Monday, February 14, 2011

Peter, is it true it's more difficult for gay men to sustain long term relationships?

[Peter Pointers is LifeLube's gay health educator and is assisted by a group of qualified health specialists who work as a team to answer your health questions. Ask about your sexual health, physical health, mental/emotional and spiritual health.  Below is a recent Q&A you may be interested to read.]


Hi Peter,

I have heard that sustaining a long term relationship is more difficult for gay men, is this true? 



Thank you for your intriguing question!  The LGBT community (gay men in particular) is haunted by the stereotype of an incapability of sustaining long term, monogamous relationships.  To answer this question, I have gathered some information and resources from some interesting sources that look this topic.

To begin, I turned to the research to see if I could find any empirical information on long term stability in gay relationships.  Academic research on homosexual relationships is fairly unchartered waters, but there is a Time magazine article that discussed a study published a few years ago about communication and relationships among gay and lesbian couples.  The article states that researchers found that gays and lesbians are nicer than straight couples in dealing with arguments with their partner (significantly less belligerent, less domineering and less fearful).  In addition, gays and lesbians are likely to use more humor when arguing. 

While this is positive for gay and lesbian couples in regards to having healthy communication in a relationship, there was one finding in that study which went the other way.  It found that gay men were worse than straight and lesbian couples at “repairing” or “making up” after initiating difficult discussions.  In addition to that finding, another study (out of Wright State University) discussed in the Time magazine article, reported that gay and lesbian couples ended relationships sooner than straight couples (the study was conducted over a 12 year period and found that 21% of gay and lesbian couples broke up compared to only 14% of married straight couples). 

So this and other research articles beg the question, why is repairing and maintaining long term relationships potentially more difficult for gay men?  Because the research on this topic is so limited and young, it is difficult to answer this question with a definitive answer.  Looking towards the future however, here are a number of interesting research questions that would help address this question further: 

• The legal issues surrounding gay marriage (gay marriage is still illegal in the majority of U.S states) and its impact on sustaining long term relationships.

• Gay couples internalizing the devaluation of gay relationships from society and its impact on their relationship quality.

• Gay couples agreeing to non-monogamous or open relationships and its impact on sustaining long term relationships.

• The social stigma surrounding LGBT lives (some individuals face mental health issues and poor self concepts as a result of prejudice and discrimination from society) and the challenges that may arise in a relationship as a result. (Check out this study on “Internalized homophobia and relationship quality”).

So, as we can see, research on this question is still forthcoming. However, we do know a lot about relationships in general.  Whether sustaining relationships between gay men is more difficult or not, it is always beneficial to learn what makes up a healthy relationship, signs of an unhealthy relationship and what to do if in an unhealthy situation. 

The best judges of whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy are the people in that relationship.  However, there are some factors to consider when determining if this is a healthy relationship:

1.    Consent – There is agreement by both partners on all activities when both partners can make a conscious decision.

2.    No exploitation - All parties are equally empowered and share decision-making. Both partners feel valued and honored and are not taken advantage of or threatened.

3.    Honesty - Actions demonstrate trustworthiness. There is open, upfront, sincere, and truthful communication; likes and dislikes are vocalized and promises are kept

4.    Mutual pleasure - There is a balanced give and take relationship, without self-centered, forceful, or manipulative means. Partners take pleasure in pleasing their partner and establish comfort zones and understood signals.

5.    Safety and protection (from physical/emotional harm, including STDs) - Partners have knowledge and resources to avoid harm and appropriate measures are taken to ensure the security of all parties. (adapted from

It is important to realize that you always have options in relationships.  You can stay with things as they are, chose to work on the relationship, take a break, or end it all together.  Each partner has an equal choice in where the relationship will go in the future.  If you feel you are in an unsafe relationship you can call 1-877-To END DV (City of Chicago Domestic Violence Help Line or (773) 871-CARE (2273) for the Anti-Violence Project Crisis Line. 

You can also visit this website for information on how to recognize if you are in an unsafe relationship

For more information on healthy relationships, follow the links below to two University websites that offer great information on the topic.

Thank you again for your question.  If there is more information that you need, please do not hesitate to follow up with me.

Be Well,
Peter Pointers on LifeLube, E-mail Peter
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