Popular stereotypes of gay relationships are that they are shallow, or unhealthy, or downright malevolent. Homophobes leverage these stereotypes in their campaigns to illegitimize and demean homosexuals. However, two studies out today in the journal Development Psychology pretty much scupper those arguments.
The first (Roisman et al) compared gay and lesbian couples with heterosexual couples in a laboratory-based “relationship interaction” task – basically, they had to fill out some questionnaires and then talk about a problem area in their relationship while being observed and monitored for skin conductance and cardiac activity. The results: gay and straight couples are basically the same.
The notion that committed same-sex relationships are “atypical, psychologically immature, or malevolent contexts of development was not supported by our findings,” said lead author Glenn I. Roisman, PhD. “Compared with married individuals, committed gay males and lesbians were not less satisfied with their relationships.”
Furthermore, said Roisman, “Gay males and lesbians in this study were generally not different from their committed heterosexual counterparts on how well they interacted with one another, although some evidence emerged the lesbian couples were especially effective at resolving conflict.”
The second study (Balsam et al) followed 200 couples for 3 years. It found that gay relationships (whether of not they were legitimized by a ‘civil union’) were actually superior to heterosexual ones – they reported more positive feelings toward their partners and less conflict. The investigators suggest that this surprising result is perhaps due to selection bias: because gay couples are under less societal and legal pressure to remain together, unhappy couples may be less likely to form. The study found that same-sex couples not in a civil union were more likely to break up.
Roisman et al. Adult Romantic Relationships as Contexts of Human Development: A Multimethod Comparison of Same-Sex Couples with Opposite-Sex Dating, Engaged, and Married Dyads. Development Psychology 2008;44:91-101.
Balsam et al. Three-year follow-up of same-sex couples who had civil unions in Vermont, same-sex couples not in civil unions, and heterosexual married couples. Development Psychology 2008;44:102-116.