Same-sex couples share many commonalities with heterosexual couples. The day-to-day activities of their lives often are similar, but the social context in which they live differs greatly, largely due to the influences of the dominant heterosexual culture and traditional expectations of gender roles within a relationship.
Many same-sex pairs may experience extreme stress if every day supports are lacking in their lives—for example, familial, legal, religious, economic, and social support. Members of same-sex couples have experienced societal prejudice in different ways and have dealt with it internally in their own ways, but the effect of “minority stress,” or the effects of living with often negative social conditions, always exists to some extent. The fact that many same-sex relationships endure, and are as stable as cohabitation heterosexual unions, in spite of residing in a sometimes-hostile climate, is a testimony to the resiliency of the members involved.
Traditional gender roles assume that women are relational and men are instrumental. There exists some truth in these gender-related assumptions that can be used in understanding same-sex partnerships. Psychological femininity implies a commitment to the relationship, a tendency to accommodate the needs of a partner, and attempts to remedy problems between them. Psychological masculinity, on the other hand, often is reflective of competition, independence, and lack of emotionality within the context of the relationship. When problems occur, these individuals have the tendency to allow conditions to deteriorate, or to leave the partnership. Gay male couples tend to rely on social exchange (like doing things for one another) rather than on emotional or relational factors for mutual satisfaction.
The similarity of biological sex and gender role conditioning allows couples to have a high level of initial rapport and to merge deeply. They know what pleases someone of their own sex and can understand, give, and respond.
How can a family or couples therapist help?
A professional mental healthcare provider will be a sensitive clinician, fully aware of the pitfalls of traditional heterosexual bias, and will treat a lesbian or gay couple in an appropriate fashion. There are no unique treatments for same-sex couples and the methods used with heterosexual couples can be used for gay and lesbian pairs. However, the importance of taking into consideration developmental and socio-cultural variables cannot be underestimated, and a well experienced therapist will be particularly sensitive to these effects. Same-sex unions can survive and thrive in spite of numerous challenges is a testimony to their resilience and to the resolve of the members of these couples. This determination, along with a strong sense of interdependence, perspective, and external buffers, has allowed many lesbian couples in long-term relationships to succeed as a twosome. Similarly, more male couples than ever before are strengthening their commitment to each other and are enhancing their mutuality and intimacy.