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Relationships

7 Ways LGBTQ+ People Can Strengthen Their Relationships

Research specifically on LGBTQ+ partners reveals what works.

Key points

  • New research reveals "what works well" in LGBTQ+ relationships.
  • Providing assurances is the strongest predictor of positive LGBTQ+ relationship outcomes.
  • Spending time with supportive friends, being open, and engaging in healthy conflict management each benefit LGBTQ+ relationships.
  • This research is a critical step towards understanding the specific needs of LGBTQ+ partners.

People in same-sex relationships have historically experienced unique challenges on account of their relationships, such as discrimination, family rejection, and other stressors that can adversely affect mental health. As social attitudes and legal decisions in the U.S. have become more favorable toward LGBTQ+ people in recent decades, some stressors have been alleviated and same-sex relationship stability is now closer to different-sex relationship stability than in prior years (Joyner et al., 2017).

However, recent legal movements against LGBTQ+ people may threaten that stability.

In late 2020, Supreme Court Justices Alito and Thomas wrote a petition (Thomas, 2020) questioning the wisdom and impacts of the 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges decision, which famously provided same-sex marriage legal equality throughout the U.S. During recent legislative sessions, a record number of state-level bills were introduced (and many passed) to restrict the rights of transgender people (American Civil Liberties Union, 2021). With legal rights in jeopardy, many queer people are experiencing new or rekindled distress.

Behaviors that Benefit LGBTQ+ Relationships

Amidst these challenges, how can LGBTQ+ individuals in relationships maintain healthy and stable romantic lives? New research (Haas & Lannutti, 2021) surveying over 1,300 transgender, non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people from across the U.S. provides queer-specific relationship guidance, identifying relational maintenance behaviors (RMBs) specific to healthy LGBTQ+ relationships.

RMBs are all actions that partners do to support the health and well-being of their relationship. In different-sex and same-sex relationships, RMBs are connected to a variety of desirable relationship outcomes including satisfaction, commitment, and closeness.

In LGBTQ+ relationships, these seven RMBs predict healthier relationships (Haas & Lannutti, 2021):

  1. Assurances. For queer partners, the biggest predictor of positive relationship outcomes is assurances. Assurances are comforting words and supportive actions that partners can use to remind each other of their commitment and dedication to their relationship. Reaffirming your desire to be in a relationship with your partner through comments or actions is associated with improved relationship resilience, commitment, satisfaction, closeness, and control mutuality (shared decision making).
  2. Shared Networks. Interactions with family, friends, and mutual associates are an important part of relationship health. Specifically, when queer partners spend time and have positive interactions with people in their social networks, they are more likely to experience higher levels of commitment and satisfaction in their relationship. Having fun with good friends is more than something to do on Saturday night: it’s a way to support a happy relationship.
  3. Conflict Management. Conflict management refers to how partners handle—be it constructively or unconstructively—the conflicts that inevitably arise in even the healthiest of queer relationships. Do you listen attentively to your partner (without planning your next statement)? Do you see conflict as a chance to grow together as partners and an opportunity to show your commitment? While it may be challenging to practice healthy, constructive ways to manage disagreements—especially if disagreements rise to the level of an argument—taking a few minutes to cool down and focus on these skills before returning to the discussion can benefit both people and improve relationship satisfaction.
  4. Being Open. How willing are you to show your true self in your relationship? Openness involves honesty about thoughts and feelings and requires vulnerability and trust. Queer partners who are more open with each other about their goals, needs, and desires experience stronger shared decision-making and relational resilience.
  5. Sharing Advice. Do you share your knowledge and experiences with your partner(s)? While more common in male and/or married same-sex male couples, queer partners who provide advice or teach each other have the potential to enhance their relationship health. Shared decision-making, closeness, and resilience are all associated with benefits linked to when partners provide each other with guidance.
  6. Positivity. How positively we interact with our partners can shape our daily relationship experiences. As in different-sex relationships, negative interactions can be draining, and cheerful and upbeat interactions add positive energy to a queer relationship. This positivity can make a relationship more resilient and help partners feel a stronger sense of shared decision-making.
  7. Sharing Tasks. All relationships involve managing life logistics. Housework, errands, and finances all demand time and energy. How do you divvy up these responsibilities? When these duties are distributed equitably among queer partners, the experience of shared decision-making tends to be higher. Check-ins to ensure a fair distribution of responsibilities can help partners improve their sense of shared decision-making.

What’s Next?

Haas and Lannutti (2021)'s research is the first of its kind to assess how relationship maintenance behaviors may be associated with benefits specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals in romantic relationships. It’s critical to assess relationship maintenance behaviors within queer relationships to understand how well existing theory and existing empirical evidence explains, or falls short in explaining, the dynamics specific to LGBTQ+ romantic partners. Future research should consider how RMBs change over time within queer relationships, how important they are in relationships defined by partners with multiple marginalized identities, and how they map onto relationships defined by more than two partners.

Currently, we see a story emerging that suggests finding ways to acknowledge and incorporate assurances, shared networks, conflict management, openness, sharing advice, positivity, and sharing tasks equitably may be important ways to help improve the resilience of queer relationships and support other positive relationship outcomes.

When citing this blog, please note it is a co-authored piece, with lead author Perrin Robinson.

References

American Civil Liberties Union (2021). Legislation Affecting LGBTQ Rights Across the Country. https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbt-rights-across-country

Haas, S. M., & Lannutti, P. J. (2021). Relationship maintenance behaviors, resilience, and relational quality in romantic relationships of LGBTQ+ people. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. Advanced online publication. dx.doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000186

Joyner, K., Manning, W., Bogle, R. (2017). Gender and the stability of same-sex and different-sex relationships among young adults. Demography, 2351-2374. dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13524-017-0633-8

Thomas, J. (2020). “Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.”

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