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5 Things Everyone Can Learn from Gay Marriage and Divorce

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

A gay couple hugging
What we can learn from gay marriage and divorce is a lot!

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on gay marriage in 2015, same-sex couples across the United States have begun tying the knot. And along with all the most rewarding parts of marriage, gay and lesbian couples also face the prospect of divorce when things don’t work out.

As statistics about the gay divorce rate roll in, we can begin to understand what specific of issues affect gay couples. And while gay marriage affords us all equal rights, we also must recognize that having the same rights doesn’t mean we have the same relationships.

Gay Marriage - Battle of the Sexes

There are certain characteristics among males and females that can affect the way couples relate to each other. For example, women and men often have different communication styles and preferences. Research has also shown that lesbians tend to be more accepted by society than gay males. This may affect a couple’s relationship as it relates to family and community.

Digging into the lesbian and gay divorce rates can shed some light on the issues that face different couples. By observing issues between same-sex couples, we can learn more about what works —and what doesn’t—within the institution of marriage.

What is the Divorce Rate For Same-Sex Marriages?

In 2011, researchers at UCLA analyzed divorce rates among same-sex couples in the 19 states that legally recognized their right to marry. They found that, on average, 1.1% of same-sex marriages ended in divorce, versus the 2% national average.

But take those numbers with a grain of salt. Same-sex marriage has, in most countries, only been legal for a fairly short time. We have decades of data on heterosexual couples, but relatively little on LGBT married couples.

That makes it difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions from the gay divorce rate. Furthermore, many jurisdictions don’t track whether a divorce is between a gay or a straight couple. However, some data on the divorce rates among gay couples are worth exploring.

In Denmark, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2012, the gay divorce rate stands at 17 percent.

Now, compare that to the 47% divorce rate among the general population. It’s clear that members of the gay community are doing something differently. However, we need to be careful about painting with too broad a brush. Lesbians account for about 60 percent of same-sex marriages -- and 80 percent of same-sex divorces.

Numbers out of the United Kingdom reflect a similar pattern —lesbians are two and a half times more likely to get divorced than gay males.

What Can we Glean From Divorce Rates in the Gay Community?

Women are more likely to initiate divorce.

Women are more likely to file for divorce, even in opposite-sex marriages. In fact, women initiate divorce 70-80% of the time. So it makes sense that relationships with two women are more likely to end in divorce.

But there’s another way to think about this. When no-fault divorce became the norm in the 1960s and 70s, divorce rates skyrocketed. And the vast majority of those marriages were dissolved at the woman’s behest.

So perhaps the takeaway here isn’t that life is more tumultuous with women involved. Instead, it seems that women are less likely to stay in unhappy relationships.

Women have higher expectations.

Women tend to have higher expectations of a relationship, making it harder for their partners to meet those expectations. It's a safe assumption that this could be one reason why lesbians have a higher divorce rate.

And before you protest that women having higher standards sounds like a stereotype, there’s ample research to suggest that there’s some truth to it.

What Can We Learn From LGBTQ Relationships?

One longitudinal study conducted by relationship experts Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman found that LGBT couples and straight couples are more or less comparable when it comes to relationship satisfaction. However, other studies produced different results. The Journal of Family Psychology found that same-sex couples had happier relationships.

With that said, here are a few pieces of wisdom we’ve learned about relationships from the LGBTQ community.

1. Manage conflict with love and humor.

Gottman’s study found that same-sex couples were more likely to talk about disagreements with love and humor. Learning to navigate conflict respectfully can be difficult, This is especially true if you grew up in a high-conflict household. But approaching your concerns with good humor is crucial for maintaining a happy home.

2. Avoid attempts to “control” the situation.

The study also found that heterosexual couples were more likely to attempt to exert control during an argument. Belligerence, hostility, and other domineering behaviors are less common among gay couples. This difference may help explain the slightly lower divorce rate among same-sex compared to opposite-sex couples.

3. Don’t take it personally.

Gay and lesbian couples are more positively affected by positive interactions and less negatively affected by negative ones. The reverse was true for straight couples. “This trend,” says Gottman, suggests that gay and lesbian partners tend to accept some degree of negativity without taking it personally.”

4. Keep calm.

Have you ever been so upset that you feel it in your chest? Those feelings of physiological aggravation occur less frequently among same-sex couples. This suggests that LGBT couples find it easier to calm down and de-escalate. Understanding how to keep your wits about you during a disagreement can help you improve communication with your spouse.

5. Pull Your Weight

Studies also suggest that same-sex relationships are more egalitarian than heterosexual relationships. Sharing household responsibilities equally is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. Whether it’s chores, childcare, or finances, it's important for both parties to pull their weight.

Final Thoughts

In looking at the gay divorce rate, one thing is for sure: every relationship has its ups and downs. No matter your sexuality, you’re bound to experience relationship difficulties at one point or another. But the foundation of all marriages is love and mutual respect. It's important to take positive steps to manage conflict and communicate openly.

If you need help communicating with your partner, you can book a free, no-obligation consultation with Great Lakes Counseling.

At Great Lakes Counseling, we’re proud supporters of our LGBTQ neighbors in the Columbus area and beyond. We’ve established a sanctuary of love, respect, and open communication that benefits all couples, but this month we extend our support and gratitude to the LGBTQ community, who show us how to love boldly despite all obstacles.

1 Comment

Unknown member
Jan 19

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