Same Sex, Same Issues?

Whatever your partner’s gender, most relationships aren’t just blissful candlelight dinners and snuggles on Sunday mornings. Disagreements can erupt over almost anything, from hot-button topics like money and sex to squabbles over the ex who’s tagging along too much.

Sex + money = trouble
“Money almost always comes up at some point, whether the couple is same-sex or not,” says Valarie Eilert, a Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in San Francisco. People fear losing money, having more of it than they can manage, not earning enough, or – worst of all for relationships – discovering that their spouse has spent joint funds unwisely. Because more money can mean more power, partners may fight about finances to disguise a tug-of-war over control in the relationship.

Sex with a new partner usually starts out with fireworks, but in any couple the spark can fizzle – or ignite into anger. Sexual problems are equal opportunity. There’s plenty to argue about: How often should we have sex? What positions are most exciting? Who initiates? Sexual shame can make these topics difficult to discuss, so partners sometimes retreat into silence rather than admit their fears and desires.

Talking the talk
Same-sex couples may have an advantage over straight partners, though. “Men and women are socialized so differently in our culture that it can be difficult for them to communicate with each other,” says Eilert. Pair a man with a woman, and you’ve got a cross-cultural relationship. “But when two men or two women form a couple, they sometimes understand each other’s communication styles more easily. Sometimes that means the communication is more productive,” Eilert continues. “And sometimes it’s just more.”

Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Sara Simunovich and Cindi Harrison, who married each other a few months ago, say same-sex couples have an unusual tendency to remain friends with former lovers. That, they believe, causes a set of problems that many heterosexual couples don’t face.

“Straight couples don’t have their exes coming for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other meal of the year,” says Sara. “When women start a relationship, they jump in and don’t hold back. So then you’ve got two emotionally attached women who, when they do break up, have trouble drawing the line with someone they feel is so close to them.”

Homophobia isn’t helpful
Not all heterosexual couples enjoy the full support of our society, as nearly any interracial straight couple will attest. But, overall, easy access to legal marriage and support from family and friends makes life easier for opposite-sex couples.

Social opposition to same-sex relationships, on the other hand, takes its toll. “Hell yeah, homophobia makes a difference,” Sara says. “When I lived in Arkansas, I had girlfriends who wouldn’t hold my hand because I look gay.” Eventually, she moved to California and found a wife who’s happy to hold her hand.

Although there are some differences between gay and straight relationships, the gender of the partners isn’t the most important factor in the relationship – communication, respect, similar values and love are all equally important. “The basic experiences are the same,” concludes Eilert.

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