We humans are pack animals, we depend on one another to survive. We need the touch, connection, and love of other people in order to live happily and function well. This we know. What we also know is that love has many shapes and forms. It matters not who we love or how we love, just as long as love is present.
There are many reasons why we love Dr. John Gottman and his wife Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, the world’s leading experts on clinical psychology and relationship research. One reason is that in addition to the forty years spent they have spent studying and compiling data on thousands of heterosexual couples, the Gottman Institute has also spent twelve years researching and analyzing same-sex couples. Hooray!
What these studies have found, is that across the board all relationships have similar rates of happiness, commitment, and conflict. In other words, a couple’s success or failure has little to do with gender or sex, and much more to do with that same couple’s ability to communicate well and resolve conflict peacefully. No surprises there.
The research coming out of the Gottman Institute also indicates that the same principles that apply to heterosexual couples, such as the need for healthy communication and conflict resolution, also apply to gay and lesbian committed relationships. At the same time, there is also evidence that suggests some qualitative differences between LBGTQ couples and hetereosexual couples… which begs the question, what are they?
Well, to begin with, gay and lesbian couples take less time and fewer marriage counseling sessions to work through similar issues than straight couples do. Almost fifty percent fewer, in fact. And not only do gay and lesbian couples work through conflict in about half the amount of time as straight couples do, but they tend to improve more than twice as much… this begs another question, why?
Drawing from this same research, we have a few guesses. The first is that gay and lesbian couples present conflict to one another in a much gentler way and show one another more empathy and understanding then their straight friends do. Overall, they are just plain nicer to one another. According to Dr. Gottman, these couples generally focus on the positive attributes of one another and try to lift each other up. They show fewer negative and fear-based emotions, such as disrespect or condescension, and are more able to make each other feel good with a compliment. In other words, they focus more on making their partner feel good and less on bringing their partner down.
Peaceful Conflict Resolution
We know that the ability to resolve conflict is vital piece of a healthy relationship and the Gottman Intitute has found that compared to straight couples, same-sex couples are better at resolving conflict in a peaceful manner. This may be because they are more likely to be kind to one another and to laugh and have a sense of humor when talking about something difficult. They are also less defensive, don’t take things as personally, and are more sensitive to the power differentials in the relationship (things such as income and education). Finally, LBGTQ couples are quicker to bounce back after conflict than straight couples are, meaning that they move through the problem and move on with their lives more quickly.
The Ability To Soothe One Another
Not surprisingly, calmness is very helpful in the face of conflict. When we are in a calm state of mind and body, we are better able to support and encourage our partner to be calm as well. Gottman has discover that compared with straight couples, couples of the same sex have lower heart rates and less body sweat (something he calls “physiologcal arousal”) during conflict. Consequently, they are better at soothing and calming their partner, which leads to resolving conflict in less time and working through more issues more quickly because less time is spent on drama and negativity, and more time spent on resolving issues and building love and trust.
Another big difference that the Gottman Institute observed between gay and lesbian and heterosexual couples, is that heterosexual couples are very uncomfortable talking about sex and tend to be very indirect in their communication about what they like and need sexually. Plus, they generally lack a straightforward way of initiating sex. In contrast, studies show that gay and lesbian couples are much more open about expressing their sexual needs in relationship and more direct when initiating sex. This direct communication style may be another reason that many LGBTQ couples are so adept at dealing with and resolving conflict.
With all of this in mind, it’s important to remember that we all show up differently in relationship. What matters is not who we are or what we look like, but who we choose to be in the face of conflict. Whoever you are and whatever your relationship looks like, if you and your partner are experiencing difficult relationship issues, a relationship and marriage therapist is an excellent resource for learning to manage conflict and communicate openly through couples counseling in Roseville, CA. All love is welcome at The Relationship Therapy Center and we look forward to connecting with you. Contact us today to get started!