As a life coach for gay men and a happily legally married gay man in the state of New York, I help gay men navigate the issues of successful relationships. Over the past two decades I have been through the trials and tribulations of coming out, seeking my purpose, finding acceptance, working toward career success, and maintaining a long-term relationship—sometimes juggling all at the same time.
Through it all, I’ve developed several principles to help gay couples navigate their unique relationship challenges. While some of these ideas are specific to gay men based on my personal experience, others are relevant to all gay couples. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Honor your individual self. While two may become one in times of passion, each partner needs to have their own space and permission to exercise their power, usefulness, and unique personality. That often takes a lot of space with two men in the room (or really two people of any gender). Be sure to take turns leading and following, making decisions, and stepping up to the plate. Listen to your partner, but listen to yourself, too.
Hold Sunday night meetings. It may feel corny to set aside special time to meet with your partner, but if you don’t schedule time for this, it may not get done. Sunday night, which is traditionally less hectic than other times of the week, presents a great opportunity to check in with each other. Talk about your past week together, and make plans for the week ahead. Focus on sharing what’s going right, what feels wrong, and how can you show up for each other better.
Balance intimacy and autonomy. As a veteran of gay male relationships, I can say from experience that men vacillate between wanting intimacy and craving autonomy. (This is an old line from Men Are from Mars.) Lesbian relationships also fluctuate in this way, as it’s a natural human tendency to vary in these needs over time, particularly in a long-term relationship. If you embrace this concept and don’t fight it, your partnership will go more smoothly.
Expand your emotional dictionary. Many couples tend to express mad, glad, and sad. Yet there are hundreds of “shades of grey” emotions you should take time to learn, so that you can identify when you’re feeling them and can express them appropriately to your partner. I’m never surprised when a man can’t differentiate between peace, boredom, and melancholy, yet they are very different.
Co-mingle at least a portion of your money. Money is a powerful barrier in many relationships. However, it can also be an aphrodisiac. Nothing says, “We’re in this for the long haul” better than pooling some of your money and using the words “our money” rather than “my half.”
Write an annual contract. My parents always had one to help guide their relationship. It wasn’t a legal document but a personal one. It included some serious points and others that were more frivolous, like where they were going on vacation and whether they would buy a new washing machine this year. Looking ahead together and making a joint plan each year creates unity and intimacy as you work toward common goals.
My best relationship advice is to acknowledge each other. Along with honesty, acknowledgement drives fulfillment in a relationship. Everyone responds to positive reinforcement. Thank each other for the small and big things you each do to make the relationship work.