Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Straights Can Learn From Gay Relationships

I don't think this will surprise any gay couples out there. But I suspect it might come as a surprise to a lot of straight couples.

Over the years we've had many conversations about this and about how we actually feel sorry for those caught up in the traditional gender roles adopted by straight society.

    What Straights Can Learn From Gays about Relationships and Parenting

By Robert-Jay Green, Ph.D.

Psychological studies of lesbian and gay couples reveal two key factors that promote healthier relationships and provide examples for all couples: (1) flexibility about gender roles, and (2) equal division of parenting and household tasks.

“It all comes down to greater equality in the relationship,” says Robert-Jay Green, PhD, executive director of the Rockway Institute and a nationally recognized researcher in both family issues and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender relationships. “Research shows that lesbian and gay couples-- by virtue of being composed of two partners of the same gender -- have a head start in escaping the traditional gender role divisions that make for power imbalances and dissatisfaction in manyheterosexual relationships.”

Green is Distinguished Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, the nation’s largest nonprofit training institution for doctoral clinical psychologists. In a series of studies he conducted with Michael Bettinger, PhD, and Ellie Zacks, PhD, lesbian couples were found to be emotionally closer than gay male couples who, in turn, were found to be emotionally closer than heterosexual married couples. Lesbian and gay male couples also showed dramatically more flexibility in the way they handled rules and roles in the relationship.Thus they avoided the traditional division of labor and division of expressive versus instrumental roles toward which heterosexual couple typically evolve over time despite their best intentions,especially after the birth of children.
Green’s research suggests some lessons straight men could learn from gay men. Heterosexual men need to “stand up to the pressures of conformity from their male peers and relatives” by becoming more flexible in their behavior and taking on tasks and roles more traditionally assigned to women. Green believes that heterosexual partners could learn by observing how their lesbian and gay coupled friends share
housework, childcare, use softer communication of feelings in conflict situations, and more equally nurturing behaviors toward one another and their children.

“Our research found that the most successful couples demonstrate closeness and flexibility,” said Green. “We found high levels of both characteristics in 79 percent of lesbian couples, 56 percent of gay male couples, but in only 8 percent of heterosexual married couples. Clearly, the more egalitarian approach taken by same-sex couples is an advantage that could benefit straight couples too,” he concluded.