Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How Gay and Straight Relationships Differ

A very interesting article on studies of long-term gay and straight relationships appeared in last Thursdays's edition of the New York Times. The author, John Cloud, is himself a gay man who recently ended a 7 1/2-year relationship. After recovering emotionally from the loss of his partner, he set about studying what academic studies have been conducted on gay relationships.
I wondered whether Michael and I could have done more to save our union. What impact had our homosexuality had on the longevity, arc and dissolution of our relationship? Had we given up on each other because we were men or because we were gay? Or neither? Friends offered clich├ęs: Some people just aren't meant for each other. But our straight friends usually stayed married. Why not us?
The results he found are fascinating. First, he listed some of the positive advantages gays have been shown to have over straights in relationships:
John Gottman, a renowned couples therapist who was then at the University of Washington, and Robert Levenson, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, led a team that evaluated 40 same-sex couples and 40 straight married couples. The psychologists concluded that gays and lesbians are nicer than straight people during arguments with partners: they are significantly less belligerent, less domineering and less fearful. Gays and lesbians also use humor more often when arguing (and lesbians use even more humor than gays, which I hereby dub "the Ellen DeGeneres effect"). The authors concluded that "heterosexual relationships may have a great deal to learn from homosexual relationships."
Researchers have long noted that because gender roles are less relevant in gay and lesbian relationships--it's a canard that in most gay couples, one partner plays wife--those relationships are often more equal than heterosexual marriages. Both guys do the dishes; both women grill the steaks. Straight couples often argue along gender lines: the men are at turns angry and distant, the women more prone to lugubrious bursts. Gays and lesbians may be less tetchy during quarrels because they aren't forced into a particular role.
However, gay relationships suffer from weaknesses that are less present in heterosexual relationships, too.
But Gottman and Levenson also found that when gay men initiate difficult discussions with their partners, the partners are worse than straight or lesbian couples at "repairing"--essentially, making up. Gottman and Levenson suggest that couples therapists should thus focus on helping gay men learn to repair.
And then there are factors that don't apply equally to homo and hetero relationships--factors that mean good things if they are present in gay relationships and bad things if they are present in straight relationships.
Gottman, Levenson and their colleagues found that gays and lesbians who exhibit more tension during disagreements are more satisfied with their relationships than those who remain unruffled. For straight people, higher heart rates during squabbles were associated with lower relationship satisfaction. For gays and lesbians, it was just the opposite. Gays conduct their relationships as though they are acting out some cheesy pop song: You have to make my heart beat faster for me to love you. For gays, it is apathy that murders relationships, not tension. Straight people more often prefer a lento placidity.
Interesting. In what ways are gays and straights relationships equal? The rate of falling apart.
[Lawrence] Kurdek says in a 1998 Journal of Marriage and the Family paper that even though gay and lesbian relationships end more often than straight marriages, they don't degrade any faster. In other words, it takes squabbling gay and straight couples the same amount of time to enter what is known as "the cascade toward divorce."
That's where the similarity ends, however.
But straight couples more often find a way to stop the cascade [toward divorce].
The author concludes with statistics on gay relationships being shorter on average than straight relationships and offering some theories why that may be so.

Although the world is changing... many gay kids still grow up believing that what they want is disgusting. They repress for years, and when they finally do have relationships, they need them to carry sufficient drama into those emotional spaces that were empty for so long. Gays need their relationships to scorch.

That's one reason gays and lesbians end relationships sooner than heterosexuals. In a 2004 paper, psychology professor Lawrence Kurdek of Wright State University in Ohio reported that over a 12-year period, 21% of gay and lesbian couples broke up; only 14% of married straight couples did. Too many gay relationships are pulled by the crosscurrents of childhood pain, adult expectation and gay-community pathologies like meth addiction. Kurdek has also found that members of gay and lesbian couples are significantly more self-conscious than straight married people, "perhaps due to their stigmatized status," he writes.

This leads the author to press for normalization of gay relationships--definitely with legal marriage recognition, but also at the deeper level of societal normalcy.

hat tip: Google News

14 comments:

TweetyJill said...

I had read this article earlier.

At some point, the writer wondered whether he had gotten into the relationship too young and whether he and his partner had stayed together longer than they should have. He mentions that there was a part of him that had wanted to prove to his hetrosexual friends that homosexuals could be "stable" too.

Ignoring all the paraphrasing I have done, this thought was particularly striking to me. It seems that homosexuals will always feel that they have something to prove. As long as the world continues to generalize every action of individual homosexuals to the general community.

I will suggest that another reason why homosexual relationships break up easier is because most relationships do not have the added burden of kids. It is maybe easier to leave if you don't have family and kids to consider. I wonder if this trend will change as more and more homosexual couples have and adopt kids.

Joe Moderate said...

Great points, Tweety.

I'd say that it's not just gay folks who feel they have to "prove" the legitimacy of their relationships. It seems there is a large, hawkish group of conservative people who are constantly looking for signs that a gay relationship is struggling so they can point and yell and say it's all because of the "immoral" nature of the relationship.

I recall a wonderfully frank conversation with my parents when they admitted that this was the way they view my relationship with C. They said (honestly, not with a surly attitude) that they were so convinced our relationship would fail because God opposes it that they would interpret the slightest relationship difficulties as indicators that no gay relationships can work.

How can we possibly hope for success in such an atmosphere? The "solution" I've come to is that I often don't share much about my relationship with C when I'm speaking to my parents and my conservative friends. Sometimes I'll tell them positive things, but I am careful to never tell them any of our arguments or quarrels. It makes for a fake picture of our relationship... but what else could I show them?

Frustrating. Depressing. I hope for change within my lifetime, but often I feel change won't fully occur until my parents' generation passes away.

:-(

Ryan said...

Interesting….Thanks for the article. Ryan

Pomoprophet said...

Wow. I'd never read anything about this. I think deep down I wonder if they can last too. I've grown up believing that they are wrong and two men arent complimentary. Its hard to break from that ya know? But I so want them to be able to last. I think about it and dream about it sometimes.

I wonder what role being a Christian plays in the longevity of gay relationships. I know it doesnt seem to much in straight relationships. But when I think about the Christians I know that truely desire to follow Christ, it does make their marriages last. And with Christ, all things are possible! Amen. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.

Its funny, so many Christians use that verse to say that we can change. I wonder how many of them would use that to say that we can make a gay marriage last. Anyone? Anyone? Hmmm....

D.J. Free! said...

don't be so glum, joe, my chum!

i don't really think it's gonna take the passing of our parent's generation. i see the tide changing, slowly but surely.

my dad the other day looks at me and says "so how's 'J' doing?"

this shocked me. FLOORED me! b/c usually he asks about J in this kind of awkward way that makes me realize he's not at all OK w/ things. but this . . . this was different. this was so naturaly to him. as if he was saying to me "darren, i realize that J is a reality of your life, and since you love him, i need to know about him".

and the next day, as i'm heading to lunch to see J, my mom says "well tell J we say hi!"
again, SHOCKED! lol. it boggles the mind really. but they're coming around.

it gives me hope, my friend. i hope it does the same for you. b/c i realize (and this is something i was talking w/ my counselor about monday) . . . there are SO many pressures put on gay relationships, both internally and externally. how in the WORLD could we expect them to survive w/o the support and love of our families?? if you and C have a failed relationship, make no doubt about this (and it's something i hope you can gently tell your parents) . . .they will be complicit in its demise - by their sheer absence.

i'm not a huge fan of hillary, but i do agree w/ her wholeheartedly on this: "it takes a village".

Joe Moderate said...

Good question, Pomo. I would be interested to know what values correlate with long relationships for both straight and gay couples. It seems clear that just identifying as being of a particular religion or going regularly to religious services doesn't keep marriages together. It's gotta be something deeper than that.

Now I'm gonna say something scandalous: I don't think "true Christianity" is necessarily what holds long-term relationships together. Why? Cause I know lots of lifelong married couples of different faiths. Both long-term gay couples I know (17 years and 25 years) are buddhists.

Maybe there is a set of values that is embraced by "true Christians" that are similar to the values embraced by many other people outside the Christian faith. Maybe it is those values that keep marriages alive and well.

What do you think?

Joe Moderate said...

DJ, that's awesome! It's cool to hear your parents inquiring about J, how he's doing, and how the two of you are doing. Man, that makes me happy to hear :-)

You know what? My parents do the same thing. When we speak on the phone they often ask how C is doing, what he's up to, and ask me to say hello to him. It was a huge deal that mom invited him to come to the family's Thanksgiving dinner last year. Huge deal.

I just dunno. I hope they come around before they die. I just dunno.

However, each day I am learning how to live my life without the relational support of my family. It's okay, really. I mean, they still love and support ME and communicate their love and support for ME. It sucks that they don't love and support US, but... well... relationships have survived a lot worse!

And honestly, my relationship with C has already survived much worse. I really feel safe and strong in my relationship with C because we've endured trial by fire. We endured those 9 painful months of intensely scrutinizing our faith. We have moved slowly and carefully through our relationship to allow us to trust ourselves and trust our relationship. We stuck to the f**kin hard commitment to hold of on sex until marriage.

And we've been kicked out of our church, lost friendships, and shunned by my family. We've been yelled at in public and ridiculed on neighborhood streets. But we've kept on going. The two truly are better than one, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it. When one of us has fallen down or been overwhelmed by the strife around us, the other has bent down and pick the one up.

It's an amazing thing that we've made it this far. And our relationship is so strong for having made it this far. Of course I'm marrying this man. He's solid gold. And I trust him with my life.

Speaking of which, we gotta find ourselves a lawyer. There are no civil unions in Illinois yet, so we're gonna have to get all the paperwork drawn up for us to have medical power of attorney, visitation rights, decision-making power in the case of incapacitation, and all that stuff.

Interesting thought: if my relationship with C fails, my parents will have been complicit in its demise.

Pomoprophet said...

I didnt say only Christians have long term relationships. Of course not. But since we are Christians and atleast i have no plans to become buddist, I thought my comment was safe :)

There is no domestic partnership or anything in Illonis? Atleast CA has domestic partnerships. I am thankful for that.

What do you mean "if my relationship with C fails, my parents will have been complicit in its demise." ???

Anonymous said...

What boggles my mind, and you say that you're Christian...that doesn't make any sense to me. Being a Christian means following God, and being Christ like. There are so many verses that say how homosexuality is wrong, it's a sin. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah. I'm a Christian, and I know that Sin is sin, there are no levels of sin, one is just as bad as the others. But the thing is, I'm working to end those sins so that Through Christ's strength I can become more like Him and do His will. Take a look at the Book you claim to believe in.

Joe Moderate said...

Hey, Anonymous. Great points! I'd love to discuss them with you--let you share your perspective and give you a chance to hear mine.

Interested?

Maybe you could create a gmail account for just this purpose. It would let you preserve your anonymity while allowing us to have the conversation. Just send me an email at joe.moderate@gmail.com.

CJ Dunnaway said...

I plagiarized bits of this blog entry and posted them in response to a Letter to the Editor that objects to gay marriage.

The writer states, "Faithfulness is a precious commodity and should be protected by all means. Our children in particular need its protection. To accept gay marriage is to accept this unfaithfulness in the very fiber of the union. A bad idea."

I think I did an OK job of responding, but feel free to critique my interpretation of your ideas.

Gay Relationships

jeff said...

Sounds good, but I am a bit confused:

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it
creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my
neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I
smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there
'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some
wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two
different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing
garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester
blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really
necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town
together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Signed: Confused Jeff

jeff said...

I am confused. Can you help?

1. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

2. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my
neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I
smite them?

3. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus
35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally
obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

4. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there
'degrees' of abomination?

4. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I
have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some
wiggle-room here?

5. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I am confident you can help me with these questions.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Jeff

Jeremy Blunt said...

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