Most LGBTIQ people want a satisfying romantic relationship at some point in their lives. The research on same-sex couple relationships reveals that in general, they seem to have many similarities with the relationships of heterosexual couples; same-sex couples are just as happy in their relationships than are heterosexual couples, and most of the predictors of relationship outcomes are also quite similar. For example, communication styles, conflict resolution skills, personality factors, and social support, are important for all couples (not just heterosexual couples). Despite these broad similarities, there are some unique strengths and challenges that seem to affect same-sex couples:
Managing Outness: For some couples, both partners feel perfectly comfortable with everyone in their lives knowing about their relationship. However, for others, there can be some hesitation and concern about who knows about their relationship and sexuality. For instance, some people might be completely out to their friends, but are not out at work. When there are discrepancies between partners, whereby one partner is completely out, but the other is less comfortable with people knowing about their relationship, this can sometimes lead to confusion, fear, hurt, and even practical difficulties. There can also be discrepancies between partners in terms of how comfortable they are with public displays of affection, whereby one partner enjoys holding hands in public, but the other may feel less comfortable with this.
Internalised Homophobia: The effects of discrimination on same-sex couples can be quite clear, such as the lack of marriage equality in Australia, verbal abuse, physical assault, but they can also be subtler. A subtler outcome of discrimination is internalised homophobia. This refers to the internalisation of society’s negative and homophobic attitudes that can occur as a result of living in a heterosexist social environment. Internalised homophobia leads to low self-esteem, shame, anxiety, and internal conflicts between one’s sexual orientation and society’s homophobic attitudes. Research also suggests that it has a negative impact on couple relationships.
Negotiating Open Relationships: Open relationships are more common and more widely accepted in gay male couples than in heterosexual couples. Importantly, several studies show that being in an open relationship does not lead to low relationship satisfaction, and does not lead to low sexual satisfaction. What does seem to be important, however, is the extent to which partners discuss and agree on issues such as sexual exclusivity, safe sex, and rules and expectations surrounding sex outside the relationship.
Demonstrating Commitment: The lack of legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and the absence of marriage equality in Australia, can pose a challenge for couples to demonstrate the meaning and significance of their relationships to their friends and family. Finding ways to demonstrate this commitment to each other, and to friends and family, can be an extremely important process for many couples.
Relational Creativity: Most LGBTIQ people were raised by heterosexual parents. Many same-sex couples may not have had role-models of same-sex relationships or other guidance on same-sex relationships in their family of origin. This can sometimes be a real strength in same-sex relationships, as partners are less constrained by traditional norms and are better able to create the relationships they wish to have. For instance, household chores are more evenly distributed in same-sex couples compared to heterosexual couples, and same-sex couples may be more creative in defining how they want their relationship to be.
Sexual Creativity: A related issue is open relationships. Again, same-sex couples may be less constrained by traditional views of relationships, and are therefore free to choose how they want their relationships to be. Some couples wish to have a relationship that is completely open, whereas others have certain rules they both agree to. Other couples may feel more comfortable with a monogamous relationship, and others may identify as polyamorous and have relationships with more than one individual. In other words, there is diversity in our community regarding how we want to be in our most important relationships.