Homosexual Relationships

The social environments of most large cities is conductive to cohabitation among homosexual males (gays) and females (lesbians). Marriages between homosexuals are not legally sanctioned in the United States, although legislation concerning such domestic partnerships has received support in certain cities (e.g., San Francisco, New York) and states (e.g., Hawaii).

Relatively little longitudinal research has been conducted on gay and lesbian relationships (Kimmel & Sang, 1995; Kurdek, 1991a, 1991b, 1995a, 1995b), but some facts are available. For example, informal marriages between homosexuals tend to be less stable than legal marriages between heterosexuals. Lesbians are more monogamous than gays, more likely to confide in one another, do things together more frequently, and remain together for longer periods of time (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983).

Bell and Weinberg (1978) differentiate between close-coupled, or enduring monogamous relationships, and open-coupled relationships in which two homosexuals live together but have other lovers as well. Close-coupled, or "exclusive," relationships are generally happier than open-coupled ones and are more common among older than younger gays. Many of these partnerships are satisfying and enduring (Butler & Lewis, 1993). The fear of AIDS has also influenced the durability of homosexual relationships in recent years, resulting in a greater frequency of gay "marriages" that are close-coupled. Relationships between lesbian couples can also be described as close- or open-coupled, but significantly more of them are close-coupled than in the case of gays. Lesbian couples are generally warm, tender, and caring toward each other, but such relationships are also more likely to break up than heterosexual marriages (Nichols & Lieblum, 1983).

Bell and Weinberg (1978) characterize the social/sexual relationships of gay men who live alone as functional, dysfunctional, or asexual. They found that approximately 10% of these men were in functional relationships: They lived alone but had active sex lives, were self-reliant, and felt comfortable with their homosexuality. The homosexual community serves as a kind of extended family for such men (Francher &Henkin, 1973). Bell and Weinberg (1978) classified another 12% of the gay men whom they studied as dysfunctional. These men also lived alone and sometimes had active sex lives, but they were unhappy and troubled about their status. The last and largest category of gays identified by Bell and Weinberg were the asexuals. This category consisted of the 16% of live-alone gays who were withdrawn, lived quiet lives, had little sexual contact, but appeared untroubled by their sexual orientation. Like gays, lesbians who live alone may have functional, dysfunctional, or asexual relationships, although a much smaller percentage of lesbians than gays fall into the last two categories.

Close-coupled homosexual relationships go through phases similar to those of heterosexual marriages (Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986). However, the pattern of roles and activities for the male and female members of heterosexual unions is found less often in homosexual partnerships. Role assignments are less fixed and more negotiable in gay and lesbian households, resulting in less of a power struggle than that observed in many heterosexual households.

The conception of aging homosexuals as lonely, depressed, and sexually frustrated is an overgeneralization. Living in a predominantly heterosexual society creates problems for older homosexuals, but there are also compensations. Among the problems are discrimination against homosexuals by society as a whole, disrespect from family members, inability to have their marriages sanctioned by law, and, in some cases, lack of visitation rights with their children by former marriages. One advantage of homosexuality, particularly in older adulthood and especially for lesbians, is the availability of partners (Raphael & Robinson, 1980).

Marriage and Unmarriage

One often hears about "wedded bliss" or "matrimonial harmony," but these are obviously not descriptive of many conjugal relationships. It may be that marriages are made in heaven, though it is doubtful unless one is a bride of Christ or married to the church. Duration is certainly not a sure-fire indicator of marital happiness. Most people who get married probably intend to stay that way, but, as one young woman explained to me, "If it doesn't work out there are always divorce courts." Still, you can't equate marital stability with marital satisfaction. One 90-some-thing-year-old couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary by untying the knot. They confessed that they had never really liked each other but decided to wait until the children had grown old and died before going their separate ways.

Perhaps place has something to do with connubial comfort. We tend to associate people with the places and circumstances in which we first met them and with what they were doing then. First impressions, whether positive or negative, also play an important role, and impressions are affected by circumstances. Remember the vaudeville joke about the dizzy couple who met in a revolving door and kept going around together? Well, my wife and I didn't meet in a door, but we did meet in a mental hospital (a nonrevolving door?). Occasionally, after a disagreement of some sort, one of us will suggest to the other that he or she should go back there for a long visit.

Time of day also seems to be a factor in affectionate regard for another person. Most people are more romantic in the evening, when the low illumination and the dreamy atmosphere make both genders more attrac

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