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Gay divorce: How to prevent it

(This post originally appeared HERE in Gay San Diego, a SDGLN media partner.)

There is much joy and excitement about same-sex marriage, and hooray for us. However, let’s look at what happens when same-sex marriage doesn’t go so well: same-sex divorce.

When I think about same-sex divorce, three questions come to mind:

• Why do couples divorce?

• Can we – the LGBT community – do divorce differently?

• What will our divorces be like?

Same-sex couples have different challenges than opposite-sex couples. For example, a couple consisting of two men has double the testosterone. Testosterone is associated with aggression and energy. Are male couples more likely to have power struggles? If they divorce, will each man want to “win” the divorce?

It is also uncertain what divorce will be like for female couples. I wonder if two women divorcing are more likely to make a strong effort to get along and make the divorce process more amicable than a straight couple would.

From my research, I’ve discovered that LGBT divorce rates are, so far, lower than straight couples. Is it because we’ve fought so hard for marriage? If so, what happens when same-sex marriage becomes more commonplace and the specialness wears off? Will our divorce rates go up?

Once we get married, how can we stay happily married? Let’s look at same-sex divorce rates in countries where same-sex marriage has been around for a while.

The same-sex partnership divorce rate was significantly lower than that of heterosexual couples in Denmark. The majority of gay marriages in Denmark are male-male, and only 14 percent of these end in divorce, compared to 23% of female marriages.

In Norway and Sweden, divorce rates were 50% to 167% higher for same-sex couples than opposite-sex marriages, and studies there show that lesbian marriages are less stable than gay male marriages.

In the United Kingdom, the divorce rate of same-sex couples (within 30 months of the introduction of legally binding civil partnerships) was slightly less than one percent.

In the United States, for states with available data, the dissolution rate of same-sex couples is about half that of opposite-sex couples. The percentage of those same-sex couples that end their legal relationship is 1.1% per year, while 2% of married different-sex couples divorce annually.

Danish psychologist Vibeke Nissen, herself a married lesbian, believes that the higher divorce rate for lesbians is consistent with data showing that women initiate most heterosexual divorces in Denmark. In the U.S., women request about two-thirds of divorces. “Women simply expect different things from marriage than men do,” Nissen said. “And if they don’t get them, they prefer to live alone.”

Given all of that, how can you and your future husband or wife avoid same-sex divorce?

One resource to tap into is couples therapy. If your marriage is having problems and you are doing something constructive about it, that’s a good sign: Statistically, people who take action to save (or improve) a troubled relationship usually succeed.

A good couple’s counselor is not on your side or your partner’s; we’re on the side of your relationship. I am not a referee, judge or jury. My intention is to help the couple overcome their obstacles, learn to communicate and negotiate conflicts.

People who love each other can do really awful things to each other. However, holding a grudge won’t help your relationship. While it’s difficult in troubled times to keep your marriage healthy, both parties need to find a way to let go, forgive and move forward. Therapy can help with this.

Does this all sound too hard? Never fear, there’s the good stuff too: love, affection and a renewal of sexual attraction can return when a couple’s problems and tensions are resolved.

If and when you decide to marry, I encourage you not to settle for merely avoiding divorce. Instead, aim for real fulfillment in your marriage.

Just because your relationship is in a bad place now doesn’t mean that the love is dead and your marriage is doomed. Feelings of love and affection ebb-and-flow in the best relationships; don’t judge the future of your relationship by whether you feel love for your husband or wife today. These feelings usually return as your relationship improves.

We can do marriage differently than straight people. We can make it better and more fulfilling. We can work on our relationships and not slide easily downhill into divorce. We are LGBT people and we are strong and creative. Once we can marry, our marriages can be better and more fulfilling than the heterosexual model. Watch and see.

Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.