Communication definitely has the power to make or break a relationship. For many, it’s the gauge for a relationship’s health and wellness.
Rebekah and Jolece, a lesbian couple, have been together for 5 years. In the beginning, they spent a lot of time together, but over the past month, Jolece has become more distant. They still say their good nights and goodbyes with the occasional “I love you,” but there’s no substance in their talks.
A 12-year study by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Robert Levenson studying the differences between straight and gay couples, they found that gay and lesbian couples used more kindness and humor to bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive as they engage in a dispute with one another.
Rebekah recalls some of the most significant disagreements were avoided by using humor to bring up annoying traits. Jolece was growing tired of being the only one to take out the garbage and left it for quite a few days. One morning both stood staring at the full garbage. She had a choice to make at this moment. She could bring up the trash issue in a way that put Rebekah on the defensive, or she could use another approach that brought them closer together. Jolece chose to smile, and calmly said, “I say we just leave it forever. The rest of the house is pretty nice; why don’t we just live there?” Rebekah knew that Jolece was referencing an inside joke, and smiled back. They both then took out the trash together.
Rebekah also explains that a compliment from Jolece can make or break her day. Dr. Gottman also found that in heterosexual couples, it is easier for one partner to hurt another with a negative comment than it is to make that partner feel good with positive feedback. However, same-sex couples have a different dynamic; their positive comments have a more significant impact on feeling good, while negative comments have a lesser effect on handling hurt.
Why might gay couples be different in this respect?
Let’s take a look at some ways Rebekah and Jolece can create healthy communication patterns and bring back some of the sparks.
Ask A Sincere Question To Listen
Listening helps us understand our partner and lets them know our needs. A balanced, reciprocal communication is what’s needed for trust building. With some practice, Rebekah and Jolece can build strong connections.
Rebekah can ask genuine and sincere questions of Jolece. It doesn’t have to focus on what’s wrong specifically. Asking about a place they’d like to visit someday is a simple way to elicit conversation, on a mutual topic, that will allow practicing active listening. It also supports the idea that Rebekah is genuinely interested in Jolece’s interests and thoughts.
Develop Rules and Boundaries
Even though Rebekah and Jolece have been together for five years, there is always more to learn from one another. Rebekah admits she misses the beginning of the relationship where they would share likes, dislikes, and even fears and desires.
This is a critical moment for discussing boundaries and rules as well. Jolece admits that she wishes they would have taken more time to focus on how the house would run at the beginning of their relationship. As a neat person, Jolece admits that garbage left overflowing, toilet paper not being replaced and toothpaste being left open can cause her feelings of annoyance and even resentment.
Establishing rules and boundaries allows both members to express what they need. And, luckily, it’s never too late. Jolece and Rebekah take an hour a week to discuss the “rules of the home,” with weekly updates on that are working well and what needs attention. This simple act helps the two connect, work on communication while also getting their needs met.
Use Your Communication Style To Speak Your Truth
At the Gay Couples Institute, we discovered that four communication styles were “The Referee” (conflict-focused), “The Guardian” (trust-focused), “The Sensualist” (physical intimacy-focused), and “The Connector” (focused on connection and emotional needs being met).
When it comes to really speak your truth, consider the preferred style of the person sitting across from you. Rebekah needs feedback and she reports feeling anxious when Jolece goes quiet. Jolece admits she becomes quiet when she is upset; she knows this can cause tense moments between the two.
While the weekly check-in can help squash these silent periods before they go on too long, a daily check-in can also be helpful. For partners who need input to feel emotionally connected, just checking in or asking about your partner’s day had can help with the connection.
How To Use Touch To Stay In The Present Moment
In a world where we can so easily check out, contact is one of those elements that brings us back to the present tense. Science tells us oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, is released when we touch someone we care about and/or who cares about us.
Rebekah and Jolece enjoy cuddling, but when there’s tension, they tend to go to separate parts of the home in a holding pattern. Jolece admits there are times when she is annoyed but still craves the closeness. She explains she wants to work on turning toward Rebekah in these moments, rather than moving away. The release of Oxytocin by connecting is exactly what she needs, and reaching out for a simple touch can help her feel more grounded.
The great news is that little changes can make a big difference. While it may be easier to move away when there’s tension, those are the moments when we may need to step in. Jolece promises to go and get Rebekah in these moments so they can talk. She agrees that the simple act of reaching out will help them reconnect without putting triggering defensiveness.
There are so many ways we communicate, but most take place without a voice. It’s important to remember we don’t need to talk everything out; sometimes a simple touch on the shoulder, a gentle kiss or even a smile can help us reconnect.
Rebekah and Jolece’s growing pains are common. They merely need a few tweaks to add communication to their daily routines. These changes are like car maintenance. They help Rebekah and Jolece not only identify potential issues but focus on the needs when problems arise.
Did you know that your communication style could directly be causing you difficulties, but your relationship is fine?
If you’re curious about how your communication style plays into your relationship, here’s a quiz offering some insight. Share it with your partner and see how it helps you finally understand one another.
ABOUT SAM GARANZINI, LMFT, LPCC, and ALAPAKI YEE, LMFT
Sam Garanzini and Alapaki Yee are Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapists and the co-founders of the Gay Couples Institute – the world’s only gay and lesbian couples counseling clinic. The Gay Couples Institute has locations in Northern California and Manhattan, as well as online counseling services available.
For more information about how the Gay Couples Institute can help you, please visit: www.gaycouplesinstitute.org