For LGBT couples, counseling often goes beyond the scope of “traditional” couples therapy. Here’s everything you need to know.
Finding a couples counselor who understands the unique needs of a gay or lesbian relationship can be challenging. Many marriage difficulties are universal, but there are some unique features of same-sex relationships that require LGBT couples counseling.
Any marriage counselor in 2022 should be welcoming and understanding of same-sex couples. But not every relationship counselor understands how to deal with gay and lesbian marriage problems.
Let’s look at some of the most common relationship problems that same-sex couples face. Then, we can better understand how therapy can help LGBT couples overcome these unique obstacles.
Why Do Same Sex Couples Have Different Needs in Couples Counseling?
Many factors influence a couple’s needs in counseling. For same-sex couples, those needs are shaped by the lived experience of each partner as a member of the LGBTQIA community. Gender roles, masculine and feminine traits, and relationship expectations also play a role.
Because of these factors, same-sex relationships often function differently from opposite-sex relationships. So it’s essential to understand what kinds of issues commonly come up in LGBT couples counseling.
So what exactly makes a same-sex relationship unique? Here are some common issues that LGBT couples have to face.
While most Americans now support same-sex marriage, that hasn't always been the case. Many gay people grew up in households where their families didn’t accept them. Those from religious or conservative backgrounds may have less support in their relationship. And unfortunately, lack of family acceptance can cause a rift between partners.
Openness and Coming Out
It’s common for same-sex couples to be at different stages of “coming out.” For example, one person might have been out for many years while the other is newly embracing their sexuality. When one half of the relationship is ready to publicly celebrate love and the other is opposed, the discrepancy can cause problems in the relationship.
Mental Health Issues
Unfortunately, members of the LGBT community are much more likely to experience mental health and substance abuse problems than straight and cisgender people. Mental health problems can take a considerable toll on a relationship, especially if those issues are rooted in discriminatory experiences and trauma related to a person’s sexual identity.
How LGBT Couples Counseling Can Help
The good news is that a couples counselor who understands these unique issues can help you navigate through these hardships. Here are a few ways that an LGBTQ-friendly counselor can benefit your relationship.
Many members of the LGBTQ community have grown up feeling that they have to “hide” parts of themselves, meaning that although they might be in the presence of a loving partner, they may find it difficult to communicate openly.
Couples therapy will help you open the lines of communication with your partner. Most relationship problems stem from a lack of effective communication, so learning those skills can have a tremendous impact on the quality of your relationship.
Gay and lesbian marriage counseling focuses on reaching a place of understanding. In other words, each party should be on the same page about relationship expectations.
However, reaching mutual understanding isn’t always easy. It can mean digging deep into each other’s experiences as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person navigating love and heartbreak. Opening up about these issues in couples therapy can give you a better understanding of your partner and help you handle relationship issues when they arise.
Overcoming Relationship Obstacles
Every relationship has its ups and downs. But, for same-sex couples, those obstacles might be fundamentally different from heterosexual couples. Often, complex issues befall otherwise happy same-sex couples, and as hard as those issues are to deal with, they may not necessarily indicate “trouble in paradise.”
Take, for example, the case of a lesbian couple in therapy. When the issue of child-rearing arises, the question of who carries the child might be a source of contention. These kinds of problems are often unique to gay and lesbian couples. No matter how much love exists between two people, such questions can be hard to navigate without help from a neutral third party.
3 Things to Look For in an LGBTQ Friendly Couples Counselor
It’s important for lesbian and gay couples in counseling to feel assured that their concerns are understood and addressed. So here are the top three things to look for when searching for lesbian or gay marriage counseling.
1. Understanding of LGBTQ Relationships
Your marriage counselor should understand the types of issues that affect LGBTQ couples. They should be able to help you connect the dots between your feelings, your partner’s feelings, and your relationship in the context of your sexuality. Often, this can mean helping you overcome issues in your relationship related to your sexuality.
2. Experience with Same-Sex Couples Counseling
You don’t necessarily need to find a couples counselor who is themselves a member of the LGBT community. But it may be helpful to ask a prospective counselor whether they’ve worked with gay and lesbian couples before. Like any profession, marriage counselors learn a lot on the job. Your counselor's experience with LGBT couples can affect your experience in couples therapy.
3. Acceptance and Open-Mindedness
Your relationship counselor must be accepting and open-minded towards you and your partner. It’s of paramount importance that you feel comfortable sharing your true self with your marriage counselor.
Be wary when choosing where to seek counseling. There are some practices that may have antiquated ideas about marriage and relationships. Others may not be “up to date” on how to handle sensitive topics that affect LGBT people. If you ever feel judged or discriminated against, it’s time to find a new therapist.
In many ways, same-sex couples are better equipped than their heterosexual neighbors at navigating the pitfalls of love. But there are some parts of a same-sex relationship that may necessitate LGBT couples counseling. Finding a couples therapist who understands how to approach these topics is vital to a healthy relationship.
At Great Lakes Counseling, we understand the challenges that gay and lesbian couples face. We’re proud to offer our services – and love – to our LGBTQ neighbors in Columbus, OH and beyond. We extend our love and support to members of the gay community here and beyond. Learn more about how couples counseling can help you improve communication in your relationship.