Gay and Lesbian Couples
Less is known about the developmental course of gay and lesbian relationships than heterosexual relationships, largely because they were almost never the focus of research. To date, gay and lesbian relationships have been studied most often in comparison to married heterosexual couples. What is it like to be in a gay or lesbian relationship?
Like heterosexuals, gay and lesbian couples must deal with issues related to effective communication, power, and household responsibilities. For the most part, the relationships of gay and lesbian couples have many similarities to those of heterosexual couples (Kurdek, 2004). Most gay and lesbian couples are in dual-worker relationships, much like the majority of married heterosexual couples, and are likely to share household chores. In general, the same factors predict long-term success of couples regardless of sexual orientation (Mackey, Diemer, & O’Brien, 2004).
Gender differences are more important than differences in sexual orientation (Huston & Schwartz,
1995) . Gay men, like heterosexual men, tend to separate love and sex and have more short-term relationships (Missildine et al., 2005); both lesbian
and heterosexual women are more likely to connect sex and emotional intimacy in fewer, longer lasting relationships. Lesbians tend to make a commitment and cohabit faster than heterosexual couples (Ganiron, 2007). Men in any type of relationship tend to want more power if they earn more money. Women in any type of relationship are likely to be more egalitarian and to view money as a way to maintain independence from one’s partner.
Gay and lesbian couples often report less support from family members than do either married or cohabiting couples (Benokraitis, 2008). The more that one’s family holds traditional ethnic or religious values, the less likely it is that the family will provide support. At a societal level, marriage or civil unions between same-sex couples remains highly controversial in the United States, with several states passing constitutional amendments or statutes defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The lack of legal recognition for gay and lesbian relationships in the United States also means that certain rights and privileges are not granted. For example, it is difficult for gay and lesbian partners to inherit property from their partners in the absence of a will, and sometimes they are denied visitation rights when their partner is hospitalized. Although the legal status of gay and lesbian couples is changing in
some countries (most notably in Scandinavia), few countries provide them with the same legal rights as married couples.
Very little research has been conducted on longterm gay and lesbian partnerships. Based on the available data, it appears that long-term relationships between gay and lesbian partners do not differ in quality from long-term heterosexual marriages (Connidis, 2001; O’Brien & Goldberg, 2000). As is true for heterosexual married couples, relationship satisfaction is better when partners communicate well and are basically happy themselves. Some researchers argue that occupying two stigmatizing statuses—being gay or lesbian and being old—may make aging especially challenging for these couples (Grossman, 1997). For example, age-related declines in health may force individuals to disclose their sexual orientation much more publicly.