4 Things We Can Learn From Same-Sex Relationships

same-sex relationships
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In a 2015 landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in this country. Besides historically being denied access to legal recognition as a married couple, same-sex couples have also been subjected to more insidious discrimination. Yet, lesbian and gay couples, for the most part, have had the same relationship goals that straight people do.

They also encounter similar relationship challenges that straight partners do. In several areas, however, they do a better job of handling those stressors. Although more clinical research is needed, we do have some data indicating straight couples can learn some successful relationship skills from these same-sex unions.  

Role Equality

Same-sex couples do not automatically slip into typical, gender-stereotyped roles. They divide up tasks and chores based on skill level or interest. They also tend to do more mundane chores together.  Their relationships are naturally more egalitarian. This is a struggle that straight couples encounter frequently.

Sexuality

Same-sex couples do what they want to do sexually. There is less inhibition based on prescribed sexual roles and what society thinks is appropriate. They are more apt to explore the full spectrum of sexual pleasure. They also communicate their desires in the bedroom more readily.

Masters and Johnson studies have found gay and lesbian couples were less focused on orgasm and more focused on pleasure and excitement. They take their time and there is a lot of emotional connection during sex.  In other words, they do not exhibit sexual “hang ups” as frequently as straight couples.

Fighting and Conflict

Same-sex couples face the same ups and downs and stressors that affect straight couples.  However, they are better able to handle conflict and disagreements.  Studies conducted by the Gottman Institute have found that same-sex couples are more positive in the face of conflict. Relative to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more humor, affection and honesty when they bring up a concern, and  LGBTQ partners are often more receptive to these discussions. Same-sex couples were also found less likely to take things personally and more liable to remain optimistic after a disagreement.  Overall, they also are less likely to use hostile and controlling tactics when arguing. There appears to be more fairness and power-sharing in these relationships compared to straight couples. 

Parenting

Research has shown that the children of same-sex couples, whether adopted or biological, fare no worse than the kids of straight couples on mental health, social functioning, school performance and several other life-success measures. Some research indicated that they may be considered "better parents" overall as gays and lesbians choose to be parents. They do not become parents by accident.

They have made a conscience decision to be a parent and often must go through challenging means such as adoption, artificial insemination or surrogacy, to reach this goal. When gays and lesbians become parents, they are quite motivated, involved and committed.  Furthermore, their children are more open-minded and tolerant.  These children have had strong role models for equitable relationships, as well.

Same-sex couples, on the whole, function similarly to straight couples. There may be a thing or two same-sex couples can learn from straight couples, but there is an absence of any substantial research on this topic at this point in time. Now that same-sex couples may legally marry everywhere in the U.S., it is likely that more comparison studies will be conducted.  In the meantime, it is definitely worth continuing to explore what makes for successful relationships regardless of sexual, or gender, orientation.

Whether it comes to role equality, sexuality, conflict or parenting, we have good data demonstrating that there is room for all couples to gain knowledge and develop skills to thrive as a couple. Same-sex couples have much to offer in this arena.

Source: Gottman, J.M, et al. (2003). Correlates of gay and lesbian couples' relationship satisfaction and relationship dissolution. Journal of Homosexuality, 45 (1).