How Does LGBTQ+ Couples Counseling Differ From “generic” Couples Counseling?
If you make up ½ of an LGBTQ+ couple, then you might be asking yourself this very question. After all, not all LGBTQ+ couples argue over LGBTQ+ issues! We’re pretty boring in that regard.
We argue about money, sex, extended family, or household chores—and plenty of other topics that have zero to do with sexual preferences or gender expression… So, why make the distinction?
In the language of well-worn breakup clichés: It’s because the problem isn’t you; historically, it’s been us! When working with LGBTQ+ couples, psychotherapists have had a frustrating tendency to overemphasize the influence of sexual orientation and gender identity on therapeutic issues; or, they erase the cultural context and background fuzz of LGBTQ+ issues–in their entirety! However, as practiced therapists will concur:
“Good” LGBTQ+ couples counseling embraces the “wholeness” of each client!
Although the following bullet points recognize the challenges that LGBTQ+ couples encounter on the basis of their identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, our specialty pages on Couples, Relationship, and Marriage Counseling may also reflect your concerns.
8 Unique Issues Encountered By LGBTQ+ Couples
- Coming Out & Openness: Coming out as LGBTQ+ to yourself (self-acceptance) and initiating “the talk” with family or friends; resolving internalized homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia (internalized LGBTQ+ phobia: when a member of the LGBTQ+ community absorbs stereotypic or prejudicial beliefs about LGBTQ+ populations from anti-queer or anti-trans cultural, religious, or media sources); Revealing your same-sex attraction or gender identity to a heterosexual or cis-gender romantic partner; Dating a closeted or semi-out partner when you yourself are fully open about your sexuality or gender expression
- Dating, Open Relationships, & Jealousy: Navigating the exhilarating—and often nerve-wracking—world of LGBTQ+ relationships (first loves, sexual experiences, and heartaches; online dating and LGBTQ+ bars; taking the commitment plunge, learning how to cohabitate, or popping the question); Ironing out the rules and limitations of an open or polyamorous relationship; Conquering jealousy, when your girlfriend or boyfriend is besties with their exes
- Contradictory Viewpoints & Diversity: Mastering the additional challenges of an interracial or “intergaycial” relationship (…Are they staring at us because we’re gay/trans? Or because we’re inter-ethnic?); Understanding and accepting your partner’s strange worldviews (conservative or liberal political leanings; spiritual differences; or conflicting cultural ideals)
- Sexual Health & Satisfaction: Resolving medical and psychological causes related to orgasmic dysfunction, painful penetration, performance anxiety, or sexual arousal disorders; Connecting with qualified and compassionate LGBTQ-competent healthcare providers to receive routine screenings for HIV, HPV, and reproductive cancers; Embarking upon a sexual relationship with a partner who is diagnosed with HIV or coping with your HIV+ status as a couple; Exploring the process of medical transition or readapting to sex after the transition process is complete; Healing from the trauma of same-sex or opposite-sex sexual assault and rape
- Family Acceptance: Disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity to your family and bracing yourself for the reactions (from unconditional approval… to denial, sorrow, anger, or rejection); Integrating your partner into family affairs (including those awkward Easter dinners with grandma…); Relieving the suffocating tension when your family members dislike or disagree with your partner
- Prejudice & Discrimination: Overcoming anti-LGBTQ+ obstacles and biases—including, discriminatory adoption policies, hiring practices, or rental procedures & healthcare, legal or socioeconomic barriers—as a united front; Recovering from homophobic or transphobic slurs, relentless bullying, harassment, or anti-LGBTQ+ violence
- Gay & Lesbian Marriage: Tying the knot and confronting familial disapproval or resolving spiritual ambiguities; Planning the perfect wedding and carving out time to decompress from hiring caterers, choosing flowers, and deescalating your beloved bride- or groomzilla; Finding a way to cope with waking up every morning and wondering… Are my marriage rights still “legal” today?
- Family & Parenting: Negotiating the specifics of childbirth or adoption; Ironing out parenting roles and discipline strategies to dodge the bullet of future confrontations; Equipping your children for interpersonal success and formulating a plan to counteract anti-LGBTQ+ bullying at school; Raising awesome adults through all facets of childhood (from the terrible twos to the teenage years, college, and beyond!)
How Can LGBTQ+ Couples Therapy & Counseling Help Me?
When “stuck” relationship problems become insurmountable, sometimes, good ol’ couples counseling will do the trick.
But other times, relationship issues require specialized care, from a qualified and compassionate therapist who is sensitive to the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and the cultural constructs in which your experience is defined.
An LGBTQ-competent couple’s counselor can enhance the depth of your relationship satisfaction by:
- Encouraging you to accept your sexual orientation or gender identity and facilitating the ease of the coming out process; Resolving internalized homophobia or spiritual distress
- Empowering you to articulate your expectations for the relationship (on matters of “out-ness”, commitment, sexual satisfaction, fidelity, marriage, childbirth, parenting—and more+)
- Fortifying your relationship to navigate hostile or discriminatory climes (familial rejection, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, hate-motivated harassment or targeted violence, and unjust political, legal, healthcare, occupational, and academic outcomes—plus more+)
- Connecting each partner to qualified medical resources and psychological interventions to treat sexual dysfunction; Addressing matters of reproductive health and sexual wellness; Promoting early detection of HIV, STIs, and reproductive cancers
- Examining the cultural, spiritual, and socioeconomic factors that generate subtle sources of friction in your relationship
- Assisting you to decompress from stresses of wedding planning, adoption, or child-rearing; Enabling you to discuss the nuances of family planning, parenting roles, or disciplinary styles