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Same-sex relationships: what to do when your partner comes out

In a same-sex relationship a mini crisis that could make or break the couple is when one or both partners are in the closet and one decides to come out to family and friends. This is something that can cause even the healthiest of established same-sex relationships to lose its balance.

Coming out may mean that you have accepted your feelings of attraction to the same sex, regardless of whether you are/have already been involved in sexual and romantic relationships with other men. It also means you are ready to disclose your sexuality to the significant people in your life. Coming out can cause upheaval as family and friends come to see you differently. 

No two coming out experiences are the same. Some can be relatively smooth and easy, while others can be difficult and emotionally taxing. Research shows that coming out can be important for the long-term mental health and happiness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Often it can be a huge relief.

So what happens when it is your boyfriend who is coming out?

In a long-term or even new relationship, one person coming out to family and friends may cause a storm the relationship needs to weather. This storm may include:

  • Your partner being rejected by friends and family. 
  • He may also fear that admitting he is gay to people may mean they see him, or indeed he sees himself as less masculine or less of a man. 
  • He could worry that being part of the gay community means being part of the gay scene which he could associate with drug and alcohol abuse, frequent casual sex, or perhaps even some inevitability about becoming HIV positive. 

He will need some help exploring the rationality of all of these thoughts. So when your boyfriend comes out he will need support, but so will you. And don't forget that the relationship itself is going to need support too.

Support for your boyfriend

You are obviously going to be an important source of support for your boyfriend. Use the 'Really Listening Model' found on the Communicating in Same-Sex Relationships tip sheet. Listen to him objectively as all 'coming outs' are different and personal. If you're already out, your coming out may not be the same as his. This means not jumping straight into advice giving, even though you may really want to find solutions to help stop your boyfriend's pain. If you are not out, don't feel pressured to come out yourself. You should come out when you are ready.

If coming out is proving tough, and friends or family are finding it tough to accept, your boyfriend may need extra support or professional help. You shouldn't be his only source of support. For professional help, look for counsellors specialising in same-sex attracted men or a family therapist who can talk to the whole family if necessary. Professional help can be found at your state AIDS council. You can also call MensLine Australia (1300 78 99 78), or access online counselling. Alternatively, you can search for a psychologist or counsellor using the below:

The Australian Psychological Society
http://www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/Default.aspx?ID=1204

The Australian Counselling Association
http://www.theaca.net.au/find_coun

Support for you

While you may need to be strong for your partner but you will also need to find some support for yourself. Be prepared to draw on your support networks, your own friends, family or co-workers. Remember, your partner may not be in a position to support you. You may also want to consider professional support for yourself. You could attend counselling independently or with your partner.

Support for the relationship

Any crisis in a relationship can make or break it. This will be a time for the team to come together rather than pull apart. Having your own individual supports is important but you also need some time to soothe 'the couple'. Find time for each other and consider couple counselling if you think you might need expert help fro your relationship. You will find specialist relationship counselling through the links above or at:

Relationships Australia
http://www.relationships.com.au

Support for family and friends

Your boyfriend's family and friends may need their own support. Each coming out is different as is each family's reaction. A family's initial response may be that of grief (loss of grandkids, family image, or son's 'planned future'). These initial responses may well change. It may be that some separation from family (moving out) is needed for a short time as the family adjusts after which reconciliation can gradually happen. Family members may also deal with stigma of a gay child or sibling. 

PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) have many useful resources that can help the friends and family of gays and lesbians.

Remember to maintain open and honest communication, find your individual supports, soothe each other and soothe the relationship. Surviving any relationship crisis can help a couple to evolve into a stronger more mature relationship designed to last much longer. It also gives you experience and skills in coping with any future crises. Plus coming out can lead to an ultimate and public acceptance of one's sexuality that can become a truly integrated part of one's identity, thus encouraging a strong and healthy same-sex relationship.

Copyright © MensLine Australia 2007

Author: Grant O'Sullivan

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