Regardless of the rulings, it's important to know that a relationship is a relationship, whether it is “approved” by the societal/political structures of the U.S. or not. Unfortunately, for gay and lesbian relationships, there is not always the "markers" of straight relationships that come with societal/political support: Introduction to the family, engagement, wedding and anniversaries, children, etc. etc.
Can therapy be a “marker” for gay and lesbian relationships? Therapy is not without it's own stigma, but over time, therapy has shed some of that stigma as people come to realize that difficulties are a part of the growing process. More importantly, the “honeymoon phase” of any relationship is about a year to 18 months. A relationship of that duration is not without its difficulties as the end of the honeymoon phase signifies the introduction of a new set of criteria – increased responsibility (pets, vacations, shared finances), the possibility of moving in together, children, etc. etc.
Considering therapy in the absence of stigma may speak to a desire to smooth out the transition from the honeymoon to these more serious aspect of the relationship. Of course, part of the growth is about overcoming difficulties, but at this point, partners may find they handle situations in vastly differently ways as the closeness increases.
Seeing a therapist doesn't mean not doing any work, it means doing work more productively from the beginning, rather than letting the process sour the relationship and then seeking therapy, when the issues have been complicated.
Couples work includes the following:
• Working through disagreements by finding ways to connect over the effects each person experiences, rather than resolving the issue. The resolution is a by-product of better empathy and understanding;
• Helping clients to ask for what they need in more productive ways. There are still 2 (or more) individuals in a relationship. The individual cannot be lost in the relationship, and neither should the relationship be lost on the individuals; and
• Sex therapy: Allowing each individual to express his/her sexuality to the fullest possible
Gay and lesbian couples have a lot in common with opposite-sex relationships, but there are special issues as well that come with same-sex relationships – finding healthy ways to compete/complement and disparities in the coming out process being two of the biggest.
And with the Supreme Court ruling, there may be new commonalities: Marriage and reactions that can make this a joyous and stressful "marker" for a relationship.
The therapists at Philadelphia MFT have been trained to work with same-sex relationships, multicultural issues and interracial issues. If you feel your relationship is beginning to hit bumps as the honeymoon phase draws to a close, don't hesitate to give us a call and tackle the issues before they begin to compound.
This Topic of the Week was written by Brian Swope, MFT.