My mother was less shocked than I thought she’d be when I came out of the closet almost a year ago. I had little choice, however, since I am now in a committed relationship with my partner. We met a couple of years ago, and our relationship is very much like a marriage. It made me wonder if there were any reasons why my relationship now is on a much steadier keel than when I was married to a man for more than twenty years.
A study conducted by Dr. John Gottman (University of Washington) and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley) over a 12 year period, took a look at 21 gay couples and 21 lesbian couples, comparing them to each other and the entire group to straight couples. It turns out, we’re not all that different, when it comes right down to it.
One of the best aspects of my current relationship is the ability my partner and I have to truly communicate; to not take every, little thing we say personally. The Gay and Lesbian Couples Research study found that gay and lesbian couples actually do take disagreements less personally. When comparing gay couples to straight couples, the study found that homosexual couples use more humor and affection in the face of conflict. We also tend to keep our attitudes more positive than straight couples once the disagreement is resolved.
“Gay and Lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with every day ups-and-downs of close relationships,” observed Dr. Gottman when writing about his study. “We know that these ups-and-downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice, and other social barriers that are unique to gay and lesbian couples.”
Being in a relationship isn’t easy, and I don’t believe it was meant to be. Loving each other is easy, of course, but we must deal with all of the highs and lows that come from life, as well, in an effort to keep the commitment strong. Lesbians are no different. As the study indicates, the everyday struggles of a “normal” marriage are heightened by the unique social aspects of sharing one’s life with someone of the same gender. We have to deal with the electric bill, the rent, and the kids’ orthodontist bills, just like everyone else. But we also have to deal with getting fired because our boss doesn’t want a lesbian working so closely with her and our parents ignoring our partners when invitations to dinner come around.
It is heartening to realize, despite these additional and unique challenges, that we, as a society amongst ourselves, are pretty good at not taking every snappish response from our partner as a call for battle.
The Good News
We are normal.
We’re no better than straight couples. We’re no worse, either. Gay and Lesbian couples have just as good a shot at finding and maintaining a happy, long-term relationship as anyone else. Unfortunately, this means we have an equal chance of not making it, as well.
The Bad News
How is this possible, when we’re so much better at conflict resolution? What about our nerves of steel and iron wit?
The fact remains that same-sex marriage is not legal in most states, and the United States’ Defense of Marriage Act, prohibits the recognition of marriage on a federal level, if the partners are of the same gender. Straight people who are married have a more difficult time “tossing” the relationship because of that contract. If gay and lesbian couples had the right to marry, legally, they would have more reason to work through minor differences. Emotions are a powerful thing, and when one has the opportunity to just walk out, the fact two people have no legal commitment to one another, may play a part when a gay or lesbian relationship doesn’t last.
The Big Picture
My relationship with my partner is more steady, more loving and, most importantly, more equal than any relationship in my past. Perhaps, as the study also indicates, it’s because we’re both women. We think alike. We know what it feels like to be a woman, and we can get into each other’s heads a bit more readily. But that is only part of the equation. The rest of the variables differ for each couple, regardless of gender.
The best, and only, yardstick to measure one’s relationship lies in one’s heart. When it’s right, you know it’s right. When it’s not, you know that, too. But now you know it has nothing to do with whether you’re gay, straight or somewhere in between. When it comes right down to it, people relate to other people. For better, or worse.
Gay and Lesbian Research Study: A case of similarities of same-sex and cross-sex couples, differences between gay and lesbian couples by Dr. John Gottman (University of Washington) and Dr. Robert Levenson (University of California at Berkeley).
More from this Contributor:
The Morals of Gay Parenting, Part I
The Morals of Gay Parenting, Part II