, low-nurturance childhood.

      They also may feel major guilts - e.g. for hiding their true identity, preferences, and activities (broken rule: "I should not lie"), and being "weak" by fearing to admit their identity publicly. They may also feel guilty for shaming ("embarrassing") their family members - specially conservative parents and relatives.

      If one or both mates are significantly shamed and guilty and don't know how to admit and reduce those burdens, that can be a major relationship stressor - specially if they're unrecovering Grown Wounded Children (GWCs). The good news is - once admitted and personal wound-reduction is begun, excessive shame and guilts can be reduced to normal. For options on how to do this, study Lesson 1.

      Another same-gender stressor is...


      In your opinion, what causes the mental/emotional state of "confusion"? Is that state the same as feeling overwhelmed, ambivalent, and/or uncertain?

      Premise - confusion occurs when your active personality subselves (a) can't make sense out of the sensory information they're receiving, and/or (b) they're conflicted about what to do about the information. In our context, homosexual people and couples may feel confused about concurrent issues like...

  • their individual identity ("Am I really homosexual?")

  • their personal and social legitimacy as a committed couple;

  • their moral and legal rights a committed couple;

  • mixed signals they get from key people ("we accept you and we disapprove of you")

  • how to respond to ignorance and prejudice in other people;

      And gay people and couples may feel confused about...

  • their relationship roles ("Am I your husband, your wife, your partner, or something else? Are we 'married,' 'committed,' 'mates,' 'partners,' or something else?")

  • if, how, and when to acknowledging their gender-preference and/or their partnership in their families, churches, neighborhoods, and workplaces;

  • their financial and legal obligations to each other;

  • if, how, and when to adopt and/or raise kids together;

  • how to resolve religious and spiritual questions about their gender preference and relationship; and...

  • other local confusions. 

      A major factor shaping responses to confusions like these is whether or not couples are guided by their respective true Selves. If false selves control them, mates will have trouble sorting out and resolving confusions like these. Even if their Selves (capital "S") guide them, if mates are members of low-nurturance families, communities, and/or workplaces, confusions like these will be hard  to resolve.

      Options - same-gender partners should (a) expect confusions like those above, (b) admit them with-out guilt or shame; and (c) help each other creatively apply these self-improvement Lessons - specially Lessons 1 thru 4.

      A third common same-gender relationship problem is...  

  Significant Anxieties

      Confusions (internal conflicts) often breed doubts, uncertainties, and anxieties ("worries"). All kids and adults have anxieties and fears, and evolve trial-and-error ways of coping with them. Same-gender couples often experience special anxieties as their relationship evolves. For instance...

  • "Will my family and/or key friends reject (abandon) me or us?"

  • "Will my/our church community still accept me/us as full members?"

  • "Will I be shunned / demoted / harassed / ridiculed / discriminated against in my workplace?

  • "Will God punish me for my choices?"

  • "Will our relationship last?"

  • "Will my/your/our kids turn out all right?"

  • "Will my or your ex sue for child custody and/or impede visitations?"

  • "What if we can't find effective supports?"

  • "What will happen if we can't resolve or manage our anxieties, confusions, shame, and guilts?"

      Whether a couple's dynamic mix of anxieties ("worries") is manageable or stressful depends on (a) who leads each of their personalities (false self or true Self), and (b) how well mates can think, communicate, and problem-solve together. So - work patiently together on Lessons 1 and 2, ideally starting in courtship.

      Recall why you began reading this. Are you getting what you need so far?

      A final common gay-couple relationship stressor is...

Mourning Special Losses

      Mourning is the healthy process of accepting and adjusting to broken bonds (losses). Many people mistakenly associate grief only with death, not other normal losses. Typical gay persons and couples have significant extra losses to mourn compared to heterosexual peers:

  • loss of a "normal childhood";

  • loss of social "normalcy" and identity;

  • possible loss of genuine acceptance and support by some people;

  • loss of some social opportunities;

  • possible loss of the chance to be biological parents; and...

  • possible loss of psychological and financial security.

      Each gay person and couple has unique losses they need to mourn, as well as the broken bonds everyone experiences (e.g. loss of youth, relationships, opportunities, etc.). Implication: same-gender mates have extra reasons to gain the requisites for healthy mourning and form a "pro-grief'' relationship. If either or both mates are Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), this may be hard, and will add to other personal and partnership stresses.

      All couples can benefit by studying and discussing Lesson 3 in this self-improvement course, and intentionally forming and living from a healthy grieving policy.  

      We just reviewed common concurrent stressors that can burden same-gender couples: shame, guilt, confusion, anxiety, and grieving significant  losses. Each of these can be reduced to normal levels, once mates are (a) guided by their true Selves, (b) admit (vs. minimize or deny) the stressors, and (c) decide to reduce them. Links above lead to more detail on how to recognize and reduce each stressor.

      Same-gender stepfamily couples have some additional stressors. If you know such couples or you are one, consider these extra... 

colorbutton.gif Issues for Gay Stepfamily Couples

      Typical divorcing and stepfamily adults and kids must admit and resolve mixes of concurrent problems like these:

  • learning stepfamily norms and realities, and converting myths to realistic expectations;

  • accepting their stepfamily identity and what it usually means;

  • admitting and solving disputes about stepfamily membership;

  • couples making three informed, well-timed re/marriage and/or cohabiting choices;

  • admitting and reaching consensus on how to "do" up to 15 extra family roles;

  • evolving, agreeing on, and living by an effective stepfamily mission statement;

  • admitting and grieving special losses caused by divorce and stepfamily formation;

  • patiently resolving inevitable conflicts over merging three or more multi-generational biofamilies;

  • evolving effective strategies for managing loyalty and values conflicts and relationship triangles;

  • adults learning typical minor kids' many developmental and special family-adjustment needs, and resolving confusion and disputes over who is responsible for filling which needs?

  • learning how to overcome common barriers to evolving an effective co-parenting team;

  • learning how to pick informed, healthy (unwounded) lay and professional supporters.

      The "universal" gay-couple stressors outlined above are often amplified by this array of concurrent stepfamily problems, because:.

  • more roles and relationship problems cause higher odds for significant confusion and overwhelm;

  • more family members cause higher odds of anxiety, prejudice, and rejection;

  • more divorce and re/marriage and/or cohabiting losses increase mates' need to grieve well; and...

  • there is currently very little effective help available for gay mates and their stepfamilies.

      If a heterosexual couple’s relationship challenges are like driving a sedan, then the challenges facing average same-gender stepfamily partners is like piloting a 747 Jumbo jet in severe weather!

       To balance and manage all these issues, mates need to want to help each other patiently progress at Lessons 1 thru 7 here. Ideally, they will progress well before ever deciding to join or start a high-risk stepfamily, and be able to heed these danger signs. Typical Grown Wounded Children in denial will minimize or ignore this - and many will eventually re/divorce.

colorbutton.gif Recap

      Human nature causes some people to love and desire mates of their own gender. Social and religious tradition has burdened such couples with scorn, pity, revulsion, and rejection. As our society slowly liberalizes, more and more gay couples are "coming out" to take their rightful place in our cultures.

      This article summarizes five challenges average gay couples must meet together to protect and nourish their integrities and their relationship - significant shame + guilts + confusions + anxieties + losses to grieve. The article closes by summarizing common extra challenges typical gay stepfamily partners face, and urges such mates to start working at this self-improvement course before exchanging vows.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else?

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