Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships
Men in gay relationships (similar to women in lesbian relationships) were .. in their relationship challenges stereotypes of long-term lesbian. ner conflict consistently has been found to be negatively related to appraisals of relationship satisfaction (e.g., Kurdek, a, b). Howev- er, the key issue. The Journal of Lesbian Studies published a special issue focusing on .. Observing gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples' relationships.
In the case of domestic violence in lesbian relationships, this hostility is perpetuated in the form of intimate partner abuse. These negative feelings are then acted out in the form of lesbian battering. Also women fear that they might suffer from isolation, risk of losing their job, housing or family as consequences to homophobia and internalized homophobia.
This form of abuse could result in a variety of negative consequences for the victim, such as being shunned by family members and the loss of children, a job, and housing. In fearing isolation due to homophobia, lesbians also experience the phenomenon of living in the "second closet", or that they must keep both their sexualities and experiences with domestic violence hidden from others due to fear of negative repercussions.
This can also translate into how the couple raise potential children and implement discipline. Abusive power and control Domestic violence in lesbian relationships happens for many reasons. Domestic violence can occur due to control. Violence is most frequently employed as a tactic for achieving interpersonal power or control over their partner.
The alienation and isolation imposed by internalized and external oppression may construct loss of control, and the need to reclaim it becomes the central concern for lesbians. Lesbians may be denied control over numerous aspects of their lives. The perpetrator of violence in an intimate relationship can also threaten their partner to abduct their children if only one has legal custody of their children. Lesbians who report more frequent use of violent tactics in conflict with their partner will report a higher level of dependency as a personality trait.
Dependency in lesbian relationships is also a result of female-specific socialization. A study found that lesbians are more likely to spend free time at home than homosexual men are. Women may assume that spending time away from their partner would make them upset or angry. Without proper communication, improper management of time may lead to unhealthy discourse within a relationship, and partner equality remains difficult to maintain.
Low self-esteem and a negative self-image are qualities that characterize both perpetrators and victims of heterosexual domestic violence. We analyzed and coded interview data using Charmaz's qualitative analytic approach, which emphasizes the construction of codes for the development of analytical, theoretical, and abstract interpretations of data.
Coding categories emerged from interviews; however, some conceptual and theoretical topics were predetermined for exploration through open-ended questions e. All three authors were involved in each stage of the coding process. First, we carefully read through the transcripts and field notes several times, extracting passages relevant to intimacy, sex, and emotion work.
We then analyzed these passages multiple times, identifying key initial codes. We met several times to compare themes and subthemes until we agreed on a set of focused codes that connected initial codes. We verified theoretical saturation—achieved when no new themes regarding emotion work and intimacy emerged and when existing themes had sufficient data—during the multistage coding process Charmaz, In the final stage of analysis, we examined how recurring themes and subthemes related to one another on a conceptual level and examined systematic differences across relational contexts.
Results We organize our findings around the two most prevalent themes involving intimacy and emotion work dynamics: We found similarities and differences among and within relational contexts with regard to the symbolic meanings and lived experiences of intimacy and the extent to which emotion work was undertaken to achieve intimacy.
Minimizing Boundaries Between Partners Meanings and experiences of intimacy Some respondents described the essence of intimacy as the absence of boundaries between partners, achieved by talking and sharing feelings.
Compared with men, women devoted much more discussion to the importance of minimizing boundaries between partners in an effort to promote intimacy; approximately half of the women in lesbian and in heterosexual relationships emphasized the importance of minimizing boundaries between partners to sustain intimacy, compared with approximately one-fifth of men in gay and heterosexual relationships.
Yet the lived experiences and emotion work involved in minimizing boundaries were substantially different for women in heterosexual relationships than for women in lesbian relationships. Partners in lesbian relationships tended to agree with each other on the value of talking, sharing intimate thoughts, and eliminating boundaries between partners. For example, Gretchen said that she and Danielle shared everything, in good times and bad: We don't have that.
In these situations, one partner developed an emotionally close relationship with another woman i. I don't care if you have friends but friends that you talk to for two hours at 1: The majority of women in heterosexual relationships reported and their partner corroborated that they valued emotional intimacy more than their partner, and many said that their partner had fewer skills in this area an experience rarely described by men or women in same-sex relationships.
The one who is encouraging communication. I am the type of person that will shut down. In contrast to women, few men in gay or heterosexual relationships talked about wanting to reduce boundaries between partners.
Emotion work to minimize boundaries Men and women who described the importance of sharing feelings also described emotion work to minimize boundaries between partners. Approximately two thirds of women in lesbian and heterosexual relationships indicated that they undertook considerable work to minimize boundaries between partners compared with two heterosexual men and seven gay menbut this emotion work played out quite differently for women in heterosexual and lesbian relationships.
In particular, women in lesbian relationships described extensive reading and responding to each other's emotional needs, and both partners typically shared this emotion work. Ann credited her relationship success to constant communication, particularly when under stress: We do real well at recognizing when one of us needs something.
We found a very different dynamic for heterosexual couples with regard to the division of emotion work. Approximately two thirds of women compared to only one of the men in heterosexual relationships described bearing most of the emotion work burden of minimizing boundaries in their relationship.
Angie talked about her long-term and somewhat successful work to reduce boundaries by urging Nick to share his feelings with her: I would say in the past couple of years, he has become much more emotionally intimate with me. He has gotten to where he is comfortable talking to me about anything, even real painful experiences.
So we've become very intimate in some respects because he has let down some walls to me that he has never let down before. Although women in lesbian and heterosexual partnerships described emotion work to minimize boundaries more than men did, a few men reported undertaking this kind of emotion work.
For men in heterosexual relationships, emotion work often took the form of attempting to share more of their feelings in response to their partner's efforts to encourage more emotional openness and sharing. For three gay couples, both partners agreed that minimizing boundaries was important and shared work toward that end. In three other gay couples, minimizing boundaries involved more extensive work by one partner than the other, usually in response to one partner being less expressive and valuing boundaries more than the other similar to many heterosexual couples.
We want to share things. If you will share whatever is on your mind, this will be good for both of us. I really didn't enjoy a lot of it. It was good for me. It was good for us. Women in lesbian relationships described emotion work as stressful because of its continual nature and constant sharing of emotions. Carol then described how high levels of empathy with Angela added to her workload and to stress: Her happiness is the most important thing in my life and when she is not happy, or when she is down or depressed or upset, I get right there with her [but].
Unsuccessful emotion work can be particularly draining, as Olivia indicated when discussing her relationship with Karla: She's been much more effective at calming me down and being sort of a voice of reason with me. I have not been as successful doing that for her because. Women in heterosexual relationships reported stress in providing intensive emotion work, similar to lesbian women, but also because their partner did not value reciprocal sharing of feelings or the work involved in reducing boundaries a theme absent in lesbian relationships.
Irene said that she encouraged Brian to share his emotions with her, and these efforts were often successful: He doesn't purposely withhold emotional intimacy from me. He's just not good at it. He wasn't raised to be good at it. Lord knows I've tried to beat it into him over the years, but he just is not really good with it. Approximately two thirds of women in heterosexual relationships reported that their emotion work efforts failed because their partner worked to maintain boundaries, despite the women pushing to minimize those boundaries an experience rarely described by men and women in other relational contexts.
For example, Brian described how he resisted Irene's efforts: She has always looked for a little more emotional intimacy than I have provided throughout our entire marriage. It never has been that important to me. Irene is always trying to draw me out. I would just as soon stay in my own head, and leave me alone and let me deal with it.
Partner discordance in the desire to minimize boundaries led to greater inequity in emotion work exchanges and more conflict about boundaries for heterosexual couples than for lesbian and gay couples, even when the purpose of emotion work was to promote intimacy. Maintaining Boundaries Between Partners Meanings and experiences More men than women in same-sex and different-sex relationships discussed the creation of boundaries and emotional space between partners as potentially positive for relationship intimacy.
Men in gay relationships similar to women in lesbian relationships were more likely than men and women in heterosexual relationships to be in agreement with their partner about boundaries and intimacy. Unlike most lesbian couples who worked to minimize boundaries, approximately one third of men in gay relationships emphasized the importance of providing each other with sufficient emotional space and respecting boundaries.
Aidan described how he felt close to Max because he takes care of his own emotional needs: Max is truly a comfort. Because he is so self-sufficient.
But he assures me that he is getting everything he needs. But he doesn't ask for it. Similarly, Donald explained that, with time, he and Tim had become more likely to leave each other alone to handle their own emotional needs, which Donald viewed positively: This had become increasingly important to Donald since he was diagnosed with jaw and prostate cancer a few years before the interview.
More than one third of men in heterosexual relationships also emphasized the desire to respect boundaries between partners, but this was a more contentious area for their relationships in contrast to men in gay relationships, who rarely described such discordance.
Nearly one third of men in heterosexual relationships talked about sustaining boundaries between partners because they felt they could not help their partner a theme rarely described by men and women in other relational contexts.
Well, when she gets into a real low mood she tends to go into isolation. And the best thing that I can do in many of those cases is just leave her alone and let her go through it. Because usually the things that she's depressed about are nothing I can do anything about anyhow. Frank described why he chose to give his partner, Tracy, space after her mother died: You have to get over it and move on.
Because there's nothing else you can do. For many men in heterosexual relationships, boundaries were constructed not to enhance their partner's emotions i. He can understand equipment, he can understand cause and effect with things that are not me, but with me he seems totally clueless.
Men in gay relationships and women in heterosexual relationships were more likely than heterosexual men or lesbian partners to report emotion work directed toward maintaining boundaries, usually to promote partner or relationship well-being. For approximately one fourth of men in gay relationships, emotion work was largely mutual and took the form of working to avoid discussion of personal or sensitive matters—sometimes repressing one's own emotions for the sake of a partner's emotions and preferences.
Michael described how he avoided expressing negative emotions because Tim valued his personal space: Donald described how Tim provided needed emotional space after Donald's mother died: I was quite distraught.
At first, I kind of contained my emotions quite a bit. And he stayed close by but [was] not interfering. So, that was a very wonderful, intimate experience with him, where he knew not to impinge at the moment. But later on, he came up and held [me]. Approximately one fifth of women in heterosexual couples also discussed emotion work to maintain boundaries, saying that they repressed their own feelings or desires in response to their partner's need for more emotional space compared with only one man in a heterosexual relationship and two women in lesbian relationships.
Chantelle constructed boundaries in response to Anthony's desire for emotional space: I think you know the things that you can say [and] the things that you really can't.
And I have had to learn that because initially I started out just saying everything, and then I learned.
- Intimacy and Emotion Work in Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Relationships
- Domestic violence in lesbian relationships
Sex and Emotional Intimacy Meanings and experiences Many study participants in all relational contexts described sex as a way to minimize boundaries between partners and increase intimacy. Moreover, sexual frequency was often described as a barometer of intimacy and relationship quality. As a result, study participants described periods of diminished sexual frequency as a cause for concern, but this belief varied across relational contexts.
A decline in sexual frequency was less fraught with meaning and significance for gay couples than for other groups for which sexual frequency more strongly symbolized emotional intimacy. With time, several men in same-sex relationships accepted nonexistent sex lives with little concern.
For example, Jeffery and Michael no longer had sex with each other but did not see this as a problem. I don't think that was, you know, a big problem. In contrast to gay couples, lesbian and heterosexual couples described more concern about any decline in sexual frequency because sexual frequency symbolized intimacy.
Furthermore, lack of sex suggested growing boundaries between partners. Sexual frequency had symbolic importance for lesbian couples as well, who sometimes expressed concern about the stereotype of asexual lesbians.
Otherwise we would just be friends. I think that is kind of what makes us partners and spouses, being able to share that part of our lives with each other. Women devoted much more discussion than men to the importance of linking emotional intimacy to sex and described more emotion work to achieve this goal.
Approximately two thirds of women in heterosexual relationships, and all but three women in lesbian relationships, described how they worked to connect sex with emotional intimacy.
Eight heterosexual women described emotion work efforts to increase their sexual desire when their partner desired sex more often than they did. These women talked about feeling guilty when they did not want to have sex—because they believed they should have sex if they loved their partner, thus highlighting the connection between emotional intimacy and sex for women.
Angie described undertaking emotion work to have sex with Nick: A sexual relationship is important to our marriage. I have had to find ways to overlook his obesity in order for us to have a sexual relationship. And I've been able to do that. I just don't think about his body. Ten women in lesbian relationships also described emotion work directed toward discussing their sex life when their partner's desire for sex was not the same as their own, or when sex was infrequent.
This emotion work was often described as necessary to distinguish their relationship from a friendship. For example, Megan said that Clarissa attempted to be more desiring of sex for the sake of the relationship and emotional intimacy: Separating Sex From Emotional Intimacy Meanings and experiences A recurring theme in our analysis was that men approximately one fifth of men in heterosexual relationships and half of the men in gay relationships were more likely than women four women across relationships to describe emotional intimacy and sex as separable.
This trend was more common for men in gay relationships than for men in heterosexual relationships, likely because partners in gay relationships tended to share this view. In contrast, women partnered with men were more likely to challenge this view. Approximately half of the men in gay relationships emphasized that although sex with their partner had the power to enhance emotional intimacy, sex was neither critical to the long-term success of their relationship nor an indicator of how emotionally connected and committed the partners were to each other.
Michael said that he rarely had sex with his partner but noted that this did not affect their relationship: Our relationship was based more on friendship and [sex is] obviously not that important or we wouldn't still be here. Nearly half of the men in gay relationships said they would be okay with their partner having a sexual affair none of the study participants in other relational contexts reported this.
Men partnered with men were more likely than those in other relational contexts to report sexual encounters outside their primary relationship and to indicate that such sexual encounters posed minimal threat to their long-term relationship, as long as emotional intimacy was absent.
Adam described a strong sense of emotional intimacy with Paul: That is completely different from having sex. There is a complete and total difference. An affair involves emotions and sex doesn't.
And were able to kind of separate out that stuff from the love we felt for each other. Four men in heterosexual relationships also described a separation between sex and emotional connection in their relationship. I don't think about it as the relationship so much as one of my needs.
I think for guys, generally speaking, you know [sex] is always a priority. Everybody knows guys are just no hassles that way. Women want more compassion and they want more emotion, whereas men are more.
Domestic violence in lesbian relationships - Wikipedia
Emotion work to separate sex from intimacy Although gay men were more likely than other respondents to discuss sex as separable from emotional intimacy, approximately one third of gay respondents said that they diverged from their partner on the importance they placed on separating sex and intimacy. In these situations, one partner generally devoted emotion work to repressing his own feelings to better mirror those of his partner. That is something that took me about, let's see, eleven and a half years to come to grips with.
My belief system was completely different when I met him. I couldn't separate sex from emotion. And he taught me how to do that.
Relationship Dynamics around Depression in Gay and Lesbian Couples
Sexual nonexclusivity often involved some degree of negotiation and emotion work wherein the partner who desired exclusivity worked to accept the situation. I've learned that even though we are not monogamous, we are not risking losing each other.
In this sense, it seems that for many long-term couples, sex and emotional intimacy became less connected with time. As sexual frequency declined, respondents described emotion work that helped them redefine the symbolic importance of sex in relation to intimacy and to no longer view sex as integral to minimizing boundaries between partners.
This emotion work was typically directed toward constructing a clearer distinction between emotional intimacy and sexual frequency. And I think that I do. That to me is intimacy now. Moreover, emotion work that leads to new meanings and experiences of sex in relation to intimacy helps keep boundaries between partners open over the course of time. Discussion With this study, we extended scholarship on long-term committed relationships to include same-sex couples, a population that has been largely neglected in studies of long-term relationships.
Prior work has tended to reinforce a bifurcated view of gender and intimacy in relationships and has focused almost exclusively on heterosexual couples, raising questions about whether similar dynamics would emerge in gay and lesbian couples. In contrast, a gender-as-relational perspective views gender as constructed, negotiated, and performed within the context of relationships Ridgeway, ; Springer et al. This approach took us beyond an essentialist view of gender difference within heterosexual relationships to consider how men and women experience intimacy across gendered relational contexts Goldberg, ; Ridgeway, ; Springer et al.
Our findings suggest that gender sometimes trumps relational context, for example, when women—regardless of gender of partner—do more emotion work than men to reduce boundaries between partners. However, gendered relational context, rather than the gender of the respondent, seems to be more influential when it comes to doing emotion work around intimacy that respects and sustains boundaries between partners, with women with men and men with men doing more of this type of emotion work.
But our findings go beyond previous research to suggest that partner discordance and inequality in emotion work do not merely reflect gender; instead, this inequality reflects the performance of gender within a different-sex relational context.
Our findings add emotion work to the types of unpaid work that are more equally distributed in same-sex than different-sex relationships. This equality likely reflects the fact that partners in same-sex relationships are more likely to view intimacy, boundaries between partners, and work to achieve intimacy in similar ways.
Psychoanalytic work in the s and s identified the lack of boundaries between lesbian partners as problematic; subsequent work criticized this research, claiming it was pathologizing and lacked empirical evidence see overview in Rothblum, We offer a more nuanced and nonessentialist understanding of boundaries in lesbian relationships by emphasizing that minimal boundaries emerge from the performance of gender within a particular gendered relationship context.
In contrast to previous psychoanalytic work on this topic, we make no judgment about whether a lack of boundaries is problematic.