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Differences with being in or out of the closet doesn’t have to hurt your relationship

In or out: What is your position? And does it impact your relationship?

“Coming out of the closet, or simply coming out, is a figure of speech for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people disclosing their sexual orientation and gender identity.” (Wikipedia.com). The degrees of being “out” with your sexuality can range from certain friends and family knowing, to specific colleagues at work being aware, to even your medical doctors knowing.

The level of openness is your choice and based upon your comfort level, but what happens when this issue gets in the way of a relationship?

Partners may or may not be at the same level of sexual openness with their family, friends, society, etc. Some couples are able to quickly shift from the “on-off” role; being a partner and lover at one moment to acting like a friend the next moment. This switch from on to off is needed in situations when their sexual identity isn’t “out of the closet.” Some couples have a difficult time with the switch and the bond gets tangled up.

How do you keep your relationship connection strong when you and your partner fight about the closet?

1. Be sensitive to the issue: The process of coming out isn’t something that stops once your or your partner’s friends and family know. “Coming out is a lifelong journey that requires that you make frequent decisions about whether to come out to someone new. For example, GLBT people must make coming-out decisions in the workplace, the military, with a health care provider and in a place of worship. Coming out truly is a never-ending journey.” (Coming Out: A Journey, by Utahpridecenter.org). Be sensitive to the process.

2. Teamwork: If the two of you have different comfort levels with being out, it doesn’t mean you still can’t be a team. Spend more time and energy on creating a team approach to other aspects of the relationship. The more you create a team approach in all other areas of the relationship, the more you two will be able handle this issue as a team, as well.

3. Create alternatives: Simply because two partners have differences in being out, it doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. Talk about the situations that are difficult for you and discuss alternatives to handling the “on-off” responses. If there are certain people or situations that are more challenging, brainstorm together about other options.

4. Don’t let them win: It has taken years to build a strong voice for the LGBT community. Don’t let this issue keep you two down. Stick together and take a strong stance with your relationship. Talk about the situations that are harder for you and use this energy to build a stronger bond. Don’t let the “other team” win.

5. Your choice: You have a choice and get to decide if you want to stay in a relationship that has two different degrees of being out. If you aren’t happy with the situation, let your partner know and see if it is something you are willing to work on. You may not want to be kept in the closet, or you may not want to come out of the closet right now. It is your choice.

Jennine Estes is a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC#47653) in San Diego. To learn about her couple’s therapy practice, visit www.estestherapy.com.