By Adam D. Blum, MFT, Gay Therapy Center Founder and Director
Some gay men put up with a lot in their relationships. Their long-term partners will aggressively flirt with other men in front of them, go home with a guy from the bar without any forewarning, sleep with ex-lovers without gaining consent from their current lover, or brag to their current boyfriends about the quality of their sex with strangers. Ouch.
Here's what I find most concerning. Some gay men don't feel they have a right to be upset about these behaviors. They'll ask me why they feel so jealous and how can I help them let go of their jealousy. They think that the gay community believes in sexual freedom and it isn't cool or manly to object to their partner's sexual behavior.
In other words, they feel shame for experiencing hurt by the actions of their long-term partners.
Heterosexual couples get plenty of social support for treating their partners with respect when it comes to sex. Outrage is the typical social response when friends are told about poor relationship behavior among straight people. When gay men tell the same heartbreaking stories they are less likely to get a big response. Gay relationships are not given the same level of validity.
I'm not making an argument here for monogamy in gay men's long-term relationships. Men can have open relationships and still treat each other with great care and consideration. Gay men have led the way on redefining what defines a caring open relationship. Check out my blog entry entitled Gay Men and Open Relationships: What Works? for more on that position.
The point I am making is that if you feel jealous about your partner's sexual behaviors with other men, you need to validate those feelings. Those feelings are common and normal and deserve respect from both you and your partner.
There is plenty of research in psychology to back up the theory that an important reason we enter into relationships is to heal some of the old wounds we experienced in our earliest relationships with our parents, siblings, and peers. If your family had trouble providing you with emotional support as a child then one of the best ways you can heal from that loss is to experience deep emotional support from your adult partner. Most people are really hungry for this experience.
Couples that don't acknowledge that their relationship needs plenty of care, conversation, and consensus will hurt each other. Rather than helping to heal old wounds, these relationships just keep reinjuring. Psychotherapists call this "attachment wounding."
If your friends are telling you that you are putting up with too much from your boyfriend, it's often a sign that you are in a "codependent" position in your relationship. Codependence can be defined as compulsively taking care of other people rather than taking care of ourselves.
Here's the very least you should expect from your partner:
- Your partner should apologize when he discovers that he dropped you emotionally. Maybe not right away, but eventually.
- Your partner should not be harshly criticizing you, teasing you, or putting you down. If he does this occasionally he should be sincerely apologizing after each incident.
- Your partner should never hit you. Period.
- Being drunk is not an excuse for mean behavior.
- You deserve kindness from your partner. Not at every single moment, but on a regular weekly basis. This is really the whole point of being in a relationship.
If this topic resonated with you might want to check out the classic book on codependency: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
If you are tolerating unkind behavior then I urge you seriously reevaluate your relationship. Seek out individual or couples counseling if you need help in making the changes to create supportive, healthy relationships.
For more information about how we help individuals and couples please visit our website at www.gaytherapycenter.com. We offer services in our San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles offices or by Skype or phone worldwide.