Updated: Jun 29
A 12-year study by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Robert Levenson found that gay and lesbian couples used more kindness and humor to bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive as they engage in disagreement with one another. They also found that gay and lesbian couples use fewer hostile and controlling emotional tactics.
Additionally, Gottman found that in heterosexual couples, it is easier for one partner to hurt another with a negative comment than it is to make that partner feel good with a positive comment. However, same-sex couples have a different dynamic; their positive comments have a greater impact on feeling good, while negative comments have a lesser impact on feeling hurt.
What is it about the communication styles of same-sex couples that permit these fluid interactions? In a 2014 study, Paolo Antonelli, found that found that gay and lesbian couples, compared to heterosexual couples reported greater levels of satisfaction regarding quality of leisure time spent together, as well as satisfaction with their physical and sexual interaction. If “communication is key” in a relationship, then it seems that gay and lesbian couples have a communication style that easily permits true connection and trust. And based on the Gottman research, as well as the 2017 research study published by Garanzini, et al., gay and lesbian couples repair their problem communication patterns with more success than other couples.
Here are the key staples for how to quickly create healthy communication patterns in your relationship, and nurture your personal confidence. Ask A Sincere Question In Order To Listen Oh, how easy it is to say you will listen. When things get heated listening feels impossible. But it's key to a strong relationship. Listening helps you understand your partner and helps them know your needs. A balanced, reciprocal communication volley is what’s needed for trust building. For some, it may take some practice or even need a little help.
The question then becomes, how can one make it easier to listen even when things are heated? The trick is to understand what the successful gay and lesbian couples in our study did in those situations. We’ve all heard that some couples may make use of a talking stick that is passed back and forth during a discussion. The one holding the stick has the floor while the other must maintain silence and listen. This formality isn’t necessary. Instead, ask your partner a sincerely curious open-ended question, and then find even a small piece of their viewpoint to validate. Congratulations, you’ve just “listened”!
Pro-Tip: If you really want your partner to listen to you, then show first that you’re listening to them. The fastest way to do this is explain their viewpoint back to them, and then ask another open-ended question. Finally, ask them if they feel like you understand their stance, if only a little bit more. This style of communication was consistently present in the couples in our study having successful long-term relationships.
Develop Rules and Boundaries For many, relationships are all about learning about one another. It's also an important opportunity for teaching about ourselves. At the beginning of a relationship, there’s a prime period of sharing likes, dislikes, and even fears and desires. This is a very important moment for discussing boundaries and rules. Boundaries are the guides for a relationship, the rule book, of sorts. And for those who identify as gay it’s important to help us better advocate for ourselves when we build that comfort asking for respect from loved ones. Establishing rules and boundaries allows both members to express what they need. As a teacher starts the new school year by having students help create a list of rules, couples, too, should regularly discuss the guidelines that keep the relationship stable. A common example involves whether to go to sleep angry. The couples in our study consistently saw value in stopping negative interactions, with the plan to return to the topic tomorrow after some additional reflection could occur. This allows both sides to have a voice but also embraces self-care. Use Your Communication Style To Speak Your Truth
In the 2000+ same-sex couples who have come through our doors, we found four consistent communication styles. More foundational than Gary Chapman’s Love Languages, these seemed to be pervasive styles that gay and lesbian individuals used to evaluate the quality of their interaction with a romantic partner at any given time.
At the Gay Couples Institute, we discovered that four communication styles were “The Referee” (conflict-focused), “The Guardian” (trust-focused), “The Sensualist” (physical intimacy-focused), and “The Connector” (focused on connection and emotional needs being met).
Quick Takeaway: We have found that many of the communication problems same sex couples experience is rooted in lack of appreciation in their partner’s default communication style. You can start to repair problems immediately by taking our short quiz (found below).
When it comes to really speaking your truth, you simply need to consider the preferred style of the person sitting across from you. If your heart skips a beat when checking the bank balance because of your partner’s Amazoning habit, it’s important to discuss those concerns. If you’re not ready to plunge into parenthood like your love, you should be able to tell them without fear or shaming. You can have these conversations successfully when you’re aware of your default, preferred style. Even when tough talks come, trust is nurtured by being able to express yourself without judgment and without fear. Use Touch To Stay In The Present Moment
From newborns to those transitioning from life to death, the human touch is important. In a world where we can so easily check out, touch is one of those elements that brings us back to the present tense. Holding and cuddling actually lower blood pressure. Science tells us oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, is released when we touch someone we care about and/or who cares about us. It's important to note there are health reasons to withdraw, especially in abusive relationships. In healthy relationships though, moving toward one another rather than retreating is beneficial.
Consider Shere Hite’s fascinating book on sexuality, The Hite Report. It is the only book on sex to sell over 48 million copies! She dispelled the idea of what standard sex should look like, which was originally created by Masters and Johnson in the 1950’s.
She interviewed thousands of people for her book, asking them open-ended questions about what are they were doing in bed. She was very surprised to find that people were not doing what Masters and Johnson said was "standard sex".
Quick Takeaway: if you are not having a lot of sex with your partner, I ask you to answer the question, how much are you *talking* about sex with your partner? We know from plenty of research that couples that talk a lot about sex have a lot of sex. (Plus, this is wholeheartedly a requirement if you or your partner has “The Sensualist” as a preferred Communication Style.) When I was a gay teen in St. Louis in the 90’s, relationships were like following a complicated roadmap. I had no template, and it all seemed chaotic. And that was before the hormones kicked in, and then things got really complicated. And strange.
Twenty years later, a framework now exists for successful same-sex relationships. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to relationships, I cannot offer you a “formula.” But I can tell you that by initially appreciating your preferred Communication Style you can set yourself on the right path toward success with a partner. Your Style is a trait, like eye color. We wouldn’t argue with someone about how green their eyes are. You can stop arguing with your partner over why your needs are so important.
Did you know that your communication style could simply be causing you difficulties, but your relationship is fine? If you’re curious about how your communication style plays into your relationship, here’s a quiz offering some insight. Share it with your partner and see how it helps you finally understand one another.
Listen to what Shira and Ryan learned today about communicating with the people they are seeing and dating; from our new segment Hear Me Out with gay relationship therapists Sam Garanzini & Alapaki Yee...
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