Although sexuality is still considered to be a taboo subject for some people, Americans have undergone a definitive change of heart in recent years. Nationwide, acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships is on the rise, with 63 percent of Americans agreeing that these relationships are morally acceptable. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court took things one step further, granting same-sex couples the constitutional right to wed. And in 2018, approximately 67 percent of US residents believed same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as being just as valid as heterosexual marriages. Thanks to the diminishing stigma surrounding gay marriage and the increased accessibility to legally binding unions, it’s no wonder that 61 percent of cohabiting gay and lesbian couples were married by 2017.
In Washington, D.C., approximately 9.8 percent of the population identifies as belonging to the LGBT community. What’s more, same-sex couples represent 4.17 percent of all married couples living in the District of Columbia. As gay marriage and same-sex couples become more widely represented and accepted, many straight individuals have come to realize that these partnerships aren’t all that different from their own.
In many respects, gay couples face a lot of the same issues that straight couples do. For instance, some same-sex individuals may pursue gay couples therapy to sort through problems like infidelity or communication problems — issues also shared by many straight couples. But there are certain challenges that are unique to the LGBTQIA+ community, some of which may need to be discussed with a qualified therapist.
Gender roles and identity
The issue of gender roles does come up in heterosexual relationships, especially as feminism becomes more widely understood and embraced. But many gay couples will grapple with gender roles in different ways than heterosexual individuals might experience.
Some partnerships naturally have one individual who is perceived as more psychologically feminine (e.g., someone who tries to accommodate their partner on an emotional level and who works to fix problems that arise), with another demonstrating more psychologically masculine traits (e.g., someone who can be emotionally detached, independent, and competitive). Other couples may not be so defined by those traditional behaviors, though societal expectations regarding gender can result in complications surrounding communication, how conflict is handled, and other aspects of healthy relationships.
Gender identity is also emerging as an important issue in gay couples therapy. There’s now more terminology at one’s disposal than ever, allowing individuals to forgo narrow definitions for labels (or lack thereof) that feel much more honest and all-encompassing. Self-identification in the LGBTQ community is currently experiencing a bit of a renaissance, with many individuals embracing terms that used to be scorned (or never even used) by generations before. The idea of being genderqueer, genderfluid, agendered, asexual, transgendered, or gender variant allows for greater self-expression and an authentic way of living. That said, the path to self-discovery can sometimes be a rocky one, particularly for individuals of previous generations or in partnerships that have been well-established.
Many straight couples will often seek out counseling prior to becoming parents or during those volatile teenage years, but gay couples may face additional challenges when becoming parents. As of 2018, an estimated 114,000 gay couples were raising children in the United States. Although that’s certainly a lower number than the straight couples who become parents on a yearly basis, the prevalence of gay parenting serves as a source of encouragement for Americans who yearn to become moms and dads, regardless of their sexuality.
Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. Gay couples may choose to pursue therapy for parenting issues to learn how to deal with discrimination and prejudice within their communities. Although acceptance of gay people continues to increase, there are still those whose misguided views prompt words and acts of hatred. Homophobia is, unfortunately, a powerful motivator. Many gay parents might fear that their children could be bullied due to their unconventional family structure. A therapist can help to establish a strong support system and guide parents through scenarios that will demonstrate positive role modeling for their children when times are tough.
There may also be legal problems to contend with when same-sex couples choose to start a family. Many heterosexual couples will attend therapy sessions when they struggle to conceive or when they begin the adoption process, so it makes sense that many gay couples do, too. There may also be barriers that bring up emotional reactions, such as deciding on a sperm donor or a surrogate. In some states, it isn’t possible to obtain legal recognition for both parents. These legalities and finer details can lead to frustration or loss of control, both of which can cause problems in the relationship. Through therapy sessions, clients can learn how to cope with these scenarios and work through them in productive and healthy ways.
Although we’ve made substantial progress in the societal acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community, many individuals still face issues surrounding coming out of the proverbial closet. Individuals are feeling empowered to come out to their parents at younger ages, which is often encouraging. But many therapists see issues their clients have after coming out. For example, some parents may say they “tolerate” their child’s sexuality, but they may not necessarily fight for this child’s equality and showcase truly allyship. This can sometimes cause issues in romantic relationships down the line, especially as those individuals plan to make their relationships official by walking down the aisle.
Being out can also cause problems within same-sex relationships. While one partner may have no problem with being out and affectionate with the person they love, the other partner may have misgivings about displays of public affection or fears about public reaction. This may be further complicated due to gaps in age and/or experience. Working with a therapist may allow one partner to work through their fears while dissuading harmful and insensitive behavior from a partner who’s inclined to force his or her loved one into developing self-acceptance more quickly. By opening the lines of communication and working through potential resentment, a gay couples therapist can help these individuals improve their partnerships and gain better understanding of one another.
Ultimately, gay and lesbian couples are not inherently different from straight couples. However, there are some specific issues that may not always be shared between cis-gender couples and those who belong to the LGBT community. A gay couples therapist can provide some much-needed guidance in these kinds of scenarios, allowing partners to obtain the help they need to navigate these common and unique problems, and improve their relationships at the same time.