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Friday, July 11, 2008

Lesbian Relationships: Talking About Our Own Relationships

by Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist

The Myth of the Perfect Lesbian Relationship

It sometimes feels like a risk to be honest about our relationships - as if there's an unspoken myth that all lesbian relationships are perfect and the same. If ours doesn't measure up to the ideal model, there must be something wrong with us.

Our need to proclaim and protect our love in the context of a hetero-centric society often feels like pressure to hide the struggles in our relationships for fear they'll be used against us. This need to defend our relationships and present a perfect image can lead to our minimizing and denying the problems that do exist.

We Create Our Own Relationships

In truth lesbian relationships can vary a great deal. How we construct our relationships is both a reflection of the wider heterosexual model as well as a reflection of our own creativity to create relationships within a void. With few or no models to look to, we are often freer than heterosexuals to create relationships of our own choosing rather than ones based on social conditioning and expectations.

Some lesbian relationships exist outside the mainstream heterosexual model, operating on entirely different values. They may embrace non-monogamy, be poly-amorous, live in separate homes for years, be committed to resolving their problems while staying together for "as long as we are good together" rather than "till death do us part", and relate to each other as equals and friends as well as lovers. Being in a lesbian relationship can feel like starting from scratch - we get to ask ourselves what kind of relationship we want rather than feel compelled to follow some Hollywood model.

But it's not always easy to be so inventive. We don't live in a vacuum, there are social pressures on us. For lesbians, homophobia can present an obvious pressure and strain on our relationships.

Looking for Support

Often times we look to friends for support when there are issues in our own relationship. But all too often even our own friends can be critical and unsupportive,  perhaps assuming that our relationship will never work out, or that the person we are with isn't "right" for us.   Although this reluctance on the part of friends to accept your partner often changes over time, it can still be difficult for couples to get through this period. Sometimes couples in these situations feel like they have to present their relationship and partner as perfect, because others are expecting them to fail. This is too much to expect of yourself. Finding people who support your relationship is very important, but be aware, sometimes even your closest friends may act as if they are being helpful and supportive, when in truth, their intentions are to break up your relationship, especially if your partner has taken up time that might have otherwise been spent with your friends.  Truly supportive friends will listen to your problems without judgment, but let you work through your issues with your partner, not choose sides or make decisions for you.

Dealing With Our Differences

Dealing with differences can be a real challenge for couples. As lesbians, we love that we're both women - our sameness feels good and right. We delight in each other, our bodies, doing things together, swapping clothes, sharing food, music, ideas and laughter. But, when we hit a point, or too many points, of differences, we may feel uncomfortable, scared or angry. From the less important things like when we go to bed, to more important things like not getting along with each other's friends or not enjoying the same social activities, eventually we discover that we have differences.

Our difficulty dealing with differences may be due to a discomfort with the separateness they can create, or the fact that differences challenge our assumptions about the way people or relationships "should be like". Maybe we think that feeling separate is not okay or means there is a problem when it's actually a very healthy thing and helps us to feel even closer. Maybe we're uncomfortable with our own privilege and how that gives us power in the relationship.

Our inclination can be to suppress differences that arise - worried that they mean something is wrong with the relationship. But, suppressing differences only leads to flat, stifled relationships or the opposite - lots of fighting. Unacknowledged or undervalued differences lead to resentment, can dampen sexual desires, fuel power imbalances and lead to despair, frustration and bitter arguments. Letting differences out into the light of day and not attaching any negative meaning to them goes a long way in a relationship. Noticing, talking about and appreciating differences can prevent all sorts of problems.

Dealing With Conflict

When resentments do build up, many women avoid addressing them. Many of us are never taught ways of dealing with our anger and conflict. Many women try very hard to get along and to minimize differences or feelings of anger and resentment. But, our anger doesn't go anywhere and usually builds up and comes out in indirect ways, which is usually hurtful to the other person and can result in the unnecessary ending of a relationship.

Airing resentments is really important and women often have to work at doing this. Taking time to listen to others' issues can really help. Listening to and understanding each other’s anger goes a long way. It's not about who's right or wrong, but about understanding each other’s perspectives. It is also essential to make sure that your partner knows that dealing with conflict and opening communication about resentment is not the end of your relationship. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Being able to work through issues with your partner is a huge step forward in your relationship

Sometimes the best remedy for a relationship issues is to talk to a friend who is presently and preferably happily,  in a long-term relationship.  This doesn't necessarily have to be a lesbian couple. Our struggles are not so very different from others and we can learn from hearing how others have handled their own relationship problems - something we don't get to hear enough about.

1 comment:

stephanie lynn warga said...

the sweetest proposal ever! <3


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