Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships
What's wrong with a permanent, faithful, stable same-sex sexual relationship? by the self-sacrificial love of couples who devotedly nursed both loved ones and how much the gay community has to teach us about the meaning of the word. A same-sex relationship is a relationship between persons of the same sex and can take many . The record of same-sex love has been preserved through literature and art. .. Differences in How the News Media Views Homosexuality Across Nations: An Analysis of the United States, South Africa, and Uganda". How to explain jealousy in same-sex couples? a constant media onslaught (" Oooh baby, baby") and a freakishly childish understanding of mature sexual love.
Aidan described how he felt close to Max because he takes care of his own emotional needs: Max is truly a comfort. Because he is so self-sufficient. But he assures me that he is getting everything he needs. But he doesn't ask for it. Similarly, Donald explained that, with time, he and Tim had become more likely to leave each other alone to handle their own emotional needs, which Donald viewed positively: This had become increasingly important to Donald since he was diagnosed with jaw and prostate cancer a few years before the interview.
More than one third of men in heterosexual relationships also emphasized the desire to respect boundaries between partners, but this was a more contentious area for their relationships in contrast to men in gay relationships, who rarely described such discordance. Nearly one third of men in heterosexual relationships talked about sustaining boundaries between partners because they felt they could not help their partner a theme rarely described by men and women in other relational contexts.
Well, when she gets into a real low mood she tends to go into isolation. And the best thing that I can do in many of those cases is just leave her alone and let her go through it.
Because usually the things that she's depressed about are nothing I can do anything about anyhow. Frank described why he chose to give his partner, Tracy, space after her mother died: You have to get over it and move on. Because there's nothing else you can do. For many men in heterosexual relationships, boundaries were constructed not to enhance their partner's emotions i.
He can understand equipment, he can understand cause and effect with things that are not me, but with me he seems totally clueless. Men in gay relationships and women in heterosexual relationships were more likely than heterosexual men or lesbian partners to report emotion work directed toward maintaining boundaries, usually to promote partner or relationship well-being.
For approximately one fourth of men in gay relationships, emotion work was largely mutual and took the form of working to avoid discussion of personal or sensitive matters—sometimes repressing one's own emotions for the sake of a partner's emotions and preferences. Michael described how he avoided expressing negative emotions because Tim valued his personal space: Donald described how Tim provided needed emotional space after Donald's mother died: I was quite distraught.
At first, I kind of contained my emotions quite a bit. And he stayed close by but [was] not interfering. So, that was a very wonderful, intimate experience with him, where he knew not to impinge at the moment. But later on, he came up and held [me]. Approximately one fifth of women in heterosexual couples also discussed emotion work to maintain boundaries, saying that they repressed their own feelings or desires in response to their partner's need for more emotional space compared with only one man in a heterosexual relationship and two women in lesbian relationships.
Chantelle constructed boundaries in response to Anthony's desire for emotional space: I think you know the things that you can say [and] the things that you really can't. And I have had to learn that because initially I started out just saying everything, and then I learned. Sex and Emotional Intimacy Meanings and experiences Many study participants in all relational contexts described sex as a way to minimize boundaries between partners and increase intimacy.
Moreover, sexual frequency was often described as a barometer of intimacy and relationship quality. As a result, study participants described periods of diminished sexual frequency as a cause for concern, but this belief varied across relational contexts. A decline in sexual frequency was less fraught with meaning and significance for gay couples than for other groups for which sexual frequency more strongly symbolized emotional intimacy.
With time, several men in same-sex relationships accepted nonexistent sex lives with little concern. For example, Jeffery and Michael no longer had sex with each other but did not see this as a problem. I don't think that was, you know, a big problem. In contrast to gay couples, lesbian and heterosexual couples described more concern about any decline in sexual frequency because sexual frequency symbolized intimacy.
Furthermore, lack of sex suggested growing boundaries between partners. Sexual frequency had symbolic importance for lesbian couples as well, who sometimes expressed concern about the stereotype of asexual lesbians. Otherwise we would just be friends.
I think that is kind of what makes us partners and spouses, being able to share that part of our lives with each other. Women devoted much more discussion than men to the importance of linking emotional intimacy to sex and described more emotion work to achieve this goal. Approximately two thirds of women in heterosexual relationships, and all but three women in lesbian relationships, described how they worked to connect sex with emotional intimacy.
Eight heterosexual women described emotion work efforts to increase their sexual desire when their partner desired sex more often than they did. These women talked about feeling guilty when they did not want to have sex—because they believed they should have sex if they loved their partner, thus highlighting the connection between emotional intimacy and sex for women.
Angie described undertaking emotion work to have sex with Nick: A sexual relationship is important to our marriage. I have had to find ways to overlook his obesity in order for us to have a sexual relationship. And I've been able to do that. I just don't think about his body. Ten women in lesbian relationships also described emotion work directed toward discussing their sex life when their partner's desire for sex was not the same as their own, or when sex was infrequent.
This emotion work was often described as necessary to distinguish their relationship from a friendship. For example, Megan said that Clarissa attempted to be more desiring of sex for the sake of the relationship and emotional intimacy: Separating Sex From Emotional Intimacy Meanings and experiences A recurring theme in our analysis was that men approximately one fifth of men in heterosexual relationships and half of the men in gay relationships were more likely than women four women across relationships to describe emotional intimacy and sex as separable.
This trend was more common for men in gay relationships than for men in heterosexual relationships, likely because partners in gay relationships tended to share this view.
In contrast, women partnered with men were more likely to challenge this view. Approximately half of the men in gay relationships emphasized that although sex with their partner had the power to enhance emotional intimacy, sex was neither critical to the long-term success of their relationship nor an indicator of how emotionally connected and committed the partners were to each other.
Michael said that he rarely had sex with his partner but noted that this did not affect their relationship: Our relationship was based more on friendship and [sex is] obviously not that important or we wouldn't still be here. Nearly half of the men in gay relationships said they would be okay with their partner having a sexual affair none of the study participants in other relational contexts reported this. Men partnered with men were more likely than those in other relational contexts to report sexual encounters outside their primary relationship and to indicate that such sexual encounters posed minimal threat to their long-term relationship, as long as emotional intimacy was absent.
Adam described a strong sense of emotional intimacy with Paul: That is completely different from having sex. There is a complete and total difference. An affair involves emotions and sex doesn't. And were able to kind of separate out that stuff from the love we felt for each other. Four men in heterosexual relationships also described a separation between sex and emotional connection in their relationship.
I don't think about it as the relationship so much as one of my needs. I think for guys, generally speaking, you know [sex] is always a priority. Everybody knows guys are just no hassles that way. Women want more compassion and they want more emotion, whereas men are more. Emotion work to separate sex from intimacy Although gay men were more likely than other respondents to discuss sex as separable from emotional intimacy, approximately one third of gay respondents said that they diverged from their partner on the importance they placed on separating sex and intimacy.
In these situations, one partner generally devoted emotion work to repressing his own feelings to better mirror those of his partner. That is something that took me about, let's see, eleven and a half years to come to grips with. My belief system was completely different when I met him. I couldn't separate sex from emotion.
And he taught me how to do that. Sexual nonexclusivity often involved some degree of negotiation and emotion work wherein the partner who desired exclusivity worked to accept the situation. I've learned that even though we are not monogamous, we are not risking losing each other.
In this sense, it seems that for many long-term couples, sex and emotional intimacy became less connected with time. As sexual frequency declined, respondents described emotion work that helped them redefine the symbolic importance of sex in relation to intimacy and to no longer view sex as integral to minimizing boundaries between partners.
This emotion work was typically directed toward constructing a clearer distinction between emotional intimacy and sexual frequency. And I think that I do. That to me is intimacy now.
What's wrong with a permanent, faithful, stable same-sex sexual relationship?
Moreover, emotion work that leads to new meanings and experiences of sex in relation to intimacy helps keep boundaries between partners open over the course of time. Discussion With this study, we extended scholarship on long-term committed relationships to include same-sex couples, a population that has been largely neglected in studies of long-term relationships.
Prior work has tended to reinforce a bifurcated view of gender and intimacy in relationships and has focused almost exclusively on heterosexual couples, raising questions about whether similar dynamics would emerge in gay and lesbian couples.
In contrast, a gender-as-relational perspective views gender as constructed, negotiated, and performed within the context of relationships Ridgeway, ; Springer et al. This approach took us beyond an essentialist view of gender difference within heterosexual relationships to consider how men and women experience intimacy across gendered relational contexts Goldberg, ; Ridgeway, ; Springer et al.
Our findings suggest that gender sometimes trumps relational context, for example, when women—regardless of gender of partner—do more emotion work than men to reduce boundaries between partners. However, gendered relational context, rather than the gender of the respondent, seems to be more influential when it comes to doing emotion work around intimacy that respects and sustains boundaries between partners, with women with men and men with men doing more of this type of emotion work.
But our findings go beyond previous research to suggest that partner discordance and inequality in emotion work do not merely reflect gender; instead, this inequality reflects the performance of gender within a different-sex relational context. Our findings add emotion work to the types of unpaid work that are more equally distributed in same-sex than different-sex relationships. This equality likely reflects the fact that partners in same-sex relationships are more likely to view intimacy, boundaries between partners, and work to achieve intimacy in similar ways.
Psychoanalytic work in the s and s identified the lack of boundaries between lesbian partners as problematic; subsequent work criticized this research, claiming it was pathologizing and lacked empirical evidence see overview in Rothblum, We offer a more nuanced and nonessentialist understanding of boundaries in lesbian relationships by emphasizing that minimal boundaries emerge from the performance of gender within a particular gendered relationship context.
In contrast to previous psychoanalytic work on this topic, we make no judgment about whether a lack of boundaries is problematic. Moreover, the desire to minimize boundaries between partners may be more stressful for women in different-sex relationships than for women in same-sex relationships because of greater partner resistance and discordance in a different-sex context.
We also found that men in gay and heterosexual relationships were more likely than women in lesbian and heterosexual relationships to value boundaries between partners, but the emotion work men did around intimacy was quite different in same- and different-sex contexts.
Men in heterosexual contexts described work to resist their partner's emotion work efforts as well as to lower their own resistance to sharing feelings and emotions over time, efforts that were sometimes stressful. Men in same-sex relationships devoted more work to, and experienced more stress from, the balancing act of providing emotional space to each other and being self-sufficient while also being keenly aware of each other's needs and timing the provision of providing emotional support in response to those needs.
Emotion work devoted to sex in relation to intimacy also varied across gendered relational contexts. Overall, same-sex partners in gay and lesbian contexts were more concordant in their levels of sexual desire and views of intimacy. This, along with the finding that lesbian partners were uniquely concerned about emotionally close relationships with other women, may also be interpreted in light of research suggesting that romantic relationships and friendships are often blurred in lesbian relationships Diamond, ; Rose, Lesbian partners may emphasize the importance of sex for their relationships and devote emotion work toward keeping sex present partly because they wish to distinguish their committed romantic partnership from friendships.
But we go further to suggest that the separation between sex and emotional intimacy also means that a decline in or absence of sex over time is much less fraught with emotion and disruptive for long-term gay couples than for heterosexual or lesbian couples. Notably, in our sample of long-term relationships, even when men in gay relationships espoused support for sexual nonexclusivity, casual sexual encounters were rare, and most of the gay men we interviewed had not had such an encounter for many years.
Thus, in terms of lived experiences, the vast majority of the long-term couples we interviewed were sexually and emotionally monogamous, regardless of relational context. This finding also adds to evidence that gay couples are both more relationship focused and less likely to have sex outside of their long-term relationships than stereotypes suggest Gotta et al. Scholars have called for more attention to a queer perspective in the study of relationships and families—that is, to move beyond a heteronormative focus based on a gender binary Goldberg, ; Oswald et al.
Our findings suggest a blend of gender conformity and contestation in same-sex relationships. For example, lesbian couples adhered to traditional feminine gendered systems of intensive emotion work and a desire for emotional intimacy, yet they contested heteronormative views of partner discordance in the desire for intimacy and specialization in emotion work directed toward intimacy.
Gay couples adhered to traditional masculine gendered systems of boundaries e. Our findings indicate that the gendered relational contexts of lesbian and gay couples create unique intimacy systems that sustain their relationships over time.
Furthermore, these systems queer our understanding of intimate relationships by diverging from those of heterosexual couples. Overall, our analysis of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples in long-term relationships suggests multiple successful pathways to intimacy and relationship longevity.
The data for this study are limited in several ways. First, the heterosexual couples in our sample were all legally married, whereas all of the same-sex couples were cohabiting; however, all the same-sex couples in this sample said they would have married if it were legally possible. Second, we did not have a measure of gender identity i.
In addition, we did not know how self-identifying as bisexual or another identity might influence intimacy and emotion work processes. None of our respondents self-identified as transgender, but exploring how emotion work and intimacy processes differ for transgender or other gender-queer individuals would be beneficial for future research by moving further beyond a dichotomous view of gender in relationships e. Third, our sample was primarily a White, middle-class sample; thus, we were unable to address how couples from other cultural and racial backgrounds might differ.
Fourth, our data were not able to tell us about younger and older cohorts, or about couples whose relationships do not withstand the test of time. Fifth, given our sample composition, we were not able to analyze how the presence of children shapes experiences of intimacy and emotion work.
In addition, future research should explore emotion work and intimacy across relational contexts, with attention to the consequences of emotion work. Emotion work can be burdensome, even when the emotion workload is equally distributed. Future research should consider whether the strains of emotion work are lessened when emotion work is reciprocated, whether the benefits of receiving emotional support counterbalance the strains of emotion work, and whether these dynamics vary across relational contexts.
A comparison of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples in successful long-term relationships provides myriad opportunities for social scientists to broaden their understanding of gender and diversity in intimate relationships.
We extend special thanks to the men and women who shared their time and experiences for the relationships and health project. South, Birmingham, AL A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Understanding women's love and desire. Duncombe J, Marsden D. The gender division of emotion and emotion work. A neglected aspect of sociological discussion of heterosexual relationships.
Elliott S, Umberson D. The performance of desire: Gender and sexual negotiation in long-term marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family. Why emotion work matters: Sex, gender, and the division of household labor. Coparenting among lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples: The association between sexual activity and depression among older adults.
Society and Mental Health. Gerstel JM, Peiss K. The meaning and division of housework in same-sex couples. The division of labor in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual new adoptive parents. Heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male relationships: A comparison of couples in and Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American Journal of Sociology. Commercialization of human feeling. University of California Press; Berkeley: The stability and qualities of same-sex and different-sex couples in young adulthood [Working paper] Retrieved from www.
Conflict, social support and relationship quality: Journal of Family Psychology. Differences between partners from heterosexual, gay, and lesbian cohabiting couples.
A sourcebook of new methods. Sage; Beverly Hills, CA: A model for family studies. Sourcebook of family theory and research.
They are more likely to have joint bank accounts, joint tax filing, and automatic rights of survivorship on everything from ks to Social Security survivor benefits — and they have for generations.
What's wrong with a stable gay relationship? | Living Out
Sex— Gay male couples tend to approach sex differently. We all know that gay male couples are much more likely to entertain the idea of, or even be in, a non-monogamous relationship. So, part of my job in couples counseling is to help gay men understand this, and to avoid making direct comparisons to straight relationships all the time some of the time is OK, particularly in confronting double-standards and internalized homophobia.
While this is not necessarily unique to gay men, a big factor can be finding time for sex, when often both partners are busy, high-level executives or professionals who work extraordinarily long hours or have jobs that require frequent travel. Household Chores— Perhaps surprisingly to a non-clinician, the issue of how to equitably and fairly divide the list of common household chores can be frequent topic in conjoint therapy. While modern straight couples sometimes like to pretend that they are oh-so-liberated, in reality, in many or most cases, the woman is subtly expected to, and ends up doing, the majority of the household chores related to keeping things clean, organized, in good repair, supplied, delivered, monitored, and humming along in a domestic household.
In couples counseling, I generally recommend that a Master List of Required Household Chores be written down, which is exhaustive and comprehensive. Who pays the bills? Who does the cleaning? Or, who supervises the cleaning? Who mows the lawn? Or, who pays the gardener to mow the lawn?
Who supervises the gardener? Who changes the light bulbs? Who picks up the dry cleaning? Often, making a list and then discussing how to divide it can be a discussion at home, or in session. Gay male relationships where there is a parenting factor involved differ from straight relationships mostly in that same-sex parenting needs extra support.
Family— In gay male relationships, the role of one of the male partners in taking care of aging parents can be an issue, similar to straight couples.
Fortunately, for most of the gay couples I have worked with, there have been surprisingly few seriously hostile in-law conflicts. More often, the son-in-law is treated as a full member of the family, which is a nice thing to be able to say about the current times we live in.
Fun— Fortunately, one huge and consistent benefit I have observed in gay male relationships over straight ones is that gay couples consistently demonstrate a youthfulness, playfulness, and sense of fun, especially with peers but also alone with each other. While this is common to affluent gay male couples, even middle class or working class gay couples seem to have an extra sense of discovering fun, creative pastimes.
Men are physically larger than women, so they can go through a lot of alcohol and food at events hence the stories of the first all-gay cruises running out of alcohol on board!