Gay couples have less stress in their marriages than their heterosexual or lesbian counterparts, according to a team of researchers who studied the issue, while lesbian couples report less marital stress than women married to men.
Women in a different-sex relationship reported the highest levels of distress in their relationship. Straight men and women in a same-sex relationship registered about equally, and male same-sex couples had the least.
Michael Garcia, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times that while it’s long been recognized that women were likely to report the most marital strain, in reality, that’s only women in opposite-sex relationships.
Gay couples have an advantage when it comes to lowering stress levels according to the study. They divide household chores more equally, have more in-depth conversations about their sexual relationship, and lifelong gender roles tend to give men more “emotional autonomy and independence.”
University of Texas sociologist Debra Umberson says women go “all in” and try to read their partner’s emotional physical needs. They have been socialized to believe that providing emotional support is their responsibility.
“But this plays out very differently when a woman is in a relationship with another woman compared to one with a man,” Professor Umberson told the newspaper. “With two women, there is a lot of reciprocity in care work — with each spouse aware of the other’s needs and preferences, and responding actively to those.”
Women’s husbands “tend to take care work for granted, are often unaware of the care work their wife provides and commonly fail to recognize her needs for emotional support.”
Gay men, Umberson says, are more “low-key” about emotional care and offer it when it’s needed instead of “treating it like a routine obligation.”
Gender roles also play into household chores, with women expected to do the bulk of the care work around the home. Same-sex couples, however, tend to split “feminine” and “masculine” chores more equally based on individual preferences rather than relying on outdated gender roles.
74 percent of same-sex couples share child care duties compared to only 38 percent of heterosexual couples, where the woman is generally assumed to bear responsibility for being the primary caregiver. Same-sex couples of both genders also spent more time with their children than straight couples.
Gay men are also more likely to have an in-depth discussion surrounding emotional and sexual needs and expectations than straight couples or lesbians. The study notes that while the number of open relationships among gay men is exaggerated, those couples are more likely to allow for extramarital sex than the others and frequently have detailed agreements on what is or isn’t allowed.
Interestingly, gay men have more volatile dating relationships, but once they formalize the relationship, they tend to have unions as stable as male-female couples and more stable than female-female relationships.