Written by Writer’s Corps member Vivian Todini
There is a fallacy that somehow lgbtq+ relationships are different than straight relationships. But, whether gay, straight, trans or any other combination, when two people come together to date or to get serious, they face the same highs and lows that surface in any relationship.
In the beginning for all couples, it’s relatively easy, even if the excitement is mixed with a dose of nerves. There’s the rush of meeting someone new and thinking, wow! Or maybe it’s a slow simmer and suddenly you start to realize that the inside jokes, the glances, the extra long goodbye hugs or the copious texting mean that this friendship has caught the fire of romance.
These early forays into relationships are familiar to any love persuasion. Ditto for later on when you start to dig deeper into issues like building trust, managing expectations, tackling insecurities, navigating communication styles, and even dealing with exes who might be friends or parents of your children. Basically, regardless of who you love, when two people get together, you begin to delve into a wonderful, albeit complex, world.
What can add to the complexity for same-sex couples, however, is the outside world.
Very often lgbtq+ people have extra external stressors that can affect their relationship. Isolation, including being rejected by family members, friends or co-workers, deciding who to tell that you are in a same-sex relationship, coping with assumptions and stereotypes, knowing when it is safe to hold your partner’s hand in public and when it’s not, and a host of other challenges can derail or strengthen a couple.
So, when the world feels a little tough, here are a few tips to create the loving space for your lgbtq+ relationship to grow and blossom.
Respect Your Differences
You may be “out” to everyone, but maybe your partner isn’t. So while you are thrilled about bringing your SO to your Aunt Mabel’s fried chicken dinner on Sunday, where all of your relatives will get to meet your special someone, your SO might feel nervous about bringing you to a family outing. This is where things can get sticky and why it’s important to respect one another’s process. For couples who are at different points in their journey, it can be frustrating when one person feels invisible or the other feels scared or pressured to come out. Sit down and share what your differences trigger in one another and see if you can map out steps to support each other during this transitional time. Coming out is a very personal process and while you two might be at different stages in your journey, bring love, respect, and patience to the process.
Sometimes being lgbtq+ can be very isolating, especially if you are concerned that your family is going to reject you, or you live in a conservative part of the country or if your religion conflicts with building a life with a same-sex partner. Seek out lgbtq+ resources either locally, nationally or online that will give you an opportunity to connect with people who understand and can empathize. Also, turn to trusted friends, whether they are lgbtq+ or straight, to build deeper relationships by asking for support and talking about how you feel.
Take a News Break
Take cover from the bombardment of news reports of efforts to thwart or reverse progress for lgbtq+ families. Oppression and discrimination is very wearing. Make time to celebrate your life together, even if others are trying to undermine or disparage your love. Look in the mirror together and affirm the beauty of your relationship. If you are energized, get involved with an advocacy organization either by contributing your time or donating. If you are worn out, nourish yourselves by spending time with family and friends who believe in your love. During the times that the world may not be so kind, your champions will give you the kindness you need.
While safety isn’t always predictable, assess when it is safe to be out as a couple, meaning is it ok to kiss or only hug when saying hello in public? Is it ok to hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, or is it better to walk arm’s length from one another? Can you hold hands across a restaurant table or cozy up close on a barstool? What about a slow dance together at a wedding? Assessing your environment is critical to your safety and to protect yourselves from glares to threats to physical confrontation. Your safety is affected by many variables, including whether you are in familiar territory or on new turf, such as when vacationing in a state or country that may frown on your love. Take care of each other by communicating in advance when you are unsure of possible dangerous reactions to your coupledom.
Be Vulnerable with Each Other
It’s easy to put up a wall when you don’t feel like you can share the excitement of being in love with your family, friends or co-workers. When you walk into the arms of your love, remind yourself to leave your armor at the door. Let your relationship grow and flourish, by creating the space to be open and vulnerable with each other. So, take a deep breath and enjoy! And, you may find your wall coming down when you gain strength from your relationship.
If your relationship issues are being compounded by the stress of being lgbtq+ in a straight world, or if you are finding this stress affects your emotional health, don’t go it alone, seek help because you and your love matter.