Mr Smith arrives home after a long day at the office – ‘Hi, honey, I’m home.’ Mrs Smith greets him with a peck on the cheek, his slippers and a glass of whisky. Mr Smith sits in front of the fire drinking his whisky and reading the newspaper while Mrs Smith puts the final touches to their evening meal in the kitchen.
This is clearly no longer the typical picture of heterosexual marriage (if it ever was), but a gendered division of labour where a male (main) breadwinner and a female responsible for the home and childcare is the predominant pattern. In this article we explore what happens in relationships when these ‘off-the-shelf’ roles are not available.
One issue that emerges repeatedly in psychological analyses of heterosexual relationships is gender difference. As Kitzinger (2001) outlines, whether or not these alleged differences exist for any particular heterosexual couple, heterosexual couples build their relationships in a world in which gender differences are widely believed in, and reflected in institutions and popular culture.
Against and through these ideas about gender difference, couples are judged, positioned and regulated both by others and by themselves. However, many heterosexual couples report resisting these stereotypes and developing alternative ways to ‘do’ marriage (see Finlay & Clarke, 2003).
By contrast, lesbian and gay couples do not have to resist stereotypes about gender difference – they simply do not apply. As Kitzinger (2001, p.2) notes ‘gender difference is inescapably part of a heterosexual relationship, and gender similarity part of a same-sex relationship’.
For instance, heterosexual couples have recourse to gender stereotypes in making decisions about who does what around the home; however, for lesbian or gay couples there is no gender basis for deciding who should peg out the washing!
One relatively consistent finding in research on lesbian and gay couples is that they are more likely than heterosexual couples to value and achieve equality in their relationships (Dunne, 1997).
Despite those obvious differences, many psychologists emphasise the similarities between lesbian and gay and heterosexual relationships. Some lesbian and gay psychologists (e.g. Kitzinger & Coyle, 1995)
Have argued that a focus on similarities can be problematic, moulding lesbian and gay relationships into patterns (supposedly) typical of heterosexual relationships and therefore overlooking aspects that do not conform to this ideal.
A focus on sameness can also lead to a failure to explore the marginalisation of lesbian and gay relationships in the wider society. For instance, in the UK, although a the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 are due to come into force later this year, lesbian and gay couples are currently denied access to many of the rights and privileges enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.
The failure to appreciate possible differences between lesbian and gay and heterosexual relationships leads to the expectation that marriage (or civil partnership) will bring the same benefits to lesbian and gay couples as it does for heterosexual couples (many lesbian and gay financial advisers argue otherwise: see Fleming, 2004).
The assumption here is that lesbian and gay couples, because they are no different from heterosexual couples, are seeking to merge their identities and their finances in a way that is encouraged by ‘modern marriage’ (Burgoyne & Routh, 2001), and that (monogamous) marriage represents the ‘gold standard’ of relationship achievement (Finlay & Clarke, 2004).
The importance of gender differences and similarities is evident in research on the division of domestic labour in lesbian, gay and heterosexual relationships. Kurdek (1993) compared how lesbian, gay and married heterosexual couples allocate household labour. Kurdek identified three patterns of household labour allocation: equality, balance and segregation. Couples who allocate using the principle of equality do so by sharing household tasks and completing them together.
Couples who allocate by balancing distribute tasks equally but specialise – one partner does the ironing, and the other does the cooking. In the segregation pattern, one partner does most of the household labour. Kurdek found that lesbian couples are most likely to allocate by sharing, gay couples by balancing, and married heterosexual couples by segregation (with wives doing the bulk of household labour).
Kurdek concluded that couples can do without gender in developing workable strategies for fairly distributing labour – perhaps heterosexual couples have something to learn from lesbian and gay couples about achieving equality in their relationships.
This conclusion is quite different from that reached by research assessing lesbian and gay relationships in terms derived from heterosexual ones.
As with domestic chores, when it comes to the world of work lesbian and gay couples have no recourse to gender stereotypes and therefore hold fewer preconceptions about the role of breadwinner. Most tend to be ‘dual worker’ relationships (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983); in Dunne’s (1997) study of lesbian relationships partners typically earned similar amounts.
However, how lesbian and gay couples manage this money is a neglected topic in psychological research. Although the economic discrimination faced by lesbian and gay couples is well documented, the literature on lesbian and gay relationships largely ignores financial issues, as do debates about same-sex marriage.
Even though a key argument in support of same-sex marriage emphasises the economic equality marriage rights will offer lesbian and gay partnerships, there is little discussion of how legislation might best reflect the specificities of the economic dimensions of lesbian and gay relationships, and limited psychological evidence to feed into such discussions.
In fact, one of the first researchers to focus specifically on money in relationships was the sociologist Jan Pahl. She came across the subject largely by accident when interviewing women who were victims of domestic violence.
These women considered themselves better off financially living in a refuge on state benefits than when they had been at home with a male breadwinner, even though some of the men had had substantial incomes.
The reason was that even with much less money coming in, the women could now decide for themselves how that money should be spent. Pahl’s insight sparked a number of qualitative studies of money in marriage and has been very influential in the field of economic psychology. Pahl developed a typology of money management in married heterosexual relationships as follows:
Whole wage: (a) female: the husband hands over all or most of his income to his wife and she uses this, plus any earnings of her own, to cover all household expenses; (b) male: the husband retains all income and manages all household finances.
Allowance: The breadwinner gives their partner a sum to cover household expenses and retains control of the remainder.
Pooling: All or most of the household income is pooled, and both partners contribute to its management.
Independent management: Both partners typically keep separate accounts, dividing bills between them.
Surveys have shown that nearly half of all married heterosexual couples in the UK use some form of pooling, about a quarter have a female-managed whole-wage system, about one in ten a male-managed whole-wage system, and about the same number have an allowance system (Laurie & Rose, 1994). Less than 2 per cent use independent management.
We are currently undertaking a study exploring the usefulness of Pahl’s typology for characterising systems of money management in same-sex relationships. What little evidence there is suggests that many lesbian and gay couples do have a financial partnership and pool or merge some or all of their income (Mendola, 1980), and this becomes more likely over time..
However, evidence also suggests that lesbian and gay couples are more likely than heterosexual couples to keep their finances separate; this is especially true for lesbian couples. In two British studies of lesbian and gay relationships respondents typically made equal contributions to household expenses, but otherwise managed money separately, usually in separate bank accounts.
Pooling can involve considerable risk for lesbian and gay couples because the law as it currently stands offers them little help in dividing up joint assets when a relationship ends. Interestingly, past experience of heterosexual relationships influences women’s decisions about managing money in second marriages and in lesbian relationships..
Qualitative research on second (heterosexual) marriages suggests that independent management is more common because one or both partners have tried another system in a previous marriage and found it wanting.
Similarly, women’s experiences of economic power imbalances in heterosexual relationships influence their decisions about merging finances in lesbian relationships (Dunne, 1997).
There are important differences we should note here between control and management of money. For example, the female-managed whole-wage system might give the impression that the wife is in control..
However, since this system tends to be found among lower-income relationships with a male breadwinner, the woman’s role is commonly that of management. She has the chore rather than the privilege of managing money in order to make ends meet, and overall control remains with the breadwinner, her husband..
In heterosexual relationships, men tend to have more economic power and more control over money – this means that (among many other things) they have more say in how money is used, and more entitlement to personal spending money (Burgoyne, 1990).
Correspondingly, women have less say in financial decision making in their relationships and feel less entitled to equal personal spending money, unless they are making a similar financial contribution to the household (Burgoyne & Lewis, 1994).
Income is therefore clearly a factor in the balance of power in relationships, but perhaps it is to a lesser extent in lesbian ones (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983).
Dunne (1997) suggests that this is because lesbians work to avoid extreme financial imbalances and value self-sufficiency and economic independence. The women in her study associated financial dependence with inequality and being ‘trapped’ in a relationship.
For many lesbian and gay couples, combining financial resources is symbolic of their togetherness and commitment (Blumstein and Schwartz, 1983, Marcus, 1998). However, according to Weeks et al. (2001), not having a financial partnership can be symbolic of an ethic of co-independence (something that some heterosexual cohabitees might also value).
Our recent research with heterosexual couples about to be married shows that many are reluctant to merge their finances completely. Such couples are happy to share their joint living expenses, but they also value the freedom, independence, and in some cases, financial privacy, afforded by maintaining separate personal accounts (Burgoyne et al., 2005).
Much to learn
In summary, research suggests there might be important differences in the ways lesbian and gay and heterosexual couples manage their finances. This may be because lesbian and gay couples have no longstanding rules about managing money and they are not compelled to negotiate stereotypes about gender difference in the way that heterosexual couples are.
There is a need for more research on money management in lesbian and gay relationships, not least because developments in policy and legislation – for instance, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – rely on models of heterosexual behaviour that may not adequately reflect the lived reality of lesbian and gay relationships.
Moreover, most of the data on money management in lesbian and gay relationships (and in fact on these relationships generally) has been collected in the US. There are important differences between the concerns of lesbian and gay couples in the UK and in the US. Major issues for lesbian and gay couples in the US are health insurance and domestic partner benefits.
A federal law on same-sex marriage seems unlikely – despite the recognition offered by some states (e.g. Vermont) – whereas the UK government has successfully introduced legislation
The literature offers inconclusive or contradictory evidence on lesbian and gay relationships and money. We know virtually nothing about important issues such as retirement, wills and joint ownership of property.
Psychologists can make a key contribution to improving our understanding of lesbian and gay relationships and encouraging the development of policy and legislation that adequately reflects the realities of those relationships.
Furthermore, knowing more about lesbian and gay relationships will improve our understanding of heterosexual relationships, and help us to tease out the links between gender and inequality.
Relationship history and relationship attitudes in gay males and lesbians: attachment style and gender differences.
The objective of the present study was to assess the applicability of attachment theory to the relationships of gay males and lesbians, with particular emphasis on parental relationships, relationship satisfaction, sexual attitudes and 'coming out' as being homosexual.
Gay males (n = 77) and lesbians (n = 100) completed questionnaires assessing attachment style, working models of attachment, early relationships with parents and relationship history, status and functioning. A comparison sample of heterosexual participants completed measures of attachment style and relationship history.
Relative frequencies of attachment styles were similar for homosexual and heterosexual samples. Contrary to previous research using largely heterosexual respondents, no link between early parenting and attachment style was found. However, homosexual males reported more positive early relationships with mothers than did females.
Associations of attachment style with working models, relationship variables and sexual attitudes largely supported those based on heterosexual samples. Gender and attachment style differences were found in reported effects of 'coming out' on relationships with parents.
Overall, the results suggest that insecure attachment may not be over-represented in gay and lesbian samples, but that insecurity is associated with less relationship satisfaction and with problems related to the disclosure of sexual orientation. The implications of these findings for research and clinical practice are addressed.
Gender roles in the relationships of lesbians and gay men.
Recent research on gay male and lesbian couples suggests that traditional gender-role-playing sometimes occurs in their relationships, though it is less common than in the relationships of heterosexuals. This paper briefly explores three issues raised by these findings. First, we consider reasons why partners of the same gender might engage in gender-role-playing.
Second we discuss the processes that might be involved in allocating masculine and feminine roles to partners in a couple. Finally, we consider the finding that traditional gender roles are associated with diminished satisfaction and suggest possible reasons why this might be so.
What Makes Same-Sex Relationships Succeed Or Fail?
Today, in the aftermath of Pride – in the wake of parades and marches strutting their colorful stuff through the streets of Seattle, Portland, Cleveland, New York, and Chicago – we’d like to turn our attention to same-sex relationships.
Some Doctors have observed the strength and resilience of same-sex couples, even in the midst of the cultural and social stresses to which they are uniquely vulnerable. Together, the Gottmans have made a commitment to assuring that lesbian and gay couples have as much access as straight couples to resources for strengthening and supporting their relationships.
Using state-of-the-art methods to study 21 gay and 21 lesbian couples, Drs. John Gottman and Robert Levenson (UC Berkeley) were able to learn what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail in The 12 Year Study.
One key finding: Overall, relationship satisfaction and quality are about the same across couple types (straight, gay, and lesbian) that Dr. Gottman has studied. This result supports prior research by Lawrence Kurdek and Pepper Schwartz, who found that gay and lesbian relationships are comparable to straight relationships in many ways.
According to Dr. Gottman, “Gay and lesbian couples, like straight couples, deal with every-day ups-and-downs of close relationships. We know that these ups-and-downs may occur in a social context of isolation from family, workplace prejudice, and other social barriers that are unique to gay and lesbian couples.”
However, his research uncovered differences suggesting that workshops tailored to gay and lesbian couples can have a strong impact on relationships. In conducting interviews, coding facial expressions, and collecting other measures, the researchers found the following.
Same-sex couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners often give it a more positive reception
Gay and lesbian couples are also more likely to remain positive after a disagreement. “When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships,” suggests Dr. Gottman.
Same-sex couples also use fewer controlling, hostile emotional tactics. Drs. Gottman and Levenson also discovered that gay and lesbian partners display less belligerence, domineering, and fear in conflict than straight couples do.
“The difference on these ‘control’ related emotions suggests that fairness and power-sharing between the partners is more important and more common in gay and lesbian relationships than in straight ones.”
In a fight, gay and lesbian couples take it less personally. In straight couples, it is easier to hurt a partner with a negative comment than it is to make one’s partner feel good with a positive comment. This appears to be reversed in gay and lesbian couples.
sex partners’ positive comments have more impact on feeling good, while their negative comments are less likely to produce hurt feelings. “This trend suggests that gay and lesbian partners have a tendency to accept some degree of negativity without taking it personally,” Dr. Gottman observes.
Unhappy gay and lesbian couples tend to show low levels of “physiological arousal.” This is just the reverse for straight couples. For them, physiological arousal signifies ongoing aggravation.The ongoing aroused state – including elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and jitteriness – means partners have trouble calming down in the face of conflict. A lower level of arousal allows same sex partners to soothe one another.
In conflict, lesbians show more anger, humor, excitement, and interest than conflicting gay men. This suggests that lesbians are more emotionally expressive – positively and negatively – than gay men. This may be the result of being socialized in a culture where expressiveness is more acceptable for women than for men.
Gay men need to be especially careful to avoid negativity in conflict. When it comes to repair, gay couples differ from straight and lesbian couples. If the initiator of conflict in a gay relationship becomes too negative, his partner is not able to repair as effectively as lesbian or straight partners.
“This suggests that gay men may need extra help to offset the impact of negative emotions that inevitably come along when couples fight,” explains Gottman.
And what about sex?
In their famous 1970s study, Masters and Johnson found that the gay and lesbian couples have sex very differently from the heterosexual couples or strangers. The committed gay and lesbian couples were the only people excited by their partner’s excitement, while the others were focused on getting to orgasm.
Gay couples turned towards their partners’ bids for emotional connection during sex. They took their time, enjoying the ecstasy of lovemaking. Rather than being constrained by a single-minded focus on the end “goal,” they seemed to enjoy the stimulation and sensuality itself.
I am only attracted to guys that are emotionally unavailable
I've never seemed to have much luck holding down a relationship, and I'm starting to realise that I'm only attracted to guys that are unavailable, emotionally or otherwise. I enjoy the chase and the excitement involved when I'm pursuing someone, but if they start to show too much interest I find it a massive turn-off and start looking elsewhere.
When I am in a relationship I only enjoy it if it feels fairly unstable, and if things get too intimate or seem too easy I get bored quickly. I know that this isn't going to make me happy in the long-term but I can't seem to help how I feel.
The first thing I want you to explore is whether or not you really want a long-term relationship. Is your frustration because you really want a long-term relationship and your psychological issues are in the way? Or is the truth that you really just want short-term relationships and can't find support for that lifestyle?.
A lot of social pressure exists to partner up and be in a relationship. Marriage and partnerships are society's gold standard and sadly those who choose to be single are judged negatively. I see many clients who come in and think they want a relationship because we are all raised to believe that is what we should want. But is it what you really want?.
At a workshop I facilitated for singles on how to find and maintain a relationship, a participant approached me to thank me: I told him to be patient and with the new tools and information he received he would find real love soon.
He looked at me and said, "Are you kidding me?! You provided me with all the information I need to not be in relationship. I prefer to date and just have fun and not get into all this harder work involved in a committed relationship!".
This man found permission within himself to go the counter-cultural route and choose singlehood. Had he tried to force himself to find and be in a long-term relationship he would have struggled because instinctively that isn't what he really wanted..
The three stages of relationships are romantic love, the power struggle and real love. Everyone enjoys romantic love because it is easy, fun and exciting, as you have found. The power struggle is much harder and brings up more conflict.
It seems like you are avoiding the power struggle and don't want to do the harder work. That is okay if the truth is you just want the fun and not the work involved in a long-term relationship.
If you do want a long-term relationship you will have to confront your fear of commitment head on. If you're motivated to do the harder work, that will demand therapy and some deep soul-searching. This can be painful and difficult but you can be assured you will transform in doing it.
You need to decide what you want in terms oflongevity with a partner. Whatever you decide, be up front and honest with yourself and others. Here are some things to consider:
BE UP FRONT WITH DATING PARTNERS
Let your dating partners know up front that you are only dating and not invested in anything long term: You are dating recreationally only. This is difficult to do because many may decide to avoid and not date you as a consequence, but this is part of the reality of choosing short-term relationships.
END THE RELATIONSHIP WHEN PROBLEMS PERSIST
After dating someone for a while, frustrations and issues start to rise. This is when the power struggle of all relationships begin. It's a positive indicator that you're with the right partner when these things happen and you work together to overcome them.
However, if you don't want to do the work required to get past the issues, this would be the time to end and move on.
DATE MORE THAN ONE PERSON
Dating more than one person ensures that you won't become overly involved with just one person. It also excludes those who are looking for an exclusive long-term relationship as they won't want to date you.
BE WILLING TO ENTER HARD TIMES
Relationships are hard work. They bring out the best and the worst in us. For you, Laurence, it brings out your inability to commit to someone. You enjoy the chase but not the catch. Deciding to stay requires you deal with the difficult thoughts and feelings that surface for you by keeping the catch and learn to get past them.
RECOGNISE UNRESOLVED CHILDHOOD WOUNDS.
When leaving the honeymoon phase and entering the power struggle, your unresolved childhood issues with your mother and/or your father start to surface. In your case,
Laurence, I wonder about your partners' unavailability and how that set the pattern for you to be the one chasing and not enjoying being chased back. This could be a great opportunity for you to work these issues through should you decide to stay in the relationship and face these ghosts from your past.
FACE PARTS OF YOURSELF YOU DENY AND BURY
By maintaining a long-term relationship you are forced to look at parts of yourself you may not want to face. Partners mirror back the best and worst of us. What they need most from us is hardest for us to give because it usually is the very thing we need to do for ourselves! If you're interested in finding the buried treasures which lie deep below, a long- term relationship will guide you to them.
Laurence, my gut tells me that you do want a relationship and you want one to last. You have commitment issues which absolutely need to be addressed if that is ever going to happen. I recommend you enter psychotherapy but that you keep dating as well.
I don't believe that you have to get yourself well first before finding a partner. That is a cultural myth! What is true is that healing your commitment-phobia can occur by actually committing to someone and facing the darkest parts of yourself and your past.
That said, it is totally acceptable for you to choose recreational dating only and avoid the harder parts of relationships. They do demand a lot of work which can be gruelling and frightening. Not everyone is up for it. Decide what is right for you!
Is violence more common in same-sex relationships?
A study in the US suggests that same-sex relationships suffer higher levels of domestic violence than heterosexual ones. Why is this, and how are Americans dealing with the problem?
Twenty years ago in the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Curt Rogers' then boyfriend imprisoned him in his apartment for three-and-a-half hours and threatened to kill him with a knife and a gun.
After hours of talking, Rogers managed to escape and find somewhere to hide.
It was a terrifying ordeal, but at the time he didn't think a crime had been committed. "I didn't identify it as domestic violence due to the images out there about domestic violence being an issue experienced by heterosexual women," he says.
For years US health and public service workers shared this blindness, continuing to focus almost exclusively on helping women abused by male partners, even though same-sex marriage or civil partnerships have now been recognised by law in a majority of states.
Last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures showing people in same-sex relationships experience levels of domestic violence just as often as those in heterosexual relationships.
But the conclusions of another study this year by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago - a review of data from four earlier studies, involving 30,000 participants - go further.
"One of our startling findings was that rates of domestic violence among same-sex couples is pretty consistently higher than for opposite sex couples," says Richard Carroll, a psychologist and co-author of the report. Intrigued by their findings,
Carroll's team started to look into the reasons why this might be. "We found evidence that supports the minority stress model - the idea that being part of a minority creates additional stress," he says.
"There are external stressors, like discrimination and violence against gays, and there are internal stressors, such as internalised negative attitudes about homosexuality."
The external stresses on a same-sex relationship include what Carroll describes as the "double closet phenomenon" when victims are reluctant to report abuse because they do not want to be outed to the authorities.
M I Ro
photos by pixabay.com
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