We have known for a while that most couples, as a rule, improve about half a standard deviation. But a recent study of gay couples showed an improvement of approximately 1.2 standard deviations.
Does this mean gay couples sail through couples therapy twice as fast straight couples? We don’t know yet… but it’s a very intriguing question.
I don’t want to bore you explaining standard deviations… but trust me, a half a standard deviation compared to 1.2 standard deviations is quite impressive.
This is a study I am looking forward to reading. Perhaps other recent research might shed some light on these new findings.
Gay relationships and lesbian relationships have unique strengths and challenges.
Dr. Gottman and his research team attempted to answer the question; Are there significant differences in the patterns of relational success and failure between heterosexual and same-sex couples?
To answer that question, Gottman conducted a twelve-year study of gay and lesbian couples.
His research concluded that all couple regardless of sexual orientation have many of the same relational struggles and satisfactions. But same-sex couples have significant strengths and unique vulnerabilities.
The key finding was that gay relationships and heterosexual relationships are directly comparable in levels of overall satisfaction and quality.
However, gay relationships have unique strengths and struggles which characterize their interactions, particularly in the area of conflict resolution.
“When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships,” Dr. John Gottman.
The research discovered that same-sex relationships are more sensitized to sharing power and having an abiding sense of fair-play with each other. Because of this difference, emotions related to “control” issues are decidedly muted in same-sex couples. Especially for gay women.
For example, Gottman’s research shows that with heterosexual couples, it’s easier to sting a partner with a critical comment than it is to delight a partner with a compliment.
In same-sex couples, the opposite seems to be true. A positive comment lands better with a gay partner, and criticism doesn’t cut as deep as it does with straight couples.
The research also discovered that gay couples displayed lower levels of relational fear, power struggles, antagonism, and control issues than straight couples. Gay couples are also better at softened start-ups, using humor and affectionate language when they complain and seek a change.
There is also less anger and more positivity during and after disagreements with gay couples than with straight couples. Gay couples are better able to handle negativity.
The research also discovered that gay couples displayed lower levels of diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). As a result, gay couples can remain calmer during tough conversations and have an overall greater skill in soothing their partner than heterosexual couples.
Gay and lesbian couples may have similar strengths, but conflict management styles are different for lesbians and gay men.
Gottman’s research suggests lesbians are simply more emotionally expressive than gay men. Perhaps a relationship between two women allows for an unimpeded flow of emotional expressiveness.
The landmark book, Couple Therapy with Gay Men by David E. Greenan EdD, and Gil Tunnel Ph.D. reminds us that most gay men have grown up marinated in shame about their core identities.
Consequently, it’s not unusual for a gay man to internalize a profound degree of self-reliance. This autonomy stood them in good stead while enduring a lonely childhood and adolescence, but excessive self-reliance may impede a gay man’s ability to readily find a balance between autonomy and connection.
Gottman gay couples therapy can help increase vulnerability and openness.
It’s important for couples therapists to help gay men to become more comfortable with expressions of vulnerability, intimacy and mutual support.
This may be why Gottman’s research indicates that men in gay couples therapy would benefit by noticing their degree of negativity while making complaints. Research indicates that gay men are different from lesbians and straight couples in that their repair skills sometimes need more additional work.
Gay men who initiate complaints may, at high levels of conflict, criticize vehemently, and make it more difficult for their partner to make a successful repair attempt.
Gottman concludes that gay men might need more help in understanding the systemic impact of their negativity than lesbian or straight couples. It’s lonely growing up gay, and consequently, emotional supports, particularly for young gay men are often lacking.
Salvatore Garanzini, MFT, is the Executive Director and Cofounder of the Gay Couples Institute, based in San Francisco, CA. He and his husband, Alapaki Yee, MFT, also a co-founder and Director of Operations, supervise clinical staff performing gay couples therapy at the Institute. Salvatore is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco Counseling Psychology Department. I appreciate this ground-breaking research in Gottman Couples Therapy.
Call us for more information at 844-926-8753 to Reach Cindy Tervalon, Intake Coordinator.
Antonelli, P., Dettore, D., Lasagni, I., Snyder, D. K., & Balderrama-Durbin, C. (2014). Gay and lesbian couples in Italy: Comparisons with heterosexual couples. Family Process, 53, 702–716. PubMedGoogle Scholar
Balsam, K. F., Beauchaine, T. P., Rothblum, E. D., & Solomon, S. E. (2008). Three-year follow-up of same-sex couples who had civil unions in Vermont, same-sex couples not in civil unions, and heterosexual married couples. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 102–116. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.124
Fals-Stewart W, O’Farrell TJ, Lam WK. Behavioral couple therapy for gay and lesbian couples with alcohol use disorders. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 37: 379-87. PMID 19553063 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsat.2009.05.001
Garanzini, Salvatore; Yee, Alapaki; Gottman, John; Gottman, Julie; Cole, Carrie; Preciado, Marisa; Jasculca, Carolyn (October 2017). “Results of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with Gay and Lesbian Couples”. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 43 (4): 674–684. doi:10.1111/jmft.12276.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.