Same-sex Couples Have Just About All Of The Same Issues As Straight Couples
While some same-sex couples seek couples therapy for issues particular to their experience of sexual identity (coming out, family support, stigma, etc.), other couples look to a couples therapist for help with issues found in all relationships. At Tribeca Therapy, we respect that these issues particular to same-sex couples are both always relevant and often moot. The experience of being in a same-sex relationship, at this moment, is, at once, ordinary in so many contexts and yet, far from a non-issue. We understand issues that are particular to same-sex couples aren’t necessarily issues stemming from stigma. With all couples, we avoid a scripted approach. Instead, we articulate the creative team–the therapist and each partner–and discover how to work together on the topics specific to each couple.
This being said, it is still important that a couples therapist is well-versed in issues particular to same-sex couples and can approach them in respectful and savvy ways.
Privilege Vs. Stigma
Plenty of same-sex couples experience stigma in New York. That the city is relatively progressive shouldn’t obscure that. Same-sex couples seek therapy in that context. Sadly, it can’t be assumed that all therapists are invested in being informed and curious about these experiences. It’s just as problematic to ignore issues that are common among same-sex couples as it is to assume those issues are experienced. Experiences of stigma from the past can be very present in a same-sex relationship, including in ways that aren’t necessarily apparent.
Relationships with family
Many same-sex couples have terrific family support. For others, there are varying degrees of acceptance and understanding. One particular challenge can be when there’s asymmetry within the relationship. For example, one partner has a great relationship with supportive family and the other less so. There can be experiences of envy, competitiveness and a struggle for one person to understand the other’s experiences. On the table in good couples therapy may be the question of navigating these relationships powerfully, managing resentment when each partner’s family experience is different and finding guidance and mentorship in the developing of relationships and family.
Negotiating Gender Roles
In any relationship, who cleans up the dinner dishes, who puts the kids to bed, who pays the electric bill and who decides what the family can afford are matters that usually require some negotiation (and often, in couples therapy, re-negotiation). Couplehood, as traditionally conceived, imposes heavily gendered traditions about how these tasks should be distributed.
With same-sex couples, these traditions aren’t always a straightforward guide. In some ways, same-sex couples don’t begin the process of sorting out power, money, decision-making and childcare from underneath this heavy weight of gender expectations. And yet–in many ways, they may not be immune. We see this as both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, negotiating roles and responsibilities is complicated and can foster conflict and resentment (spoken or otherwise). On the other hand, we believe that starting without the constraints of gender assumptions can allow couples to be more creative in how they conceive these aspects of their lives.
Ambivalence Around Sexual Identity, Even After Marriage or a Long-Term Relationship
While many same-sex-attracted individuals feel resolved in their attraction to a particular sex, we recognize that neat categories of “attracted to women” or “bisexual” often aren’t so relevant. Attraction is complicated and can be dynamic. While all couples must navigate the reality that attraction to someone outside of the relationship is inevitable, a partner in a same-sex relationship might find it particularly challenging when that attraction is to someone not of their own gender. It can raise fears of inadequacy, conflicts about whether a person’s identity is shifting, internalized homophobia, ideas about what sort of sex you’re into and what sorts of bodies are of value sexually.