Premarital Counseling for Gays and Lesbians
By: Daniel Sullivan, LPC
Premartial counseling for gays and lesbians is an emerging topic. The truth is that had you asked me while I was growing up that I would see the day when marriage for LGBT folks would become a reality I would have laughed in your face. As a gay man, it just never seemed like it could be possible. Well, all I can say is things have changed – and fast!
Not only is marriage legally available to gays and lesbians here in Chicago, Illinois but also in 36 other states (and counting)! One of those states is Wisconsin – the place where I recently witnessed my daughter tie the knot with her partner in December of 2014. I can tell you it was probably one of the happiest days in my life.
Gay Marriage New Reality
The new and wonderful reality of same sex marriage has also been interesting to witness from the counseling perspective. While there are some fundamental differences between gay/lesbian relationships in contrast to their straight counterparts, there are also many similarities. One universal similarity is the enthusiasm I typically see when a couple decides to marry. Let’s face it – regardless if you are straight or gay – making wedding plans and getting ready for the “big day” is exciting!
What’s different, however, for gay and lesbian folks is the newness of marriage. Just knowing that marriage is possible can be psychologically overwhelming. This new reality can sometimes cause even the closest of gay/lesbian couples to get so caught up in their long awaited wedding plans that they forget about the days that follow after saying, “I Do” Here, I am talking about common marriage myths.
Gay Premarital Counseling
Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but unless properly addressed, the challenges that exist before you get hitched will still be there after the Cook County Clerk issues your marriage license. This may not be something you have thought of before but perhaps you should? This point is particularly true when you consider that while gays and lesbians can now marry, they can also get divorced. Yep – that is happening too!
What follows are seven solid reasons why gay and lesbian couples need pre-marital counseling. This list is not intended to be exhaustive but does cover some of the biggies. Some of what appears here may seem obvious while others points will make you think. Read them all so that you can absorb their deeper meaning.
1. Promotes healthy communication skills
Many individuals debate rather than communicate. Learning ways to effectively listen, reflect back, and disagree with your partner is the basis for all healthy relationships. This point is particularly true if you are a new couple.
2. Establishing healthy boundaries
It is rare for couples to discuss individual boundaries until that person believes a boundary has been crossed. But can you really cross a boundary that has never been established? I have found it works best for couples to establish ground rules before entering into a partnership with the realization the boundaries will evolve. For example; have you discussed the role (or non-role) of in-laws? What about house chores? Will either of you need “quiet time” to decompress from work?
3. Identify your communication patterns
The way you communicate and interact with others is learned – passed on to you from family and friends. Some of those patterns may not be a problem while others may cause friction – particularly during times of stress. Can you identify which ones are likely to cause bumps down the road? Will either one of you need help with controlling your temper?
4. Goal identification
Do both of you have goals for the future? If so, are they the same? For example, do you want children? Where will they be raised? How will they be raised? By exploring what your plans are for the future and outlining the necessary steps to reach those goals, the two of you will go a long way in preventing potential problems. FYI: Mismatched goals happen to be a major reason why relationships don’t make it over the long term. This is one area you really will want to think about.
5. Sex and intimacy
Sexual intimacy whatever that may look like for the two of you is an important part of your coupling. Yet, how many couples ever discuss their likes, dislikes, frequency, and desires? Beginning a healthy dialog before the wedding is a way for your sex life to get better throughout your marriage…not fall by the wayside when the first stressor arises.
6. Empowering romance
One of the things I hear most often from couples in trouble is that the romance has died. Establishing healthy dating patterns, which will remain throughout your marriage, begins before you say, “I do”. This means making a realistic commitment to one another about spending quality time together. While it is normal for all couples to go through dull periods, there is a lot the both of you can do in the here and now to minimize their length and intensity.
7. Battling prejudice
While we as a community have come a very long way since the 1969 Stonewall riots, gay and lesbian couples still face prejudicial treatment. Remember that religious persecution has not magically disappeared. Families still reject gay and lesbian members who come out of the closet – particularly when a marriage is announced. Premarital counseling is an excellent way to explore any issues on this front and create a universal plan that both you and your spouse to be use for dealing with prejudice.
Summing Things Up
Now that marriage for gays and lesbians is here, all of us need to give careful thought to how we can best fortify our relationships for the here and now and the long-term. One of the best things you and your soon to be spouse can do is set make an appointment for counseling before getting married.
I am glad you took the time to read this post. If you have questions about LGBT premarital counseling, feel free to give the Couples Counseling Center a call at 773.598.7797 or send us a quick note through our confidential online contact form.