We have known for a while that most couples, as a rule, improve about half a standard deviation. But a recent study of gay couples therapy showed an improvement of approximately 1.2 standard deviations.
Does this mean that same-sex couples sail through gay couples therapy twice as fast as straight couples? We don’t know yet… but it’s a very intriguing question.
I don’t want to bore you explaining standard deviations… but trust me, a half a standard deviation compared to 1.2 standard deviations is quite impressive.
This is a study I am looking forward to reading. Perhaps other recent research might shed some light on these new findings.
Antonelli, Dettore, Lasagni, Snyder, and Balderrama-Durbin (2014) found that gay and lesbian couples, (as compared to heterosexual couples) reported a higher level of satisfaction with the quality of leisure time they spent together, as well as a higher satisfaction with their physical and sexual encounters.
Gay relationships and lesbian relationships have unique strengths and challenges.
Dr. Gottman and his research team attempted to answer the question; Are there significant differences in the patterns of relational success and failure between heterosexual and same-sex couples?
To answer that question, Gottman conducted a twelve-year study of gay and lesbian couples.
His research concluded that all couples regardless of sexual orientation have many of the same relational struggles and satisfactions. But same-sex couples have significant strengths and unique vulnerabilities.
The key finding was that gay relationships and heterosexual relationships are directly comparable in levels of overall satisfaction and quality.
However, gay relationships have unique strengths and struggles which characterize their interactions, particularly in conflict resolution.
“When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships,” Dr. John Gottman.
For example, Gottman’s research shows that with heterosexual couples, it’s easier to sting a partner with a critical comment than it is to delight a partner with a compliment.
Consequently, it’s not unusual for a gay man to internalize a profound degree of self-reliance.
This autonomy stood them in good stead while enduring a lonely childhood and adolescence, but excessive self-reliance may impede a gay man’s ability to readily find a balance between autonomy and connection.
Gottman gay couples therapy can help increase vulnerability and openness.
It’s important for couples therapists to help gay men to become more comfortable with expressions of vulnerability, intimacy, and mutual support.
This may be why Gottman’s research indicates that men in gay couples therapy benefit by noticing their degree of negativity while making complaints. Research indicates that gay men are different from lesbians and straight couples in that their repair skills sometimes need more additional work in gay couples therapy.
Gay men who initiate complaints may, at high levels of conflict, criticize vehemently, and make it more difficult for their partner to make a successful repair attempt.
Gottman concludes that gay men might need more help in understanding the systemic impact of their negativity than lesbian or straight couples. It’s lonely growing up gay, and consequently, emotional supports, particularly for young gay men are often lacking.
Salvatore Garanzini, MFT, is the Executive Director and Cofounder of the Gay Couples Institute, based in San Francisco, CA. He and his husband, Alapaki Yee, MFT, also a co-founder and Director of Operations, supervise clinical staff performing gay couples therapy at the Institute. Salvatore is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco Counseling Psychology Department. I appreciate this ground-breaking research in Gottman Couples Therapy.
Antonelli, P., Dettore, D., Lasagni, I., Snyder, D. K., & Balderrama-Durbin, C. (2014). Gay and lesbian couples in Italy: Comparisons with heterosexual couples. Family Process, 53, 702–716. PubMedGoogle Scholar
Balsam, K. F., Beauchaine, T. P., Rothblum, E. D., & Solomon, S. E. (2008). Three-year follow-up of same-sex couples who had civil unions in Vermont, same-sex couples not in civil unions, and heterosexual married couples. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 102–116. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.199
Fals-Stewart W, O’Farrell TJ, Lam WK. Behavioral couple therapy for gay and lesbian couples with alcohol use disorders. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 37: 379-87. PMID 19553063 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsat.2009.05.001
Garanzini, Salvatore; Yee, Alapaki; Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie; Cole, Carrie; Preciado, Marisa; Jasculca, Carolyn (October 2017). “Results of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with Gay and Lesbian Couples”. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 43 (4): 674–684. doi:10.1111/jmft.12276.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.