Gay relationships and lesbian relationships have unique challenges and strengths. Gay marriage counseling is much like couples counseling for all couples. There are, however, important caveats for same-sex couples.

We’ll discuss some of these differences in this article. We’ll also talk about specific questions to ask when looking for lesbian and gay couples therapy near you.

Sex life and sexual partners: Monogamy?

It is not unusual for adult attachment theorists to describe gay men as having less relationship commitment than same-sex couples.

Attachment avoidance is also seen to be less among gay men in comparison to same-sex couples. Attachment avoidance refers to an unwillingness to go to close others for comfort and support. 

Research also mentions a greater number of sex partners. A lack of monogamy, however, isn’t as damaging as it is to other relationships. Studies have consistently demonstrated that gay male couples report the same level of satisfaction, regardless of whether they are monogamous or not.

Coming out stories

A counselor’s familiarity and experience working with LGBTQ couples is essential. This includes leaving room to describe:

  • how oppression has impacted their view of self,
  • their attachment history,
  • harassment and abuse, and
  • parental responses to their coming out.

Few straight or cis-couples feel unsafe revealing their sexual preferences. Fewer still faced danger when displaying affection publicly. Couples therapists should understand how traumatizing this history can be to the relationship or to the sexual lives of their clients.

In addition, therapists must also be flexible in understanding both gender and sexuality as fluid, not fixed categories. These labels of self-identity include transgender nonbinary, asexual, pansexual, and bisexual identities, among others.

Research before couples therapy begins

In a study published in 2019, 40,682 couples were assessed before attending couples therapy. Of these, 1,022 were lesbian, and 438 were gay couples about to begin couples therapy.

At the start of therapy, same-sex couples were found to be in a better emotional state than heterosexual couples. A higher percentage of same-sex couples reported feeling satisfied and happy, with fewer issues in areas such as:

  • Love Maps,
  • Fondness, Admiration,
  • Turning Toward,
  • Satisfaction with Romance,
  • Satisfaction with the Frequency of Sex,
  • Emotion Dismissing,
  • Shared Meaning,
  • Stress,
  • Values and Goals,
  • Having Fun,
  • Spirituality/Religion/Ethics, and
  • Issues Related to Children.

Trust and affairs were more common issues for Gay-male couples than heterosexual and lesbian couples. As individuals, same-sex couples also reported higher rates of family trauma, problems with drugs and alcohol, and somatization, anxiety, and phobic anxiety. This suggests therapists need to consider these issues when working with same-sex couples.

Historic studies

Dr. Gottman and his research team conducted a twelve-year study of gay and lesbian couples and discussed unique strengths and struggles which characterize their interactions, particularly in the area of conflict resolution.

Gay and Lesbian Relationships and Conflict Management

This earlier research found that same-sex couples tend to have more equitable power dynamics and fair play in their relationships, leading to fewer issues related to control. This is particularly true for lesbian couples.

The research found that gay couples were more likely to use humor, positivity, and affection when dealing with conflict compared to straight couples, and displayed lower levels of relational fear, antagonism, and power grabs.

John Gottman’s research indicates that it is easier to hurt a heterosexual partner with a critical comment than to give them a compliment, whereas in same-sex couples, compliments are received more positively and criticism has less of an impact.

Gay couples displayed lower levels of diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). They have an overall greater skill in soothing their partner during tough conversations than heterosexual couples.

Gay Men and Gay Women Differ in Their Degree of Emotional Expressiveness

Gay and lesbian couples may have similar strengths, however, they differ in conflict management styles. During marital arguments, lesbians display more humor, engagement, agitation, and even anger than gay men, suggesting more emotional expressiveness. This may simply be a gender difference. Gay men also make fewer and less effective repair attempts.

In same-sex relationships, gender similarities can create a more complex dynamic. For instance, it has been found that gay men tend to withdraw during an argument, while lesbian couples often show more patience and humor. This, again, could be due to gender.

Finding a lesbian or gay couples therapist near you

One can find many generic statements such as “all welcome” on therapy websites, suggesting that the therapist works with all people regardless of sexual orientation. Other individual therapists clearly identify expertise in working with LGBTQ (I+) relationships or other marginalized identities without having the science-based skills to work with couples.

LGBT couples may also want therapists who work comfortably with inter-racial and or multinational couples. Therapists must be willing to broach subjects related to the intersectionality of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and sociopolitical factors impacting the couple.

The therapist also should have a clear framework for what a healthy lesbian relationships or gay love relationships look like apart from heteronormative models.

You might ask the following questions and note any red flags:

  • “On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable would you say you are in talking about love and sexuality between same-sex couples?”
  • “Can you tell us a little about your race/ethnicity, gender, social class, religion or spirituality so we can get an idea of fit?”
  • “Do you routinely address stressors of oppression in your work with couples?”