I've been in a relationship with my partner for about two years. We're both part of the LGBTQ community – I identify as non-binary, and my partner is transgender. Our relationship started off wonderfully, full of understanding and mutual respect. However, lately, I've been feeling a bit disconnected from him, especially when it comes to understanding each other's evolving identities and needs.
As we both continue to explore and grow in our personal gender and sexual identities, I find it challenging to keep up with the changes in our relationship dynamics. Sometimes, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells, afraid of saying or doing something that might unintentionally hurt or invalidate his feelings. I'm also struggling with my own identity and how it fits within our relationship.
I guess my question is, how can we navigate these changes in our identities without losing the strong bond we have? Are there specific communication strategies or practices that can help us stay connected and supportive of each other, even as we evolve as individuals?
Thank you for reaching out with such an insightful question, it is a question that often brings people to see me in couples’ therapy. Navigating evolving identities within a relationship can indeed be challenging and can happen with any couple. As we age and have different experiences in life, we are often navigating new or different identities, new sexual interests, or changing bodies. This isn’t a topic specific to the LGBTQ community with mixed orientation relationships, I see it across all demographics.
Although, it can be challenging, it can also be a journey that can significantly strengthen your bond when approached with care, understanding, and open communication. Some specific practices that can help you navigate these changes while staying connected and supportive include embracing open and honest communication. This is crucial for creating a safe space where both you and your partner can openly discuss your feelings, fears, and needs. Regular check-ins can be beneficial. During these conversations, practice active listening – this means really hearing what the other person is saying without immediately formulating a response or judgment. Educating yourselves through reading, social media, or talking to others about their experiences can be key to understanding each other's experiences.
This might also involve joining support groups, or even attending workshops that focus on LGBTQ identities and relationships. This shared learning can foster empathy and deepen your connection.
I’ve found that when couples take the time to celebrate each other, even on seemingly small aspects of their lives, they tend to be more emotionally connected. It’s important to remember that personal growth and identity exploration are positive developments. Celebrating these changes in each other, even if they require adjustments in how you relate to one another, is important to fostering a supportive and intimate relationship. In addition to celebrating each other, practice being patient, kind and compassionate with one another. Changes in identity and self-understanding don't happen overnight. Even when things feel challenging, being patient and kind can lend to a more satisfactory relationship. Remember, it's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and continue to support each other.
Maintaining individuality and accepting differentiation in a relationship is difficult, but research shows that couples who practice differentiation have higher rates of relationship satisfaction.
While your relationship is a significant part of your lives, it's also essential to maintain your individuality. Encourage each other to pursue personal interests and friendships outside the relationship. This can lead to a healthier and more balanced partnership.
If you are finding it particularly difficult to feel connected, it might be time to visit a couples' therapist who specializes in LGBTQ relationships, like the therapists at Velvet Psychotherapy Collective. Sometimes, having a neutral third party like a therapist who specializes in LGBTQ relationships can provide valuable guidance. We can offer strategies tailored to your unique situation, helping you navigate through any complexities with more ease.
Finally, in moments of doubt or difficulty, remind yourselves of the love and respect that brought you together. This foundation is what will help you navigate through changes and challenges. I hope that these strategies can help you navigate the relationship and allow you to foster an environment where you feel comfortable and confident in how you engage with your partner.
Queerly Beloved is an expertly curated column dedicated to the world of LGBTQ sex, intimacy and relationships that provides education, insights and actionable tips for the reader to enhance their pleasure journey. This column from Kelly Ghweinem, LCSW, will answer questions and provide advice to readers to deepen intimate connections, elevate pleasurable experiences, and empower people. Ghweinem is an established queer-affirming therapist and business owner who champions the LGBTQ+ community through activism and advocacy utilizing a queer, feminist, anti-racist lens. A University at Buffalo graduate, Kelly came to Fort Lauderdale from Manhattan in 2022.
For more information on their practice visit www.velvetcollective.org.
The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute any financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice.