Sunday, May 25, 2008

Are Gay Relationships Different?

Here are some excerpts from an article in Time Magazine online which I think is worth reading.

Research on gay relationships is young. The first study to observe how gays
and lesbians interact with their partners during conversations (monitoring
facial expressions, vocal tones, emotional displays and physical reactions like
changes in heart rate) wasn't published until 2003, even though such studies
have long been a staple of hetero-couple research. 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

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

The author of the article asks:

Why would gays show more beneficence in arguments, do a worse job of
repairing after bad fights and find palpitation satisfying? 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.

He finds an answer with this:

"In heterosexual couples," Levenson says, "men become very sensitive to
their wives' sadness and anger. It's toxic to most straight men and
disappointing. They want their wives to idolize them, and they are very, very
good anger detectors. And they don't see any of it as funny. In gay couples,
there's a sense of 'We're angry, but isn't this funny?'"

No one is sure why gay men are worse at making up after fights, but I have a theory: it's less important for their sex lives. Probably because they don't have women to
restrain their evolutionarily male sexual appetites, gay men are more likely
than straight and lesbian couples to agree to nonmonogamy, which decreases the
stakes for not repairing. And according to a big study from Norway published in
The Journal of Sex Research in 2006, gay men also consume more porn than
everyone else, making them more "partner-independent."

The author shares more of his thoughts:

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.

Legalizing same-sex marriage would probably help prolong gay
relationships, if only because of the financial and legal benefits married
couples enjoy. Federal benefits are unavailable to lesbian and gay couples even
in Massachusetts, the only state that allows those couples to obtain marriage
licenses. 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." But straight couples more often find a way to stop the
cascade. For gays, breaking up usually means simply moving out, not hiring
divorce attorneys.

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