The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog–Relationship Stages and Processes among Young LGBT Couples

Posted on July 1st, 2015 by Zenaida in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

close up of young women kissing

Photo credit: Nana-ne, Pixabay, July, 2014

Think back to your first almost-adult relationship. How did you meet? How did it make you feel? What milestones told you it was serious? Starting and developing a romantic relationship are significant events in a person’s development into adulthood [1]. Research has also shown that forming a romantic relationship can have important benefits for a person’s physical and mental health [2]. However, relatively little is known about young LGBT couples’ relationship development.

To fill this gap in knowledge, IMPACT researchers wanted to see what stages occur during the development of young adult LGBT couples’ romantic relationships [3]. They also wanted to know if these experiences differed from young heterosexual couples’ experiences or differed depending on the couples’ sex assigned at birth. Researchers interviewed thirty-six young LGBT couples about their relationship histories. Researchers then prompted the couples to discuss topics like how they met, important relationship moments and obstacles, safer sex practices, commitment, and building their own families.

While the relationship stages the LGBT couples described appeared similar to previous research on heterosexual couples, their experiences of the stages were impacted by their LGBT identity. For example, meeting a potential partner can be more difficult for an LGBT person because of stigma or outness. Many couples described finding their partner through an app or online, as it can be more difficult to find spaces and groups to meet potential partners who identify as LGBT. Unlike heterosexual couples, lack of family acceptance of one partner’s gender or sexual identity appeared to create stress in the couple. For instance, being kicked out of the family home sometimes led couples to move in together before they were ready.

Young LGBT couples also described the stress of coming into adulthood as putting additional strain on their relationship. As one young gay male participant said, “We wanna go to college, we never like worked a steady full-time job, and… you turn 18, adulthood is in your face, and… it was really difficult.” For example, some young LGBT couples reported the stress of getting a job, going to college, or moving out for the first time may have pushed them to delay making a commitment to their partner.

Finally, male assigned at birth (MAAB) vs. female assigned at birth (FAAB) couples differed in how often they discussed certain relationship stages, though overall the main content of their discussions was similar. One major difference was related to sexual health, which reflects the different concerns experienced by MAAB and FAAB couples. MAAB couples discussed forming sexual relationship agreements as an important part of their relationship development, while FAAB couples did not.

All together the findings show that LGBT identity and transitioning into adulthood impacted couples’ relationships. These findings could help guide future research on relationship development among young LGBT couples. They could also inform new relationship interventions for young LGBT couples. For example, relationship education programs and interventions should incorporate content that addresses LGBT identity-related stressors and how they impact LGBT couples’ relationships.

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[1] Collins, W. A. (2003). More than myth: The developmental significance of romantic relationships during adolescence, Journal of Research on Adolescences, 13, 1-24. doi: 10.1111/1532-7795.1301001

[2] Loving, T. J., & Slatcher, R. B. (2013). Romantic relationships and health. In J. A. & L. Campbell (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of close relationships (pp. 617-637). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[3] Macapagal, K., Greene, G., Rivera, Z., & Mustanski, B. (2015). The best is always yet to come: Relationship stages and processes among young LGBT couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(3), 309-320.

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