As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a member of the Relationship Science team here at Marriage Pact, most of my research in relationship science has focused on couples’ general romantic compatibility without necessarily looking closer into the differences between same-sex vs. opposite-sex couples. For the sake of PRIDE weekend, this newsletter will look more closely into the relationship dynamics and long-term compatibility of same-sex couples, and whether there are any notable differences when compared to heterosexual relationships.
According to an extensive review of studies that examine both same-sex and heterosexual relationships, the major finding is that there is no correlation between relationship satisfaction and the sexual orientation of the couples, nor is there a difference in what matters for maintaining a healthy relationship — such as communication, conflict management style, and intimacy (sexual and psychological).
However, it should be flagged that studies that look at relationship satisfaction in long-term couples are subject to survivorship bias —only examining couples that succeed introduces the threat of dismissing factors that may have played a role in those relationships that failed. Although it is also important to note that according to a Stanford survey analysis on how couples meet and stay together, the break-up rates of heterosexual vs. same-sex couples were the same.
Research also points to a few differences in the relationship characteristics of same-sex vs. opposite-sex relationships as listed below:
Attachment Anxiety vs. Avoidance
Attachment avoidance is typically associated with less relationship commitment in heterosexual couples; yet, according to a study on romantic attachment and relationship functioning in same-sex couples, only anxiety uniquely predicted relationship commitment. They find that for heterosexual men avoidance is more likely than anxiety to be linked with poor relationship outcomes, whereas the reverse was true for the gay and bisexual men in the sample. The study proposes several reasons why attachment anxiety may be the more dominant reason for poor relationship outcomes in same-sex relationships:
1. Stress of sexual minority status
One of the unique challenges that same-sex romantic partners face are the stressors associated with being members of a stigmatized minority group. Exposure to the negative societal beliefs that question the success of same-sex relationships, as well as fewer social structures designed to encourage the stability of same-sex couples, may be contributing to attachment anxiety and poor relationship outcomes among same-sex couples.
2. Sexual non-monogamy
Same-sex romantic partners are more exposed to norms for the negotiation non-monogamy: sexually non-exclusive relationship forms are more abundant in the LGBTQ+ community. The findings of the above-mentioned study suggest that sexual exclusivity is not associated with relationship satisfaction (or commitment) for people who report low levels of attachment anxiety. However, for participants with moderate-to-high anxiety levels, satisfaction and commitment are higher among those who were non-monogamous.
Although the existing research in relationship science points to more similarity than differences between heterosexual and homosexual couples, it is interesting to see that exposure to different societal norms is strongly tied to different relationship dynamics that exist in relationships of different sexual orientations.