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Marriage Counseling for Same Sex Couples

There are many counselors who provide couples therapy, relationship counseling, premarital counseling, and marriage counseling to gay and lesbian couples and by extension also support institutionally the marriage of same gender couples. Supporting marriage for all couples, same or different genders, means supporting not only the marriage ceremony but their lives after it and in preparation for it as well.


The point of premarital (pre-nuptial, pre-union, engagement) counseling for any couple is to help them focus on what they are doing and to create clarity about how they do it. The processes—their communication styles, their histories, their goals and how they will pursue them—are far more important than any decisions. A good counselor should be able to help provide clarity for the couple about what they believe, desire, and, most importantly, the ways they relate to each other.


In addition to managing the issues faced by all couples - issues of roles and responsibilities, financial concerns, intimacy and sexuality, and different communication styles - gay and lesbian couples face the added challenge of nurturing their relationships in a world that is often hostile. Outright rejection or more subtle lack of understanding by family and friends can create an added burden for couples already struggling to create healthy intimate relationships. For gay and lesbian couples choosing to commit to each other in a social environment that does not honor that commitment, making such a commitment can take great courage and inner strength.



Gay and lesbian couples often seek the expertise of a qualified counselor. Distressed couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, are often facing similar kinds of problems when they request the help of a couples counselor.

Some of the problems common to all couples in distress are issues with communication, intimacy, handling conflict and family of origin issues, among others. However, lesbian and gay couples face some special challenges. These unique challenges may include...


--Coping with homophobia with in-laws, in the family of origin, and the larger society.

--Resolving relational ambiguity in the areas of commitment, boundaries, and gender linked behaviors.

--Developing adequate social support (the "families of choice").

--Effects of internal and external homophobia.

--Adoption and insemination: children, in general, bring up a variety of issues heterosexual couples do not share.

--Coming out: there are inherent problems when one person is not out and the relationship is kept secret.

--Differences regarding sex-roles in gay vs. heterosexual couples.

--Dealing with your relationship at work: whether to come out, coping with co-workers who are attracted to you if you cannot reveal your relationship, the office Christmas party, etc.

--Dealing with  "small town" issues in the gay community or with isolation from  other gay couples if you live outside a gay/lesbian community.



Relationship Tip Sheet for Gay & Lesbian Couples
Same Sex Marriage Problems
Gay Men's Counseling
Things to Discuss with Your Partner Before Marrying

Building Long Term Gay & Lesbian Relationships
UU Church: Premarital Counseling Guide for Same Gender Couples
Top Ten Arguments Against Gay Marriage

Dos and Donts of Gay Divorce

Wikipedia: Relationship Counseling

10 Things You Should Know Before Getting Married

Gay & Straight Weddings

Gay Divorce


Definition of Marriage


These days, the word ‘marriage’ can be problematic. Many people think of ‘marriage’ solely as a legal institution reserved exclusively for heterosexual couples. To be honest, I sometimes use this definition of ‘marriage’ in my work, because if a couple is legally married and they’re having trouble in their relationship, their legal status can raise certain practical issues that often are different than those faced by couples who are not legally married (legal separation, legal divorce, certain kinds of financial problems, etc.).


Having said that, I also hold to a definition of marriage that goes like this: any couple, gay or straight, in which the two persons have chosen to be together as partners in an exclusive, committed relationship, is what I would call “emotionally married.” (This is a concept created by the noted marriage therapist David Schnarch.)


I assume they are facing many of the same fundamental challenges that legally married couples face: intimacy, personal growth, the need for each individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and so forth. (And any gay couple with children will tell you that the legal issues can be just as complicated, thank you very much!)


These days, more and more people are waiting to marry, or choosing not to marry at all, and of course many couples are not allowed to marry because of their sexual orientation. Yet they are still sharing a deep emotional bond, so from my perspective, in a very important sense, they are married. For me, ‘marriage’ is really just a word that means this:


These two people are sharing life together as a couple, joined in a powerful bond, a bond that their friends and family recognize (whether or not they support it!), and a bond that can be as challenging—and upsetting—as it is exciting and life-giving.


(From Stephen Crippen, LMFT)


Marriage Problems for Same Sex Couples


Same sex couples have many of the same relationship problems that affect heterosexual couples. Aside from communication problems, same sex couples have the extra difficulties of not being legally recognized as married in most states. Politics aside, marriage is a serious commitment for anyone, gay or straight.



The biggest problem affecting same sex marriage is geography. In most states, it's illegal. As of September 2009, gays and lesbians can marry same sex partners legally in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine. New York and Washington, D.C., recognize marriages by same-sex couples legally performed elsewhere, and homosexual Californians who married before the passage of Proposition 8 are still legally recognized as married.



Some people believe homosexuals are more promiscuous than heterosexuals. While some gay people do not desire a monogamous lifetime commitment to a single partner, some straight people share those sentiments. The idea that gays or lesbians are not interested in a serious, monogamous commitment such as marriage is not true.



Same sex couples who wish to dissolve their marriage face a challenge. Some couples married in locations that have imposed stricter rules on gay marriage licenses and thus are unable to get divorced because their original marriages are not legally recognized.



Unlike heterosexual couples, married same sex couples might be unwilling or unable to relocate for education or job opportunities if such areas do not recognize the marriage as legally binding. As of September 2009, no formal studies have been conducted on the economic implications of this for same sex couples, but one researcher observed the intersection of legal and financial matters when homosexual couples move to areas not supporting same sex marriage.



Those opposed to same sex marriage are not backing down, presenting new legal challenges in every state where same sex marriage has advanced. Additionally, hate crimes on perceived members of the gay community have increased as gay marriage has become more visible.


Same Sex Marriage Counseling Resources

About Gay Marriage: Collection of Articles
Wikipedia: Same Sex Marriage
How to Get Married in Massachusetts

Civil Unions & Domestic Partnerships
Same Sex Marriage in Canada

Queer Theory: Same Sex Marriage
Keep Media: Collection of Articles About Gay Marriage

Video: Gay Marriage History

How to Plan a Gay Wedding

Polling Point: Gay Marriage Survey

Freedom to Marry
Gay Marriage: Arguments & Motives By Scott Bidstrup

Buddy Buddy: Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
Amazon: Books on LGBT Weddings



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Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama