Living in a homophobic society means that, often, our relationships are not taken seriously. It’s hard to get the support we need to keep them healthy. We’re constantly inundated with the message that our relationships, and for that matter our lives, are doomed to fail. Even the most "out," politically aware women can internalize these messages subconsciously and continue to believe, on some level, that our relationships are neither valuable nor viable. This is why we need to fight, on a political level, to have our relationships recognized as valid -- legally, financially, socially, and spiritually. Meanwhile, on a personal level, here are some ideas about how lesbians who want commitment can overcome the obstacles that homophobia creates.
1) Treat your relationship like you expect it to last. This doesn’t mean you should try to stay together at all cost, tolerate a relationship that is abusive, or settle for one that clearly isn’t going to meet your needs. But try starting with the assumption that your problems CAN be worked out. If they really can’t, you’ll be proven wrong soon enough, and you can decide then what you need to do next.
2) Respect the boundaries around you. Don’t treat your relationship, or your friends’ relationships, as if commitments don’t really matter and every woman you’re attracted to is fair game. Talk to your partner and come to agreements –– compromises, if necessary –– about what you’re okay with in terms of flirting, non-monogamy, and close or even romantic friendships. Feelings of attraction or jealousy are just that -- feelings -- and it isn’t always possible or necessary to control them. Actions, on the other hand, are something we can each make responsible choices about.
3) Respect the boundaries between you. Give her space. Honor her limits and your differences. It’s not always necessary to agree with or understand the way she’s thinking; you can still try to empathize with the way she’s feeling. A lack of individual privacy in a relationship -- including social, intellectual, physical, and emotional privacy -- will paradoxically lead to unhealthy secrets and distrust. In fact, too much togetherness ("merging") can lead to no togetherness at all. As lesbians in a homophobic society, it’s easy to slip into a "you and me against the world" attitude and create a suffocating expectation that you and your partner have to meet all of each other’s needs.
how to minimize emotional damage if a break-up is inevitable. In a "fair fight," only the specific, current problem is discussed (no unresolved past issues or "kitchen sinks"), each person uses "I feel" (not "I think") statements as much as possible, and there is an effort on both sides to de-escalate the anger by avoiding name-calling, threats, yelling, interrupting, or physical intimidation. It can also help to use the "intentional dialogue" technique of feeding back your understanding of what your partner just said, without commenting or disagreeing.
6) Give a little, but don’t give too much. As women, we’re socialized to say yes a lot. You might find yourself agreeing to things too quickly, because you don’t want to hurt her feelings, or because you have a hidden agenda to receive something in return. If this keeps up in a long-term relationship, you might find yourself in a knot of co-dependent resentments that could take years to untangle. On the other hand, love is about giving. Get clear about your own needs, be assertive about what’s important to you, and try letting go of what isn’t.
7) Expect some disappointments. Yes, you heard right. Disappointment is a healthy, normal stage of any relationship that’s on its way to being long-term. In the beginning, it may seem as if you’ve finally found that ideal partner who once existed only in fantasy. Then, after a couple of years (maybe more, maybe less), you lose that honeymoon feeling. All of a sudden she’s a real person with real problems, and you have to decide if you’re in or out. Some women mistake this phase of the relationship for failure, and/or mistake the thrill of some new attraction for true love. Thus the serial monogamy trend.
8) Get help sooner rather than later. Going to couples therapy as a last resort, to rescue a relationship you’re already feeling hopeless about, is a bit like signing up for swimming lessons while you’re falling off a boat. Homophobia contributes to this delay in seeking help in a couple of ways. First, some lesbians may feel they have to prove to the straight world that we’re all just fine, thank you very much, and so deny having any problems. Second, with so many negative messages from society about our "sick" and "sinful" lifestyle, we may subconsciously believe our relationships aren’t worth the effort. But they are. Really.
4) Talk. Pretending a problem isn’t there just gives it more power over both of you. Don’t be afraid to bring up conflicts. Your partner may already sense that something is wrong. And if she doesn’t, breaking up with her is a pretty harsh way to let her know.
5) Rule out break-up threats as a tactic for winning leverage in an argument. If you are seriously thinking of leaving the relationship, bring it up when you’re not angry and there is time to have a calm, respectful discussion. Better yet, go to a therapist together to talk about what it would take to stay together, or
A lot of lesbian women who wish for committed relationships have remarked, only half-joking, on the problem of "serial monogamy" in our community. Some have expressed shock when long-term couples they thought of as role models suddenly decided to call it quits. Others have felt baffled and hurt when their own relationships lost passion or came to impasses over conflicts that seemed trivial.
Lesbian Relationships that Last