What straight couples can learn from Gay couples: study shows that homosexual relationships better withstand conflict

by Heidi Lowry

Gays and lesbians who are dating react more positively to disagreement than heterosexual couples do, which helps them strengthen each other and better cope with issues.

Seattle’s Gottman Institute researched 21 gay and lesbian couples over 12 years to find out what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail. In the process, Dr. John Gottman, of the University of Washington, and Dr. Robert Levenson, of the University of California at Berkeley, confirmed that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are very similar. Relationship satisfaction and quality are the same despite sexual orientation.

What the study also found, however, was that gay couples handle emotions differently than their straight counterparts, and this causes a different dynamic in gay and lesbian relationships when arguments occur. Gottman says straight couples can get relationship help by using a gay couple’s approach to disagreeing.

Which homosexual traits can help straight couples

Gottman and Levenson’s study indicated that gays and lesbians handle conflict with a more positive attitude, use less domineering tactics during the course of arguments, are less likely to let negative comments hurt their feelings and cool off faster once the conflict is over.

When compared to straight couples, homosexual couples use more affection and humor when they disagree, and they receive what their partners are saying with more positivity than straight couples. This tendency decreases the length and severity of conflict and helps solve problems.

For straight couples who find themselves using domineering or fearful language when they have a dispute, it may be helpful to think about the equal dynamic prevalent in homosexual relationships. The study indicated that fairness and power-sharing is more common in gay and lesbian relationships, and affects the tone with which partners speak to one another.

After a fight, gay couples show fewer physiological signs of arousal, which means that they get over the argument more quickly and are better able to comfort one another after a conflict is settled and the air is cleared.

Heterosexual people are also more likely to let negative comments affect them more than positive ones. In gay and lesbian relationships, the exact opposite is true. Partners take positivity to heart more than they do negative thoughts voiced out of anger. When negative comments happen, gays and lesbians are also more likely to let them roll off their backs.

Differences between gay and lesbian relationships

The study also showed that gays and lesbians process information differently during conflicts, and may require alternate forms of relationship counseling when problems arise. As women, lesbians are naturally more expressive in arguments, and show a wider range of emotions than straight couples and gay men. Therefore, their set of communication problems may be totally different than those of other couples.

When gay men disagree, sometimes one partner may have trouble overcoming negativity introduced by the other partner. When gay couples are affected by negative feelings, the feelings are harder for gay men to overcome than lesbian or straight partners, which means gay relationships can take longer to repair after an intense argument.

Better communication strategies

Gay or straight, when having a disagreement with a partner, think about what messages are being sent and employ the following tips:

  • Be upbeat in the face of conflict.
  • Use more humor and affection in a disagreement.
  • Don’t be controlling or hostile, especially in a heated, emotional argument.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t sit on aggravation and let it linger after a fight has ended.

The way a couple communicates is important to maintaining a healthy relationship. Ultimately, straight couples can foster better strategies for arguing and making up by adopting the ways gay and lesbian couples deal with relationship strife. Gottman and Levenson’s research proves that when studied and applied, differences can make people stronger instead of pulling them further apart.

Source: 12-Year Study of Gay and Lesbian Couples, The Gottman Institute

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