Clinical psychologist John Gottman, a research scientist at the
University of Washington who has studied heterosexual couples for 28 years, has tailored workshops explicitly for the needs of Gay and
Lesbian (G&L) couples based upon research that examined the interactions of same-gendered couples. The 12-year study, which Gottman co-authored
with UC Berkeley professor of psychology Robert Levenson, found similarities and differences in how Gay, Lesbian and Heterosexual
We realized there were a lot of differences when we were observing men
and women while studying arriages, said Gottman, who just submitted the
study for publication. We couldn't tell if differences were biological or role-related. We decided to study same-gender couples, and we got
interested in them for their own sake.
Gottman and his colleagues found that same-gender couples were much more
optimistic in the face of conflicts than straight couples. If you compared how a person presented a problem in same-gender relationships,
they showed less belligerence, less domineering, less sadness, less
whining and more affection, humor and joy, said Gottman. Partners were also less distressed and more positive after a disagreement. While the
research on same-gender unions is sparse, what the few studies focusing on G&L relationships have found is that same-gender unions are
comparable to heterosexual ones in satisfaction and quality. Researchers also found that there are fewer obstacles to leaving in same-gender
unions and that they tend to dissolve more often than their heterosexual counterparts. There is more autonomy in G&L couples. But for G&L and
straight couples alike, the bottom line is the same: When the bad outweighs the good, couples split.
Previous research has relied on same-gender couples self-report about
their relationships. Gottman's study involved objective observations of same-gendered couples interacting. He compared 21 Gay couples, 21
Lesbian couples and 42 heterosexual couples all of whom had been together a minimum of two years. All the couples were videotaped
discussing various topics and their physiological measurements (heartbeat, finger pulse, etc) were taken to determine how agitated
partners became when in conflict.
*Same gender couples use fewer controlling, hostile emotional tactics.
Generally, power sharing and fairness are more prevalent among
same-gender couples than among heterosexual couples, said Gottman
*In a fight, same-gender couples take
it less personally. A G&L person can say something negative in a
fight, and a partner is much less likely to be defensive, said Gottman.
Positivity has much more influence in same-gender couples than in
straight couples, where negativity triumphs over positivity.
*Unhappy G&L couples are better
able to calm down while in a fight. For some reason, heterosexual
couples become more physically agitated during a fight than same-gender
couples. Same-gender couples are thus better able to soothe each other
during conflicts or in the aftermath of a fight.
*In a fight, Lesbians show more anger,
humor, excitement and interest than conflicting Gay men do. Gottman
speculates that this may be a result of two women in a relationship who
have been raised in a society where emoting is more acceptable for women
*Gay men need to be especially careful
to avoid negativity in
conflict. If the initiator of conflict in a Gay relationship becomes too
negative, his partner is not able to de-escalate the conflict as well as
Lesbian or straight couples. Gay men may need extra help to offset the
impact of negative emotions that inevitably come along when couples
fight, said Gottman.
Part of Gottman's goal in doing the
study was to give same-gender couples the same interscopic intervention
to repair failing relationships that he has given heterosexual couples.
This article appeared originally in
the LA Times Feb. 5, 2001