Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice
LGBTQ+ Couples Therapy Questions
Relationship Advice For Gay and Lesbian Couples
Humans are built to bond fiercely to each other. Secure attachment is a constant in every healthy relationship, and this is true for same sex couples, gay and lesbian couples, opposite sex couples, non binary couples, and “gender fluid” pairings, polyamorous relationships, “throuplings” and more. If you're looking for relationship advice for lesbian and gay relationships, hear this first: Love is love, always.
As an experienced online couples therapist who's had the honor of serving all types of couples over the years, I know that virtually all relationships have their ups and downs, particularly as attachment grows and people become more important to each other. As we spiral into deeper levels of emotional intimacy and knowing, new growth areas emerge around communication, trust, love, respect, boundaries, identity and partnership. That's a given.
However, it is also true that in addition to the usual peaks and valleys every relationship weathers eventually, gay and lesbian couples have additional layers of complexity that they often have to face together. These can put unique stressors on the relationship, but they can also offer profoundly meaningful opportunities for growth and empathy on each side. Societal pressures, family of origin relationships, internal messages around identity, and unique cultural factors must be understood and honored as well.
In this episode of the podcast, my colleague here at Growing Self, Colorado and Utah-based couples therapist Kensington Osmond gives us an overview of the nuances of LGBTQ relationships, as well as special considerations when it comes to effective gay and lesbian couples therapy. You’ll learn about the unique struggles LGBTQ couples may have to go through and the reasons why. She's also taking a deep dive into the family of origin and cultural issues that can impact so many gay and lesbian couples, and how these can be stepping stones towards greater strength, resilience and empathy.
If you’re in a same-sex relationship or have a loved one that is part of the LGBTQ+ community, this episode will give you perspective into how happy, healthy gay and lesbian couples learn, grow and thrive together.
My guest Kensington has compassionate insights from her experiences as a couples therapist for gay and lesbian couples, as well as a therapist for gay and lesbian individuals on the path of personal growth and healthy identity development. She has lots of gay and lesbian relationship advice to share, as well as thoughtful insights into healthy growth for individuals too. Here's what we're discussing:
Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice: Podcast Highlights
- Learn about Kensington’s research on the impact of religion on gay and lesbian relationships.
- Understand why members of the LGBTQ+ community can struggle with shame and low self esteem, and how to support them through it.
- Discover the similarities and differences in couples therapy for same sex couples, and opposite sex couples.
- Realize the importance of being or having a compassionate, safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to grow.
- Understand gender dysphoria, and what to do if you or someone you love is suffering with it.
- Learn essential tools for becoming empowered, and fostering self-compassion.
- Apply time-tested, evidence-based strategies of couples counseling for gay and lesbian relationships.
- And more!
You can listen to this episode, “Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you like to listen to relationship podcasts. You can also scroll down to the bottom of this page to listen right now. Join us! (And join the conversation in the comments below!)
Gay and Lesbian Relationship Advice: Key Takeaways
Difficulties with Religion as an LGBTQ+ Couple
One of the most challenging obstacles facing many gay and lesbian relationships is that many must learn how to work through the legacy of an unsupportive family of origin. This is often even more difficult for gay and lesbian individuals who grew up in strongly religious households that disparaged gay or lesbian sexual orientations or i relationships.
Kensington talks openly about her experiences growing up in the LDS (Mormon) faith, and about her work as a therapist on the campus of her alma mater, Brigham Young University. During her time there, Kensington worked with many gay and lesbian individuals and couples who were struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexual orientation. She hosted support groups for members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, and was also involved in research studies focused on understanding and assisting this population.
Although her professors and colleagues were supportive of her research regarding the LGBTQ+ community, the school was still strictly Mormon. There were a number of unique stressors and challenges for gay and lesbian students and staff. For example, students at BYU had to sign an Honor Code, which required them to not engage in LGBTQ+ relationships. Her experiences working within this system allowed Kensington to develop a deep appreciation for the struggles and triumphs of her clients navigating the complexities of culture, religion, family and self identity that many gay and lesbian individuals and couples face on their journey of growth.
Kensington reminds us that we bring our culture and upbringing with us, and that the messages we internalized early on become part of us. We also bring these parts into our relationships — both with others, and with ourselves. Kensington speaks compassionately about the complicated and real battles that can exist inside of gay and lesbian individuals, both in the LDS faith and others:
- LGBTQ persons may still have strong ties with their strict, religious families.
- Going to a religious school might be a better option for them financially.
- LGBTQ persons may not have been aware of their sexual orientation in the first place.
When considering these factors, students of the LGBTQ+ community at Brigham Young tended to explore in secret. “It kind of creates an association of shame and secrecy with love and sexuality,” Kensington says. She mentioned how this tendency towards concealment can come into relationships, and says it’s one of the most significant and most harmful long-term effects of being gay or lesbian in an unaccepting culture.
Creating a Safe Space for an LGBTQ+ Loved One
It’s quite challenging for a young person to deal with the conflicts that come with being in the LGBTQ community. There aren't a lot of LGBTQ+ role models for relationships. That can make it challenging to find your identity or see what your future may look like as an LGBTQ+ couple.
So one research that Kensington has done has to do with gender dysphoria, especially in children. Gender dysphoria and its symptoms affect those who feel they are not physically in the right body.
In talking about her research, she emphasizes the following:
- Gender dysphoria is an official diagnostic term that refers to distress and not transgender feelings.
- Although medical science is still advancing, one of the key takeaways for any approach is that children need a supportive and affirmative environment.
- The “cure” isn’t about trying to change the transgender feelings but addressing the extreme distress that it can bring.
Does Your Partner Have a Same-Sex Attraction?
Kensington also talked about how it's not uncommon for people in opposite-sex relationships to suspect that their partner may have a same-sex orientation or attraction. If you’re an adult in a relationship and suspect that your partner or spouse may be more attracted to the same sex, you want to be a safe space for them to open up.
Kensington remarks about the desire to be your partner’s safe space and says, “I think that shows a lot of love and respect for the experiences or the feelings your partner might be having.”
Figuring out how to approach this situation may be daunting, but she says it doesn’t matter how or what you say. To have that kind of conversation, Kensington says that it’s essential to cultivate the right environment of openness, trust, and vulnerability.
Self-Acceptance in an LGBTQ+ Relationship
“Everyone wants to love and be loved,” Kensington says. As someone who has worked with LGBTQ+ support groups and LGBTQ+ couples therapy, she has witnessed LGBTQ+ couples still dealing with shame in their thirties or forties.
Despite being open and free, they may be feeling leftover shame from their adolescent years. Regardless of the relationship’s nature, feelings of shame and guilt are subconsciously hurtful for both the individual and their partner.
So what are the core things or steps you want to take when addressing shame?
- Name the emotion. To be fully aware of the feeling, you should acknowledge its existence and then name it.
- Recognize when the feelings are coming up. Once you’re able to identify your feelings of shame, it’s also essential to recognize what “triggers” the emotions.
- Choose to do something different. When the emotion arrives, you want to address it and then choose not to act on it. Doing this makes all the difference in your journey towards acceptance.
“You heal from that shame through becoming aware of it.” Sometimes, Kensington adds, you might feel ashamed for even feeling shame in the first place. Although it might be a struggle, it’s crucial to recognize that that’s completely okay.
Polyamory in LGBTQ+ Long-Term Relationships
Most non-heterosexual long-term relationships tend to happen later on in life for LGBTQ+ people compared to heterosexuals. Because of this delay, sometimes one or both individuals may want to explore. Although this might affect “expectations of fidelity,” open or polyamorous relationships have become an option for many.
In cases like these, it’s crucial to consider:
- There is no one way to have a happy relationship. Each relationship can find its unique way of approaching things like consensual non-monogamy, as long as the foundations are there.
- To have an open relationship requires an enormous amount of trust. As mentioned, a strong foundation is necessary when you want to venture into relationships that don’t adhere to “societal expectations.”
- Recognize and honor your “firsts” relationship, but don’t let it hinder you. It’s easy to be attached to your first, especially if you’re in an LGBTQ+ long-term relationship. However, it’s acceptable to acknowledge that they may not be “the one.”
Kensington remarks, “I think there’s a way to honor that special attachment and connection, even if it feels like they’re not going to be my life partner.”
- Growing Self – if you’re looking for an online LGBTQ couples therapist or a Colorado LGBTQ+ couples counselor, get in touch with us to request a free consultation session.
- How Healthy Is Your Relationship Quiz: Take our free online how healthy is your relationship quiz to discover the strengths and growth opportunities in your relationship.
Kensington Osmond has covered some valuable points on LGBTQ+ relationships. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.
Did you like this interview? Subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss an episode. Be sure to follow up on Instagram (@Growing_Self, and also @DrLisaMarieBobby) for daily doses of inspirational personal growth and relationship advice to help you create the love, happiness and success you deserve.
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LBGTQ+ Relationship Advice
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Lesbian and Gay Relationship Advice: Podcast Transcript
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.
The roots of electronic dance music, my friends from the year of our Lord, 1977. That is Giorgio Moroder with a song From Here to Eternity, little nod to the mastermind behind a lot of electronic dance music disco, he was one of the producers, I understand, of Donna Summers’ music. I wanted to illuminate just one of the amazing and glorious facets of gay culture that I so appreciate, and there is much more to gay culture than just parties. My goodness, personally, some of the happiest and most fun, most magical moments of my young life were spent in clubs by, for, and about gay people. We had the best time. I probably shouldn't tell you this because I was such a bad little bunny.
When I was 18 years old, and I was in college, I had a college ID with a little laminated front and I lifted it up with a razor blade and changed the date of my birth with a sharpie marker. It was so bad. It was like so obvious. And it trooped up to the coolest gay club in town with my friends, all in our little baggy pants. I will never forget this incredibly merciful bouncer person who just sort of took one look at my ID and was like, “Happy birthday baby.” We went in and had the time of our lives, and just so many so many fond memories.
That's not why we're here today is to hear me reminisce, what we're here to do, is to talk about gay, same sex relationships. Specifically, I don't specialize in same sex relationships, it's quite a specialty. Over the years, I've worked with a number of same sex couples and individuals, and I think we do great work. I have become aware — thanks to your feedback, frankly, that because of my own mostly heterosexual personal orientation and just what I usually do, with heterosexual couples, it's very easy for me to slide into kind of this worldview, that really talks mostly about male-female relationships. Thank you so much for those of you who have reached out recently on Instagram, on Facebook, through the website at growingself.com to say, “What about this situation? Can you please speak to my life on the podcast?” I was “You know what? you're totally right.” So I'm listening.
I also though, want to say just to share my own, I think I have a sense of humility here. I don't feel like an expert on that subject. I know a fair amount about relationships. There's a lot of similarities between everybody's relationship. There are also unique, special experiences that that gay, lesbian, bisexual individuals have, that also need to be discussed and respected and prioritized. Over the years, I have actually worked, hard to try to build a really diverse team here at Growing Self, and I'm proud of what we have accomplished.
Now, we have people from all walks of life, we have counselors on our team who are black, Hispanic, multiracial, identify as Hindu Muslim. I mean, that really running the gamut. Over the years, I have also been very, very open and receptive to people who have applied with us who identify as gay or lesbian, or sort of have a special orientation to that population through their work as therapists and I have not yet found my person, our person.
I think it's because when we interview people to join our team, we're very, very careful to make sure that they really have the kind of education and experience that we're looking for, particularly when it comes to things like couples counseling because 98% of therapists and coaches who are conducting couples counseling really don't have the specialized training and experience that I feel that they should have to ethically and responsibly do a good job. Because of that, have not moved forward with certain candidates and even though I would have liked to, because they were lovely people and have that special insight to that population.
I'm still on the hunt for my unicorn. We do have somebody on our team who, even though she does not personally identify as being gay or lesbian, has a lot of really special insight into this population, working with them as a therapist, as a couple’s counselor, and also has a really interesting, I think, like, personal life history that gives her so much relevant understanding of some of the unique pressures that LGBTQ couples, individuals and families face on a regular basis.
I am so pleased to introduce you guys to my fun, wonderful colleague, Kensington Osman. She's Marriage and Family Therapist on our team. She does individual therapy and life coaching as well. And Kensington, thank you so much for joining me today.
Kensington Osman: Hello, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Dr. Lisa: Well, I'm excited to have you here with me. I just as an aside, have to say, I don't know if I've said this out loud to you, Kensington, but I'll say it now, you know in my role here at growing self, I do a number of different things. One of my favorite pieces of this is having the opportunity to connect with earlier career clinicians like yourself, who I just see as being blazingly talented and smart and committed and just so passionate about the work that you do, and have really appreciated the opportunity to get to know you. Just to be a small part of your mentoring team, I just view you as such a talent and thank you.
Kensington: Yeah, thank you, Lisa, that's so nice. I feel really, really blessed to be part of the Growing Self team and be part of this community.
Dr. Lisa: Not fast, well, good, we have a good time together. In addition to just enjoying you and getting to know you and having respect for the work that you do over the course of our time getting to know each other, I have really developed a deep appreciation for your perspective. Particularly around same sex couples, transgendered individuals, or people who are not just kind of working through matters of their sexual identity, but really doing so in a challenging context. If it's okay, I would love it if you would take just a moment and share a little bit about your background and the circumstances in which you've begun connecting with people who are dealing with these things, because I think it's really relevant.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to. Yeah. So first of all, I'm from the Chicago area, and I was raised in an active Mormon family. I would say that within my family, it was fairly progressive, relatively speaking, when it comes to LGBTQ matters. I have some family members and loved ones who are part of that community.
As a whole, right, the Mormon community has not been very progressive when it comes to LGBTQ issues. That really came into play for me when I went out to school — I went to Brigham Young University, and I got my master's degree in marriage and family therapy there. While there had the opportunity to work with a lot of clients who were part of the Mormon community, and also part of the BYU community, and who were wrestling with some of these issues of how to reconcile their sexuality or their gender identity with their community and their cultural background that they love so much.
I think, it was really in, in that circumstance in that situation where I was able to understand and gain a lot of empathy for what this community, specifically, experiences when they're, yeah, trying to make sense of this type of conflict.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I think that's one thing that really needs to be discussed and appreciated because we have general relationship questions come through. I think much of the relationship advice or approaches that we offer in our practice apply to all couples, right? Also true, though, that same sex individuals and couples really have challenges not even from within their relationship, but from outside of their relationship are significant stressors and family of origin. If they come from religious backgrounds that may not be affirming to their way of being it's really a lot to deal with. You have done so much work with people really in that space that I think is so valuable.
I mean, if we were even to start there, so in addition to your work as a therapist and marriage counselor, and as a relationship coach, there's that piece of it. I mean, if we could even start with the fact that you've also participated in a number of research initiatives, through BYU, kind of examining some of the unique strengths and challenges of these communities.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the research projects you've been involved with and what they’ve uncovered?
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I was lucky enough while I was in my grad program at BYU to have some really, really supportive professors and mentors. I worked on three different, academic projects, that we're related to the LGBTQ community. As well as, I also helped lead a support group for BYU students, who were kind of trying to reconcile their sexual orientation or gender identity with being a BYU student. Those academic projects that I worked on. I wrote one paper that looked at how to treat a family where one of the children was struggling with gender dysphoria, and how to treat that from a systemic perspective. I also…
Dr. Lisa: Slowing down just a little bit, can you, just for listeners who may not be familiar with that term gender dysphoria, can you talk a little bit about what that means? Also, just occurred to me that some of our listeners may not fully understand the significance of BYU as really being an institution that is by, for and about my understanding, at least people who identify as being LDS or Mormon is that a very strong faith-based institution?
Kensington: Yeah, and I think that's really important context to have. Absolutely. BYU is, yeah, an institution primarily for LDS students. You can attend or be a faculty member there if you're not LDS. They do have an honor code, that everyone — whether you work there, or you're a student there is required to commit to and sign. Part of the Honor Code is that you will not engage in same sex romantic relationship.
Dr. Lisa: Really? I did not know that. Is that the same for heterosexual people, are they allowed to engage in sexual activity outside of age?
Kensington: Great question. This is where there's the kind of the discriminatory piece or the difference piece, because if you're in a heterosexual relationship, you're allowed to engage in that romantically. Part of the Honor Code is saving sex for marriage. Not engaging in, actual sexual intercourse while you're a student if you're not married. If you're a student who does identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, part of the Honor Code is to not even hold hands or hug with whom you have romantic feelings for.
Dr. Lisa: I didn't know that.
Kensington: Yeah, yeah. So it can be a really, really difficult place to be — to put it mildly right to be an LGBT person, right? If it's found that you violate the honor code, you can actually — if you're a student — you can be expelled, diversity or if you're a faculty member, you can lose your job.
Dr. Lisa: Okay. I know that I asked you about your research, and I would like to hear about your research. I mean, for the benefit of our listeners, because I'm sure that so many people can identify, I think, generally in our larger culture, there can be a lot of discrimination around people who identify as LGBTQ plus or any of those things. What you're describing is sort of like this ground zero of extreme that we're at least overt described, and how would you describe the I mean, even motivation for a student who is gay or lesbian or bisexual to put themselves in that situation in the first place? Then what did you see as being some of the mental and emotionally legacy of trying to exist in that kind of environment? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Kensington: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. I think the first part, right of why would you go to BYU, if you are part of the LGBTQ plus community, right? This is a question that gets brought up quite a bit within the Mormon community, right, kind of this idea of, well, if you don't like it, then don't come here.
I think part of what that discussion really misses is that a lot of the time these students are coming from these really strong Mormon families, right. There can be a lot of family pressure to go to BYU. BYU, also, academically, it's a great school, and the tuition is highly subsidized if you're a member of the church. It is a really affordable option, as well financially. Also, I think there's a lot of students who come to BYU, who maybe have some thoughts that maybe they might identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual, but haven't fully realized that yet, or kind of accepted it.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that makes sense because they’re so young. They're 18, 19 years old, and really just having the opportunity to be in college to kind of discover themselves. That makes sense. So much.
Kensington: Yeah, and so I think that there's a lot of really valid reasons why someone who does identify as LGBTQ plus would find themselves being a student in BYU.
Dr. Lisa: That makes perfect sense.
I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what you've learned about their inner experience. I think that it is probably if I were to put myself in that space of empathetically, sort of an intense kind of condensed version of what many people experience even outside of that kind of environment in terms of the conflict.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I had the pleasure of working with quite a few students who were at BYU, right, who did identify as part of that community. I mean, across the board, there was just a lot of anxiety and feelings of being conflicted. Right? On the one hand, they're so grateful to be at BYU, right? It's a wonderful school and a lot of respect. Also wrestling with, like, the religious belief piece, right? How do I reconcile how I feel, and what I believe my religion is telling me about how I feel? Right?
I think as well, part of what I've seen with students, kind of like the long-term effects, right of this type of environment, is that naturally a lot of students who identify as LGBTQ plus wow, they are at the university will kind of in secret, right, want to explore some of their sexuality, which is normal and make sense, right? Really, it kind of creates this association of shame and secrecy with love and sexuality.
I think that's one of the biggest, long term harmful effects that I've seen is really like this association of shame and needing to keep things secret with what could be such a beautiful, wonderful, meaningful thing, right, sexuality and partnership.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. I am certain that everyone who has had that experience of recognizing that inside of themselves and coming out unless they have the privilege to have been born in an unusually supportive family and community can really relate to that. That sort of sense of shame or secrecy, that that gets indoctrinated when people are attempting to be who they are in the context of a culture that is, that is not as supportive as it should be. Really.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think the other piece, and I think this applies not only to LGBTQ individuals and couples within Mormonism, but within our culture as a whole, right? There's just not a lot of representation, or, l role models, really, of elderly couples, who have had this wonderful, beautiful life together, who are part of this community, right? I think that when you're young, and when you're struggling with trying to figure out your path and your identity, it can be really difficult to create a vision of your future when there's not a lot of things that you can a lot of examples who you can look to.
Dr. Lisa: Right, right. Well, I could totally see that and could imagine that perhaps part of the work that you've done and kind of building people up on the inside who are experiencing that conflict, is perhaps beginning to introduce them to other ways of being, or role models, or examples of like long term, gay couples who have had a beautiful life and long happy fulfilling relationships and families that that could be very healing for them.
Kensington: Absolutely, yeah, I think that having hope and having excitement for the future, and like, believes that the future is going to be positive. I think that's something that every human being really needs to thrive, right? Certainly I think that that has been really helpful for some of my clients in these situations. Right?
Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for taking that little detour with me. You're also about to start talking about some other research that you've done, particularly around gender dysphoria and young people and kind of family systems approach to help them. Can you talk a little bit more about what gender dysphoria means?
Kensington: Yeah, I'd be happy to. Yeah, gender dysphoria, it's like the official diagnostic term for when somebody not only identifies as being transgender, but also experiences a significant level of distress that impacts their social or their occupational functioning.
It’s really got kind of those two pieces of number one, you feel that you're not in the right body. That it's causing you really significant distress as well. That's what gender dysphoria means, right. That's a diagnosis that that is given to people who experience those symptoms.
What my research focused on was children who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and how to help their families know how to support them through that process. And this is an issue that can be a little bit tricky, right? Science is still advancing and medicine is still advancing, and there's not just one approach that has been deemed, like the best course of action to treat this disorder in children and to support their families.
That kind of the scientific consensus right now is around kind of just creating a supportive family environment for the child to continue to grow and explore and have that affirmation and that support. Once they are older, right, and are able to make the decision for themselves, they're able to do so.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and also, and just wanting to be clear that the disordered piece of this is not that they really think of themselves and feels a different sex than their body is. The disordered part is that there's a lot of negative emotion around that. It's how do we help them feel better being stuck in the body that doesn't feel like the right one for them. That you're saying that the path really that supported by research, is to have an emotionally safe environment where they're accepted for who and what they are and how they feel is okay. Really kind of coaching parents around how to respond affirmatively and supportively to their child, but that creating that safe place to have those feelings is ultimately the — air quote — “cure.” I love it.
Kensington: Right. Yeah, absolutely. That the cure isn't about trying to change the transgendered feeling or anything of that nature. It's really about, yes, like you said, addressing the extreme distress, that can often come along with having those. Having that.
Gay Relationship Advice
Dr. Lisa: Well, and you know what, this is probably a nice segue into something that I did want to speak with you about today, which is, and perhaps some of your other research could come into play here. Is the fact that what we know is that when it comes to same sex relationships, specifically, is that their relationships in exactly the same way that all relationships are. That the fundamental principles of having a healthy relationship and a solid connection, and good communication are the same no matter who you love. Certainly, there are some differences and unique challenges, we could talk about those as well. What has become your understanding of what those fundamental, elemental, just truths of all relationships are? Both from your professional experience, but also your research?
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think, right here, right, it's really that it comes down to that everyone really wants to love and to be loved. To have a safe place to grow and explore. That is, really, I think, the core universal truth of all relationships, regardless of right, gender identity or expression, right, regardless of sexual orientation. We really just all we want the same thing. We want love and companionship and partnership.
I think that's really like the core truth, the core similarity. Even in an application, like in some of the some of the themes that I work on with couples in therapy, really are similar as well between straight couples as well as same sex couple. Good communication, every couple needs that, right? The skills that I teach to my straight couples are the same as the skills that I teach to my same sex couples. In addition to attachment, and I, I know that you've talked a little bit about attachment on your podcast before, right?
Dr. Lisa: Never hurts to do it again. How do you understand attachment?
Kensington: Yeah. Well, and I understand attachment as our desire and comfort with closeness and distance or like autonomy in a relationship, right. That's something that comes into play again, regardless of your gender identity, or your sexual orientation or those of your partners. I really think a lot of the, I said, a lot of the themes that come up in couples therapy are the same, regardless of if a couple is straight, or if they're gay, right. It, it doesn't matter. I think the differences that are maybe just some of the more contextual.
Dr. Lisa: For every couple that those core themes always come up. It’s really at the core of “relationship problems”, air quotes again, but it's that, “Do you love me? Do I trust you? Are you an emotionally safe person for me to be close to open up to? Do I feel understood by you and do you feel understood by me? Do you feel safe with me? Do you feel loved with me?” At the root of it, those are always things that we're helping couples figure out and the content of those conversations can take many forms around — unloading the dishwasher, or having sex or finances or how we talk to each other. That's the fabric of every relationship. That's always true.
LGBTQ Couples Therapy
Dr. Lisa: You're saying, though, that with same sex couples, that there's a contextual piece, and maybe even a cultural piece. It can be different. How do you understand those?
Kensington: Absolutely. Well, I think, just as when you're working with a couple that comes from any community, there's going to be certain cultural or contextual pieces that are a little bit different. Whether it's a couple that is international and it's from a very different culture, or a couple where both partners are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some of those things, and we've touched on this a little bit. A lot of the time, it tends to revolve around family of origin stuff. One of the one of the unique challenges that LGBTQ+ couples have to face is coming out, that's something that straight people don't have to worry about — coming out as straight. That's something that definitely can come up in therapy, whether both partners are out who they're out to, and what their coming out experiences were like — what kinds of responses they received, and how safe they feel, with their family after those experiences.
Dr. Lisa: I wondered, thinking through this, if you found that imagining a young adolescent being either in a family that isn't supportive to their way of being, or that the adolescent fears that their family might not be supportive, or feeling kind of discrimination in the community, found that with same sex couples, some of that sort of insensible self-preservation instincts to kind of conceal or hide certain aspects of themselves, does that carry over with them into adulthood and into their relationships with their partners? Or does that just vary by individual? Would you say?
Kensington: Yeah, that's a great question. I think in my experience, it's a little bit of both, right? I think that when we're young and we, we feel that there's something that's wrong with us, right? Or we feel that there's something that we have to hide, then I think that that can become a pattern into adulthood of feeling that maybe there's always going to be something wrong with us, or always something that we need to hide or keep in from our partner, or from others around us in order to feel loved and accepted. I have seen that in some of my couples before. I do think that it varies by individual.
Dr. Lisa: Sure. Hey, that's true for heterosexual people in heterosexual relationships, too. That we can take all kinds of things with us. I didn't know if it was something that you saw more of. Maybe sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no, we can't make sweeping statements about populations of people that we're all individuals.
Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think that that is, again, and even if people experience that in adolescence and kind of feel that they've worked through that. I think that there's still the fact that that shame was experienced when we were adolescents does carry a lasting impact, right? I've absolutely worked with couples who are in their 30s or their 40s or older, and they're out to everybody, and they feel generally accepted, right and feel generally secure in their relationship. There's still that shame piece. Deep inside that comes from when they were in their adolescence. We're feeling a lot of these fears. I think that the way that I've seen that have the most lasting impact is just through carrying that feeling of shame — that ultimately there, there might be something wrong with me, even if I'm not sure exactly what it is.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. How I mean, I think in my experience, that kind of toxic shame can be really insidious. It's only powerful, I think, when we're not fully conscious that it's happening, there's a sort of like, reflexive feeling. Just sort of like shine a light in the direction of hope that I have also seen that when people understand that they do feel that way sometimes, and that there's a reason for it. They sort of like be consciously aware of, “Oops, my shame just got triggered. And I don't need to believe that and I'm going to take a chance and say how I feel and trust that I'm going to be loved for who and what I am anyway.” That it can be overcome. That it can be a process.
Kensington: Right. Absolutely. Well, and I think exactly like you said. The way that I've seen people grow from that and heal from that shame is through becoming aware of it and naming it right. I think there can even be shame sometimes in the fact that people still carry some of that shame, right?
Dr. Lisa: I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed.
Kensington: I’m coming out, I'm proud, right? Why do I still have this little sense inside of me that is familiar, that I've, that I've felt since I was younger? Really, it's normal. Right? It's, I think, understanding it’s there, understanding that it doesn't make you a bad person that it’s still there. Being able to name it and recognize it when it's coming up. Those are all the big steps to then being able to say, “Okay, it's here, and I'm choosing to do something different.”
Dr. Lisa: I'm so glad that we're talking about this, this is the theme of the year, as far as I'm concerned for, like 2021 It is like radical self-acceptance. There's just been so much energy that people put into changing certain aspects of themselves. I just love what you're saying that it's actually okay, if you still feel shame flare ups, it’s okay. Thank you just for mentioning that.
As you kind of reflect on it. I's more specific, maybe to some of the couples that you've worked with same sex couples. Are there other things that you've noticed that feel maybe more like unique challenges for them, not that they don't exist in heterosexual couples, but maybe more commonly exist in same sex couples?
Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think part of it as well is or one thing that I've seen is a lot of the time heterosexual individuals will have a lot of their kind of sexual awakening experiences and really formative experiences in their teens. People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community will tend to have some of those experiences a little bit later, at least for right now, while it still remains kind of difficult to come out when you're young.
One thing that I've seen is with some of my, some of my couples, is just this feeling of wanting to do more exploration. Especially with my couples who are maybe in their 20s, they're kind of learning things about their sexuality and, their sexual preferences, that maybe their heterosexual counterparts learned at a younger age. There's a lot of sexual exploration that I have worked with and seen happen. The wonderful thing about being in a relationship that feels safe, and where you feel trusted and know is that you can feel safe to have those experiences and really explore your sexuality. That's something that I would say I've worked with quite a bit in addition to like the family of origin pieces and shame pieces that come up.
Dr. Lisa: Well, because I don't think that I have the level of experience that you do in working with a specific population, and over the years, I have had a number of same sex couples. When I think about some of their pain points for younger couples, specifically. I hear what you're saying that, because people couldn't maybe explore the way a 15 year old street kid, cause, they're finally like, “Alright”, when they're 25, and that this can create friction in a couple.
What I have seen, and what I think you're also alluding to is what can happen in a couple around sort of expectations of fidelity, and being kind of in a committed monogamous relationship, where perhaps one person in the couple is wanting that more than the other person who may love their partner very much. Many aspects of the relationship, but who is still in that space of figuring themselves out and who maybe isn't ready to have the same commitment to never sleeping with another person, besides you, again. That can be a real stressor and pain point it when there's differences of hopes or needs or expectations in a couple. Is that what you've seen also?
Kensington: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think I've seen this the most in couples where maybe one person was out before the other person, right? And so maybe had more chances or more opportunities to experiment sexually. That that's definitely a kind of a unique pain point that I've seen it with my same sex couples. I've also seen them figure out how to navigate this in really beautiful, wonderful, unique ways.
I think that's one of the wonderful things about relationships today, is that it's becoming more accepted that people can create the stories for their own relationships, and create their own expectations. Kind of throwing off some of these societal ideals of like, “I'm committed to you. And that means X, Y, and Z for the rest of my life”, there's a little bit more flexibility.
Dr. Lisa: I think I hear you sort of alluding to things like open relationships or sort of different configurations. I want to have you back on the show maybe to talk about that more like no, because I think that that's important, too, is that there isn't any one way to have a healthy happy relationship. It is also true that to have a healthy, high quality, open relationship or polyamorous relationship, potentially, it requires an enormous amount of trust and communication. So many foundational things that I think are worth discussing at more length. I'm glad that you just brought up that there are so many different ways of being and that maybe they're all okay, and for a couple to have the time and space to figure out what that looks like for them. I love that.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I think exactly like you said, and I, I'd love to talk about this more in detail on another podcast. I think that, really, yeah, that communication piece and that trust piece, it's what's essential in every relationship. Right? Especially in relationships where you're considering, like consensual non monogamy. That’s okay. That communication and that trust are things that can be built and that can be developed, right?
Dr. Lisa: Thank you for talking about that. And then I know that — gosh, I could just talk to you all day, Kensington. You’re a joy. And if it’s okay, we have had a couple of specific questions come through our Instagram page, actually, if anybody would like to ask you a question down @drlisamariebobby or @growing_self on Instagram.
One of our followers, I think, brought up a really interesting point where they were sort of saying that they feel a special kind of attachment or sort of weight attached to the very first relationship that they had after coming out. I think their point was, I think part of the question was, a) is this a thing, but also like, how I think confusing it can be if the very first relationship that you have after coming out, like, there are so many things, it's like, sort of finally, I get to be myself and this is the person that I get to do it with. There are so many firsts.
It can also be true that it isn't ultimately your life partner that you're doing that with and sort of how to negotiate that really profound attachment on the one hand with also the reality that it's important to have different relationships, and not every person you date is going to be the one and I wonder how you would speak to that situation?
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad someone asked this question. I think it's a great question. First of all, I would say, super normal to feel this really special connection, right? With the person who you are first with after coming out, because not only is it a reflection of, finally” I get to be with this person who I'm really attracted to and really have feelings for.” I think part of that attachment also comes from the fact that you are finally being feeling free to live authentically. I think that feeling that intensity, right, feeling that intense connection, totally is normal, and totally makes sense and is the thing that a lot of people in a similar situation experience.
I also think that it's important to, like you said, balance that with knowing that, “Okay, this might not be your life partner. That is okay. Wonderful if they are, it's also okay, if they're not, right?” I think that doesn't mean that the relationship has to feel less special, right? There always going to be the first person who you experienced a lot of firsts with and the first person who you were able to be with in a really authentic, open, non-secretive way. I think that there's a way to honor that special attachment and connection, even if it feels like maybe they're not going to be my life partner forever. Right?
Dr. Lisa: Well, I love it. Just again, how affirming, that they can be so special and important and wonderful. That maybe we come together for a reason. It's okay to just celebrate and it doesn't diminish the specialness or the love.
Dr. Lisa: Okay. All right. One more question. I believe this one also came through Instagram. This is actually a question that has come up a few different times. I've even seen this in the comment section of the blog at growingself.com, which is a person and a couple is a heterosexual couple, who suspects that their partner may have tendencies or desires to be with a person of the same sex.
I've heard I've had this actually come up a few times that either the partner that they're with has a history of same sex relationships, so maybe they identify more as bisexual. But I've also even heard it married couples with kids, where one of ours sort of has the suspicion that their spouse may have more same sex attractions. I think the question is, how do I bring that up in a safe way that doesn't make them feel bad or shamed or blamed or accused, but also sort of fosters the kind of authenticity and transparency that we probably need to have in our relationship? Do you have any thoughts about that?
Kensington: Yeah, well, I think I think that's a great question too. Kudos to anyone who's able to ask this question, in the spirit of, “I want to be a safe person.” Right. I think that shows a lot of love and respect, right for the experiences or the feelings that your partner might be having. I don't have a magic phrase to use. I do think that it's important that when we bring this up with our partner, it's done with all of those intentions in mind, right? Of, “I'm asking this question, because I love this person. And I want to know the truth. I want them to feel safe to be authentic with me. Right?”
Cultivating right and environment in the relationship of a vulnerability, and openness and trust. I think those things are really important precursors to being able to have this conversation.
Dr. Lisa: Well, what a good reminder and I love what you're saying that the words don't matter. Specifically what you say, or how you say it, doesn't matter nearly as much as being in an emotional state of like, passion and empathy, and love. Because no matter what you say, if you're in that space emotionally, that's what people will feel. That's what they'll receive. A good reminder that to be able to manage anxiety about what it might mean for your relationship. Be aware of whether that is coming up and how you're managing that so that you can stay in that space of like, genuine compassion and authenticity with your partner. If you're in that space, it's golden. You're good.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely, Well and one final thing I'll say about them, too, because I think if you are experiencing anxiety about what does this mean, for my relationship? That's normal. And that makes sense. I don't think that that makes you any less loving or compassionate for feeling some of those things. I wouldn't have the conversation when you're in the height of feeling emotion. Right?
Dr. Lisa: Good advice. For all of us. Good advice.
Kensington: Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, well, this has been such a wonderful conversation. I have to tell you, as we've been talking, I've been kind of making a mental list of things that I would like to speak with you more about. We already have, what should we call, non-traditional relationship structures on leg things to talk about? Also, as we were talking, I was thinking that when, and I don't think we have time to get into this today, excuse me, but like, I would love to maybe have you come back and share your insight on both for LGBTQ people who have to figure out how to reconcile their way of being — their like essential selves with their faith traditions.
I think even more generally, I think that squaring what you/we have been taught to believe, and the messages that come from religions or faith institutions, as we emerge into adulthood, sometimes we have a lot of things to figure out there. I've certainly experienced that in my own life, but working with people to who even as adults have recognized that some of their earlier experiences growing up in religions are very, like, strict faith communities where we're not to their benefit and really having a lot of work to do.
I know that we don't have really time to go into that topic fully today, but I would love for you to come back sometime and we'll go there because I think that would be really helpful to a lot of our listeners.
Kensington: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love to come back and talk about some of those things.
Dr. Lisa: Well, thank you for doing this with me today. This was wonderful.
Kensington Osmond everyone. If you'd like to learn more about Kensington or her practice you can learn more about her at growingself.com. Kensington is currently licensed as a marriage and family therapist candidate both in Utah and in Colorado. And she also does a lot of relationship coaching and individual coaching to people all over the place. So, thank you so much, Kensington. It's been a pleasure. I really appreciate your time.
Kensington: Yeah, thank you, Lisa.
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