When I was 19 I entered a relationship with, Jeff, one of my best friends at the time. I had no idea how to be in relationship with a man. I had only previously dated a woman, and although I was never able to express my true self, somehow it was easier to date a woman than it was to date a man. I loved Jeff from day one, but as I learned, just because you love someone doesn’t mean the relationship is void of pain, quite the opposite actually. As it turns out, we had to learn how not to hurt each other, both emotionally and physically.
Being young men who had been oppressed most of our lives, who grew up in violent households, and who binge drank most weekends was a perfect recipe for toxic behaviour (that neither of us are proud of, may I add.) It was a major challenge that we overcame and healed in our relationship. When I was dating a woman, physical violence was never even a thought, but being angry in the face of another man brought out a different side; all of those morals seemed to slip right out the window as we acted out our unfelt rage and unhealed trauma.
Perhaps male-culture played a part in conditioning this type of behaviour, which says that fighting among men is instinctual, appropriate, and celebrated, but it’s my experience and belief that any violence we enact on our partner is almost always a repeating pattern of trauma.
Physical abuse is just one of many types of traumas that can show up as unhealthy patterns of behaviour in gay relationships. More than half of the gay men I have worked with have been victims of sexual trauma, and nearly every gay man I’ve worked with has endured significant bullying and harassment to varying degrees. What’s the ultimate impact of these layered traumas within a gay relationship? From my personal experience and my experience supporting clients, a lifetime of unresolved emotional pain typically creates a protective armour that shuts down one’s capacity to give and receive love. This is one of the primary factors that blocks deeper intimacy and presence.
As a result of unresolved emotional trauma, many gay men turn to addiction in the form of alcohol, drugs, food, or sex, often using substances to feel more safe to express themselves, numb their trauma, or to fit in with a group or community. This trauma can show up as promiscuity from years of suppressing their sexuality, closing off or shutting down, anger, and depression, resulting in a lack of emotional depth or ability to maintain long-term relationships.
So why if so many gay men desire to be in partnership do they struggle to find love? Well, it’s my belief that a relationship is a container in which we get the opportunity to heal our unhealed wounds, however each person has to be willing to do the deep work to get there. This deep work I speak of almost always means creating intentional space to revisit childhood memories. Creating intentional space to talk about your childhood experiences together helps each of you to understand where each of your behavioural and emotional patterns stem from, offering a chance for emotional release and healing. Most importantly, it creates deeper empathy for one another and connection.
Understanding each other’s needs is another crucial piece to a lasting relationship. Learning how to be clear on your needs and expressing them to your partner is a skill that takes work and vulnerability, but the benefit is immense. In order for a relationship to be successful, each person has to see their partner’s needs as important as their own. If you're feeling upset that your needs aren't being met, remember that your partner is human too, navigating their own inner and outer challenges and needing the same level of love, support, and safety that you need.
What's kept me and my partner together for over 13 years, is our commitment to growth, both as individuals and in our relationship. Maintaining a sense of individuality has also been very important, and probably where we have struggled the most. We've always had similar interests and have been drawn to many of the same friends, but this led to us losing our sense of personal identity, and created other unhealthy patterns such as co-dependency. Being mindful of how much time we spend together and being sure to create a balance of solo time and relationship time helps us maintain harmony and excitement in our partnership.
Spending your life with someone is undoubtedly a journey that requires us to take a look at our past and heal our wounds. I believe there are benefits to a same sex partnership that same sex couples may not have, and I also believe that we face different challenges as men attracted to the same sex. But baby, you were born this way, so I say FEEL IT TO HEAL IT, and make the journey of partnership as harmonious and loving as humanly possible. So, what can you do with your partner to open up to more love? Are you needing more connection, play, intimacy, or vulnerability? Remember that as well as your partner may know you, he can't read your mind and you need to communicate your needs!
Still single but desiring a partner? What parts of yourself still need healing? How can you love yourself more fully? Relationships thrive when both people are whole in themselves. Continue to work on being the best man that you can be and when you're ready, the right man will find you.
Lot's of love,