ERP 415: What LGBTQ Couples Can Teach Us About Relationship — An Interview with Laurel Roberts-Meese

By Posted in - Podcast March 12th, 2024 0 Comments

Couples face a myriad of challenges, from communication breakdowns to navigating societal expectations. Navigating these challenges and fostering growth requires intentional effort and understanding. However, for LGBTQ couples, unique dynamics often come into play, from negotiating identity acceptance to addressing external biases.

In this episode, we delve into the rich tapestry of LGBTQ relationships, exploring the strengths they offer and the challenges they face. Through insightful discussions on communication, identity affirmation, and seeking inclusive support, this episode provides actionable steps for all couples seeking to deepen their connection and thrive together.

Join us as we explore what LGBTQ+ couples can teach us about nurturing healthy and thriving relationships.

Laurel is a licensed therapist and the Clinical Director of Laurel Therapy Collective, an online therapy practice that provides customized therapy to driven professionals in California, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Her practice offers individual and couples therapy with an emphasis on trauma recovery and LGBT+ affirmative care.

In this episode

05:56 The importance of shared identity and experiences in therapy for better outcomes.

10:48 Navigating licensing complexities for teletherapy across California Pennsylvania and Florida.

16:07 Lessons from LGBTQ+ relationships for all couples.

22:16 The significance of breaking away from prescribed relationship models and embracing a growth mindset in partnerships.

27:50 The power of language in shaping relationships.

34:25 Navigating common challenges in couples therapy.

37:20 Navigating unique challenges in LGBT couples relationships.

45:24 Identifying key criteria when seeking a couples therapist.

48:21 Holistic telehealth therapy services for couples and individuals.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Foster open and honest communication by actively listening to your partner’s perspectives and feelings.
  • Embrace flexibility and avoid defaulting to traditional gender roles, allowing each partner to express themselves authentically.
  • Prioritize intentionality in your relationship by discussing and co-creating shared values and goals.
  • Practice conflict resolution techniques that prioritize empathy, humor, and affection, even during moments of tension.
  • Cultivate a culture of appreciation by regularly expressing gratitude for your partner’s contributions and qualities.
  • Seek support from therapists who understand and respect your identities and experiences, ensuring a safe and inclusive space for growth.
  • Continuously invest in your relationship by staying curious, learning, and adapting together as you navigate life’s challenges and celebrations.

Mentioned

Same-Sex Couples (*The Gottman Institute) (research)

Therapy Den

Inclusive Therapists

Dr. Sue Johnson

The Gottman Institute

Imago Relationship

Connect with Laurel Roberts-Meese

Websites: laureltherapy.net

Facebook: facebook.com/laureltherapycollective

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCzmtQve6GOsJt2z9XZ02nZA

Instagram: instagram.com/laureltherapycollective

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/laurel-therapy

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Laurel, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thanks for having me.

Yes. I am really excited about all the work that you do to support couplehood, especially serving the LGBT+ community, and just talking about relationship in general, and how perhaps people in heterosexual relationships can perhaps benefit from some of the strengths and where the LGBT+ community is excelling. Also, just helping the LGBT+ community where there are some challenges that are unique to that experience, and maybe helping support where there can be more resource. So I love this. 

Absolutely. You know, I love talking to straight couples about what they can learn from LGBT couples. Because for so long, LGBT couples were seen as lesser; they didn’t have the same rights that other couples did. There’s some real strength that I think don’t get talked about enough, and I just love sharing those with everyone. 

Wonderful! Well, before we dive into our topic, would you be willing to share a little bit more about you, as people perhaps are getting to know you here? 

Sure. So I am a licensed therapist in California, Pennsylvania, and Florida. I have a team of therapists, including some really great couples’ therapists; they serve California and Florida as well. We have been working together for a couple years, and really leaning into this niche of serving the LGBT community, but also serving people that have really demanding lives, that have high levels of stress, that are dealing with either relational or external trauma. This is the work that really lights me up; how our relationships are so central to our lives, and when we can make them as healthy and empowered as possible, it just takes any lid or cap off of our happiness. So it’s just such important work. 

Agreed. I love just the word “central,” because it is typically where we’re feeling most supported, regulated in that kind of inner bonding, and how that affects all aspects of our life, every domain. I really appreciate just the wisdom around that. Did you set out to really target this in your therapeutic training? Or was this something you developed into? 

No, I didn’t. I was working in a really fabulous, kind of a combination of private practice community mental health clinic, like a sliding scale clinic, as I was getting my licensure hours. I happened to be the only LGBT person on staff. So whenever someone would call saying, I really want to work with someone that I can share an affinity with, it would be me. So I built up a caseload very quickly, and just really enjoyed the work. When there’s that bonding over a salient part of your identity, no matter what it is, you get better outcomes in therapy. So for a person of color, it might be really important to them to work with a therapist of color. Or someone that has had a pivotal life experience, like immigration, or growing up with a parent that was incarcerated, or even someone that is comfortable with a lot of wealth. I mean, wealth can be very isolating. 

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“Working with a therapist that doesn’t understand whatever your culture is, you end up spending a lot of time educating them. So when you don’t have to do that, when you have a shared identity or experience, you can just get better results in therapy.”

Yes. And while the unique experience might differ, there’s not this front-loading of, like you said, educating on the bigger broader context of it. Got it. Just a logistical question for people listening that perhaps are in California, Pennsylvania, or Florida, how did you decide to get licensed in those three states? 

Yeah, I was always licensed in California. Florida has very easy-to-access telehealth permission laws. Then, Pennsylvania also was relatively easy; I had to do some fingerprinting and take a course. But I think a lot of therapy consumers don’t know just how incredibly time-consuming the licensure process is and how proprietary states are over who is allowed to practice in that state, even with telehealth. It feels totally ridiculous, because therapy is the same no matter what location you’re in.

Right. I have a licensure both at the master’s level and a PhD level, and I keep both, and there’s national exams for both; my EPPP was for a national board exam. It’s like, I get the state jurisprudence and the laws are different for each state. But to your point, the therapeutic work. I know there’s lobbying going on, but I imagine it will be years until that actually gets passed.

Yes. COVID really pushed it forward, because so many people moved to telehealth. By the way, a plug for telehealth, a lot of people have some skepticism around it. We are exclusively telehealth at this point, and the feedback we get is just like: Oh no, it feels the same. When you have that relationship with your therapist, it doesn’t matter. I have done a couple of sessions in-person with someone that I saw for years via telehealth, and they were almost disappointed that it was the same in-person, which is really validating. So if you’re someone that has a concern about that, especially with couples’ work, I encourage you to give it a try. Because, telehealth, it does simplify a lot of things. There are a couple tweaks I recommend, like of course, turning off notifications, and also where you place your computer, and how you transition in and out of the therapy session can really impact the benefit you get from it. 

Agreed! I have a client who’s like I do all of my work here, and it’s harder to be vulnerable here. Then I have other clients. So when I transitioned, I actually was an early adopter. I think it was like 2015, I started doing remote sessions. I have found actually some of my clients that have a lot of anxiety, that it was actually better for them to have a little bit less to focus on in the room, and less immediate sharing physical space together, it felt a little more comforting. Then I can’t tell you how many couples who have children and logistics of getting whatever it is with work, just the convenience of it, I’m sure you totally resonate with it. It’s not likely going to go away. I will say that physical presence, there is something that I think some really prefer, but as far as the therapeutic work. It’s interesting as far as the other thing, and I know we’re going to get to our topic here. But on the screen, it’s like sometimes we’re actually closer to people’s faces than we would be if we were in-person. So there’s a little bit more up close feeling.

Yeah, like little micro-expressions, you get to see. I’ve also found, we do EMDR, which is a trauma treatment, and a really powerful, very effective trauma treatment. It’s very intense, and we’ve found that there are people who really prefer to be in their home environment when they’re doing that, because they don’t have to go out to their car and then get on the freeway and get home after a really intense trauma processing session. They can go get a drink of water and play with their dog. Obviously the therapist would be helping them reregulate at the end of the session. But there isn’t that anxiety of going back out and having to navigate the world after something very intense, which also can happen with couples’ work. So being in a safe environment, for some people, really is better for them. 

Oh my gosh, and you’re speaking to me. Because actually, the EMDR work that I’ve done has been remote, and it’s so somatic-based. I do it at the end of week, and I don’t have any clients afterwards. I appreciate being able to just be in that space of integrating and giving myself that time to process without having to get into the car or traffic and whatever have you. I hadn’t even ever thought about that. So that’s a really great benefit. 

Wonderful. Well, where would you like to start with our topic here?

Well, given that just statistically, most people listening to this podcast are probably in a straight relationship, I want to let them know how is this relevant to them. Because we can all learn from each other; there are plenty of things that LGBT folks can learn from straight people and vice versa. I know that, Dr. Higgins, you practice EFT, the Sue Johnson model, right? 

I use a lot of the principles, yes. 

Okay. There are three big couples’ therapy models, and they all have a lot of research behind them, and people choose to work with one for different reasons. There are a lot of strengths to all of them, and they’re all evidence-based. So there’s EFT, which is the Sue Johnson model, you use a lot of that. There’s the Gottman method couples’ therapy, we do a lot of that. Then there’s Imago therapy, which I actually think they’re not quite signed off on as evidence-based. But they’re in the process. 

So we draw a lot from Gottman. It sounds a little bit creepy, but everyone in this study was consenting; they knew what was going on. Gottman had this lab up at the University of Michigan, and he studied, he was observing couples on camera. They knew that they were part of this experiment, they knew where the cameras were, it was all very consensual, and he got a lot of really incredible data about couples. He also did, not exclusively in the Love Lab, but he actually did a 12-year study on LGBT couples. Because there have been a lot of questions, particularly before Marriage Equality passed, about viability, and what is different, what is good, what is not so good in these relationships that don’t look like the majority of relationships out there. 

This 12-year study, LGBT folks don’t often get longitudinal studies like that, so it’s really important and special that that happened. The results of this study were incredible. They really highlighted so many strengths. 

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“LGBT couples often have a more egalitarian dynamic, that there isn’t just automatically a gender role where one person defaults to a certain social or domestic role. Because of that, there was generally more satisfaction in these relationships.”

When you’re not just using a prescribed model, there’s a lot more intentionality behind it. And you know, you are all about intentionality in relationships, so we can all learn from this. 

Then a lot of the research from this study showed how LGBT couples handle conflict. I know in a lot of your recent episodes, you’ve been talking about criticism and comparison. These are certainly things that all couples have to deal with. But there’s generally less criticism in LGBT couples, and they use more humor and affection during conflict. Particularly couples of two women, that there’s something that allows them to stay connected even during times of tension. If straight couples can figure out how to keep that connection, to use more humor and affection, even when they’re really elevated, I think they’re going to feel closer and feel more satisfied in their relationships. 

LGBT couples, particularly gay couples, two men, had a greater ability to self-soothe themselves and to soothe their partner in conflict. That even though the content of what they were talking about or arguing about, they were having a big disagreement, there was still this care and concern for the well-being of their partner. That led to them being able to resolve things faster, and also to come out a little less scathed from conflict. Conflict is unavoidable, which is, if you have two humans that don’t share the same brain, there’s going to be conflict, and a complete avoidance of conflict isn’t good. But to be able to move through conflict with affection and the intention to do as little damage as possible, it’s looking like LGBT couples are a little bit better at that.

Well, first of all, I do reference a lot of the Gottman’s research. I am a big fan of what they’ve been able to provide in this terrain of couplehood. Also, I didn’t even know that this study existed, so I’m really grateful that you’re bringing light to this. It actually reminds me, in my qualitative dissertation research, I looked at nine studies that were looking at relationship from a growth-oriented model. I remember a lot of the same sex couples and people in the LGBT community, and how it echoes some of what you’re describing here. I really appreciate just bringing voice to this, thank you.

Yeah. I mean, what better way to express love than to continue to do it during conflict? It’s not saying: “Oh, I’m just going to let this go because I love you.” 

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“You don’t need to make unnecessary concessions or compromises. You can hold your position and still hold affection for your partner.”

Absolutely, and the ground and the regulation, and what’s being conveyed and the body language and the physicality, and that’s supportive too, or conversely, not as threatening. That there’s some stability there, even though we’re negotiating a difficult topic, is also very key. 

I think I want to underscore something you mentioned around not having a prescribed approach or model. I think that when there is more of this willingness or openness to explore how do we want to co-create relationship, and that it’s not predetermined or we’re not following some expectation or norm, that that actually provides a lot more opportunity to have a growth mindset, at least that’s my understanding. That we don’t fall into these pitfalls or traps around expecting things to be a certain way, and yet being confronted with the very opposite, and then having to unwind all the damage that that might do. It actually is a really great skill set for us to work together in couplehood or partnership, and be proactive about it. 

Then, I remember the analogy is like rock climbing, like you take turns; somebody is holding and the other one is taking risks, and then the other one is, I think they call it belaying, holding the security and the safety, and then the other one is climbing. So sometimes we are supportive, and that is more to that egalitarian, where it’s not one person having a role that’s always occupying that space. It’s that we support each other.

Absolutely. I mean, the reason that I think LGBT couples are exceptionally good at this. I also want to be clear, when I say LGBT, I don’t just mean gay men, I don’t just mean lesbians or couples of two women. I mean anyone under that LGBT, and some people add the Q, umbrella. It’s anyone that essentially has an identity that might be perceived as transgressive, so something that’s going against a cultural norm. Now, thankfully, this is getting more and more accepted, and we have equal rights under the law, at least as far as marriage equality. I will say that there’s a very long way to go, and actually we are losing ground, particularly around trans rights. But as far as recognition of coupledom under the law, for right now, we’re in a good place. But just having a transgressive identity, you’re kind of starting from a blank slate, and saying that my identity, who I am, my authentic self is so important, it is just objectionable to me to try and fit into this cookie-cutter. People that go through that experience are more likely to proactively design their coupledom. I will say, there are some LGBT couples that appear to be opposite sex couples. That may not be the case, whether because of gender identity or because there is a trans person, they would use the phrase “passes” as a cisgender person. But even within those couples that are maybe not outwardly perceived as LGBT, there is more willingness to self-design.

And have a constructively critical eye of like, why am I doing what I’m doing? 

Yes. “My kid needs 24 muffins for class tomorrow, why is it my job? This kid has two parents.” I always joke that I am the more feminine presenting person in my relationship, but it is my job non-negotiably to kill all the spiders. That was a conversation we had. It was just like: “Okay, honey, this is on you.” That’s a silly example. But I think that all matters of business, and coupledom is a business together, should be talked about with a lot of intention.

Right, the domains, decision-making. It’s difficult to have everything be super 50-50 in decision-making, but to have at least a framework around where the couple agrees and who maybe has a little bit more decision-making power, because it’s maybe they’re more skilled in that arena. Then also, it can always be re-evaluated. So this is also important. I think for people, you were mentioning culture, heterosexuality, that might be more of norm or dominant, that as far as the mainstream, that there’s just this flow of like: “I’m just doing what my parents did, or what’s expected of me. I’m doing what I see. So I don’t even know why I do what I do.” I think even I’ll say, as a female, heterosexual, White woman, I think that there’s just so much that I’ve had to even recognize, like: Oh, I don’t even think I thought about that. But it’s so helpful to continue the dialogue and really look at my tendencies, unconsciously or consciously. So, so, so important. 

Does language fit into this? Because one of the things I think, would you talk a little bit more about language with us?

Yeah. Well, in the LGBT community, there’s such intentionality around language; language around identity, language around how we refer to our partners, language around how we describe others and lived experiences. It’s really important that when you are interacting with a member of this community, that you most of the time reflect their language. There’s going to be some in-group/out-group language, or some language that you should probably not use, that maybe is a reclaimed slur, but only in-group can use it. But I would encourage straight couples to get really curious about the language that they use to describe their identity, to describe their sexuality, to describe their partner. When you’re out, do you refer to your person as your boyfriend? Do you refer to him as your partner? Do you talk in the We? Or is it I and He? Maybe even talk about it together. I was out with my partner, fiancée, and she introduced me as her partner, and it was like, I’m your fiancée. So now she knows I want that distinction. To not default on language. 

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“The same way we don’t want to default on gender roles and tasks and who’s doing certain emotional labor in relationships, we don’t want to default on language either.”

 I remember having a phenomenologist on the show who was talking about how language can actually steer our experience and our behavior, and it sounds like you feel similarly. Do you want to say anything about that? 

Oh, language is incredibly powerful. I guess I don’t have strong feelings about this, but I know some people that do. That they hate the term, like girls’ weekend. They’re like, we’re not girls, we’re women. Like, we’re having a women’s retreat, not like a girls’ weekend. Some people are just like, whatever, it doesn’t matter. But there’s some people that are like, this is not frivolous. This is critical, restorative time with other women, and that’s how I want to think about it. Now, if that’s not important to you, that’s fine. 

I do share that. I have a group of friends that are like that, and I’m always chiming in with different language, because I don’t feel like a girl, and I also don’t want to call people I admire that are adult women as girls. I don’t correct them if they are using that language. But sometimes if it’s a group speak, I will add my language in, because I do feel like it’s more uplifting, personally. But that’s me.

I mean, the term girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s a weird term. Girl and boy, like we use that for children, and it can feel dismissive to some people to use a term like girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s like: “Well, honey, we’ve been together 20 years, I don’t feel like your girlfriend. I’m a partner here, or I’m the person you’re doing life with.” Change in language can change how you think about something. So if you wanted to ask your partner to use the word partner, because it feels like it has more weight and meaning, that’s great. That’s a way to reframe, and also let your partner know what’s important to you.

It’s interesting. Just another personal share. My significant other, we were together. I use terms of husband, partner, or significant other interchangeably. But before we were actually married, we were contemplating, did we want to just be in partnership or did we want to get married? So we were discerning that. After we were very serious and very committed, I was introducing him as my partner, and people were often extremely confused around what I was referencing. I think now the term is more acceptable, as far as just romantic partner. I do enjoy the term because I think it does convey a level of we are sharing in partnership together, and it does uphold the significance of that relationship, and I think it did feel very special. It’s very important, I feel like, to what you were saying around what heterosexual straight couples might be able to learn from the LGBT community or even the poly community, that there’s language that perhaps is now giving identification to things. Like, new relationship energy, I think that that was something people didn’t have awareness, and so it can really help give more repertoire or more understanding, and help people have more discernment.

Yeah, absolutely. The term partner was widely used in the LGBT community to indicate a kind of spouse level commitment before there was the legal ability to have a legal spouse commitment. Now I’m so happy that it is so widely used, it’s become an equalizer that partnership is seen as vital and important, regardless of gender identity.

Agreed. I know I’m really happy when I get emails from listeners or potential clients, and they’re using the word partner interchangeably with spouse or significant other. Even relationship, people use my relationship rather than my marriage, I just feel like there’s something about that that is getting more at the heart of the couple, or the partners that are continuing to invest in that. Almost like relationship is that third thing that’s happening.

Yes, there’s me, and there’s you, and then there’s the thing that we are creating together that is so special and sacred, and does not exist in any other place but between you and me. 

Yeah. Well, I’m curious, is there anything else you want to say about strengths or what straight heterosexual couples might be able to benefit? Or do you want to pivot towards where there might be challenges and just to have the support, and where people can find support who are in the community of the LGBT community?

Yeah. I think that there are many issues that come up in couples’ therapy across the board, regardless of the identities of the people in the relationship. We know really common conflict topics are money and sex, and also the pursuer-distancer or time together versus time apart, or even emotional distance negotiation. We see that across all couples, these are extremely common and extremely activating; you’re activating your attachment system, you’re activating your sense of closeness and security. That is really the same across the board. 

Also looking at, under sex, just intimacy issues around mismatched libidos. I hesitate to talk about sex too much with LGBT couples. Because for so long, LGBT couples were over-sexualized, and their relationships were really reduced down to sex, which is like, the kind of sex you’re having is really not the most interesting part of anyone’s life. 

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“Maybe there are some people that it’s the most important part of their life, and good for them. But for most of us, how we have sex and who we’re having sex with, it’s a very small percentage of our time in our life.”

It’s another manifestation. But if we look at other domains, it’s likely we’re going to find similar patterns.

Correct. I’m just very hesitant to too quickly associate LGBT couples or make it seem like it is unilaterally about sex, because that has been the case in how LGBT couples were perceived for so long, and I don’t like to perpetuate that. But the actual mechanics of how people are having sex, that’s one thing, and if you’re having issues there, then working with someone that has expertise there. But it’s the emotional impact, the meaning of sex, and conflict over frequency or maybe type of sex. But that’s not the content of it, that’s the process. So differentiating between content and process around these conflict points of sex, money, and closeness versus distance. We’re seeing just a lot of similarity there.

I’m curious, do you want to talk about some of the challenges are how to support the people?

Yeah. So if there are LGBT couples listening, I’m sure there are, just wanting these couples to maybe be able to identify some really common issues that come up between LGBT couples that are specific to LGBT couples, that you might want to address in couples’ therapy, or to just have a really deep intentional listening conversation with your partner about. So a really obvious one is coming out and visibility and stages of development in your LGBT identity. That if you have partners that are different levels of outness or different stages of identity development, that is likely to cause some conflict in a relationship. Down to like, if one of you is comfortable holding hands out in public and the other is not, that’s going to feel like a rejection. Even though it could be a totally legitimate safety issue, or just an emotional safety issue. So we see these things coming up a lot. We also see the Four Horsemen relationship apocalypse, those come up just as often. I’m sure you’ve talked about them plenty on this podcast.

Just state them really quickly for people. 

Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, those are all going to come up around conflict. They have their antidotes too. Gentle startups, building a culture of appreciation, taking responsibility for what’s yours and not pointing fingers at what is someone else’s responsibility, but really looking at your side of the street first, and then being able to self-soothe yourself so that you can engage with your partner instead of cutting them off. 

There’s often some issues around family planning. Now, for some LGBT couples, this is not an issue. As I said, not all LGBT couples are same sex couples, or that there may be some simplicity. But if a couple does want to have a child, often, there are some extra steps and other people involved in it. It may not feel as romantic and sexy. But there are also plenty of hetero couples that go through this, that they go through fertility or adoption or all kinds. The way we build our families is diverse, and that’s the case for LGBT couples as well. 

We were talking earlier about how LGBT couples generally, they do a lot better with not having these default gender roles. But there are some couples that that’s still an issue, that there is a default and their resentment builds up. Like, why am I the only one that ever restocks the pantry or the toilet paper? Or why am I the one that does all the car maintenance? I didn’t agree to this. So having really intentional conversations about that. Straight couples, they have plenty of times they have issues with in-laws, and sometimes it’s a little more complicated for LGBT couples. Because this shows up around moments of celebration or grief, times when family comes together, either in celebration or despair. If it’s complicated by a homophobic grandparent, or a sibling that has rejected or cut off part of the couple, or if the partner just isn’t accepted by the family, an otherwise joyful event, like a wedding, or a birthday, or the birth of a niece or nephew, it can feel really dampened with that. So again, we also see this with straight couples, if you’ve got a crazy mother-in-law, or just a not supportive family, it’s similar. But when there is a rejection or estrangement, based on identity, it can be really painful. 

Absolutely. Especially when maybe the in-laws or the extended family is well-intended, maybe don’t really see themselves as homophobic or having issue, but maybe have a difficult time creating a safe space, either in pronouns or just how the language that they’re using, coming back to language, that that can feel really confronting. It’s not just the relational dynamics and building comfort and safety, and then having the actual event and all the things around that, but also this safety for identity orientation, all of the ways in which there’s extra layers here that make it more safe.

Absolutely. I’m sure some of our listeners that are in an interracial marriage, or an interfaith relationship, or something like that can really resonate with this. It really does shift your experience of the celebrations and life milestones. The last thing that’s really specific to LGBT couples is just the prevalence of homophobic violence and internalized homophobia. Thankfully, we do have marriage equality now. But there were hundreds of bills introduced in state and national legislature last year, particularly anti-trans bills. It’s not just a few, it is hundreds. So there’s homophobic violence at the legislative level, but also, with law enforcement, with just people moving about their lives and getting comments or being attacked. It does happen, even when you’re in a very liberal accepting area. You just can’t move through your life or through a society like that without internalizing a little bit of it, viewing yourself as somehow a little bit less. 

There’s absolutely a parallel here between misogyny and gender experience. Moving through a world that is inherently violent towards women, we have higher levels of stress and anxiety, we have hyper-vigilance. So then you add on to that or substitute for that this internalized homophobia, sometimes it is very obvious and very present, and actually has an enormous impact on relationships. Someone wanting to be completely closeted and not acknowledge their partner, or coping behaviors with substances or self-injury or self-sabotage. Then it can also be very subtle. Actually, that kind of insidious, little sprinklings of internalized homophobia, the impact can be very large at the end of the day, in the course of a relationship. It can be so, so painful and so difficult to see someone you love, suffering from a greater level of that, watching them be self-hating, or having to grapple with: “Well, I love my partner, but I feel that my love is bad.” That’s so invalidating and hurtful to watch someone you care about experience. So that’s kind of the last really unique element of LGBT relationships.

Thank you so much for spelling this out, building awareness and naming. Because again, as you mentioned, perhaps someone with various, if it’s interracial relationships, it’s like the air that we’re breathing and the water, and we don’t always recognize the impact and also the accumulation of it. To have some space held for this and a real look on this. Now, what would you encourage? I know that you were wanting to give people some support around how to find a good couples’ therapists, please?

Yeah, the most important thing is that you determine what’s most important to you in your couples’ therapist. If you’re in a LGBT couple, and you feel very strongly you want to work with an LGBT therapist, then go out and find that. But there are some people for whom that’s not the most salient part of their identity. So like, I’m a therapist. At this point, if I was looking for a therapist to work with, I would probably want to see someone that specializes in therapists, because that’s a very salient part of my identity. It really depends on the issue you want to work with. People of color, they may feel like I don’t want to have to work with some White lady that I have to explain my experience of walking through the world as a person of color. Totally legitimate. 

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“Everyone deserves to have a therapist that understands some part of their lived experience, so they don’t have to do all the educating and explaining. That feels like such a reversal of what the role is supposed to be.”

Now, there may be sometimes you have to explain small things, or things specific to your experience. No two people walking through the world, as an LGBT person, are going to have the same experience. But if it’s important to you to work with someone with a shared identity, don’t compromise on that, unless there’s a very strong reason, like you have to use your insurance and there’s just no one in network. Although, with telehealth, you would hope you could connect with someone in network that has that shared identity. 

There are a couple of directories I really like. I think definitely, if you’re comfortable asking people that have that shared identity, if there’s a therapist that they know, that’s a good way to do it. But I really love the directory TherapyDen.com. It’s a very progressive directory listing that really allows you to filter by identity and salience of identity. Generally, a little bit more progressive skewing than some other directories that I won’t name. But I really like that one. For people of color, if you’re looking for a therapist of color, there’s InclusiveTherapists.com. They also have compiled a list of crisis resources for people of color, who may not want to interface with police and other systems of power and oppression that have historically abused people of color. So I really appreciate that. I think those are the major directories coming to mind right now, start there.

Well, that’s a real supportive guidance. You also have services. Would you like to share a little bit more about your work, particularly for people who might be in the states you mentioned and wanting to learn more?

Yeah. So my practice, we serve a plenty of couples, we also do lots of individual therapy, lots of really busy professionals, lots of lawyers, lots of executives, lots of people in marketing and people that are logging in between different meetings. Hopefully, they can find someone at their desk to log in for their meeting. So everything is telehealth. Like I said, we do a lot of trauma work, and we really love that trauma work. Everyone on staff is trained in EMDR, which is a really powerful trauma modality, and overall just a really holistic approach to healing. Not just looking at like, let’s just change your thoughts, because that’s just changing your thoughts. It’s going to have some impact, but not as much as having a mindfulness practice, and good nourishing food, and satisfying and cultivating those relationships, taking care of your physical health, and then some kind of connection to something bigger than yourself. For some people, that is spiritual. For some people, that is community, or even study and learning. That when we can connect to that something bigger, our ability to heal is a lot more powerful.

No kidding, no kidding! Also, with the EMDR work and helping the nervous system have ways to regulate and re-patterning or being able to metabolize some of the traumas, I’m sure you help people with big T traumas, as well as more relational traumas.

Which are sometimes bigger than the big T, I think relational traumas are as big as it can get sometimes.

Yeah, especially when we talk about the chronic or repetitive standing. Well, I know we’re winding down here. Is there anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on before we close out?

I don’t think so. A lot of couples often show up in therapy as they’re transitioning out of the honeymoon phase, because that can be really rocky and you’re just kind of like: “Oh, I’m not feeling all this fire and passion. Is there something wrong?” Or people wanting to reconnect after a long period of feeling distant. We’ve got some fun stuff on our website, which is LaurelTherapy.net. We’ve got a whole lot of different articles, some for LGBT couples, but most just for any and all couples. One that we just put up is like, when is couples’ therapy a bad idea? Because it’s not always a good idea. Then some other practical guides, and then we’ve also got a quiz about would couples’ therapy be a good idea for you? That is at LaurelTherapy.net/couples-therapy.

Wonderful! I will have that link on today’s show notes, as well as your main website, and just really helping people access the plethora of resources and your services. I will also put the link to the different directories that you’ve mentioned. I really appreciate your just thorough and articulate and informed view and sharing your insight with us today. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Jessica.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching