Thoughts on same-sex relationships

Article by Gregory Carl

Good communication: The key to a good relationship

Good communication with your partner depends on knowing yourself and your partner well. You need to spend time thinking about your needs, your expectations, your doubts, your fears and your dreams. This can change over time, so self awareness is a constant challenge. Sharing your own personal histories and trying to understand how you have come to be the persons you are, can dramatically improve communication, understanding, and support in a relationship. Communication is an essential ingredient in any relationship, so
make sure there is quality communication on a regular basis. When you communicate is as important as how you communicate and what you communicate. Ask yourself and your partner when would be an appropriate time to talk about a particular issue. There will be times when you or your partner don’t want to talk. That is fine and you need to respect that. Silence is an important part of any relationship. But don’t let that be an excuse for never talking with each other. Find a time that suits you both. The secret to good communication is realising that getting to know each other is a lifelong process, and that every day presents new opportunities and discoveries. Talk about how important it is for you to know how your partner is feeling, and what he is thinking, and that you also want him to know what you are feeling and thinking.

Sometimes it is difficult to express and explain things in a way that your partner is able to comprehend. At the same time it can be difficult for your partner to express and explain what he is feeling and thinking in a way that you are truly going to understand. Don’t give up. Good communication is difficult and it takes time to learn how to do it. Allow yourself and your partner to make mistakes. Use sentences like “I am not quite sure if this is going to come out as I want it to, and I may have to change it, but here goes... ” Communication is a search for understanding; it is not about black and white statements set in concrete. In a relationship partners have to help each other to express themselves and listen in ways that improve the communication. Not everyone feels comfortable communicating about feelings, desires and problems. A relationship counsellor can help couples address difficult issues as well as building communication skills that you can use throughout your relationship. Sex is an important and constructive part of any relationship (it can, in some cases, also be destructive). The key to good sex is communication with your partner. Partners need to know what each other likes and what the boundaries are. Communication about sex can occur before, during, or after sex and it doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal. If you have any doubts ask your boyfriend. If there is something you like or don’t like, tell him.

We often put off talking about the hardest stuff until we’re in the thick of it. You might think that you know what’s going on – only to realise that you only assumed you knew. Have you ever seen the situation where everyone seems to know that one partner is having sex with
others, while the other assumes they’re being faithful to each other? So, when is the best time to bring stuff up? Try some of these pointers:

• sooner, rather than later, otherwise you may find yourselves dealing with something after “it” becomes a problem;
• not in the middle of a point-scoring fight. You may have something important to say that will get lost in the bitterness of the moment, or when you apologise for having shouted at him;
• alone, rather than in front of others. Not everyone appreciates an audience;
• before it becomes a huge problem;
• pleasant surroundings might help. Choose a pleasant environment that will give you some privacy. It will also be easier to start a discussion with him by choosing a day or a time of day when he is more likely to been in a good mood.
• if one or both of you are affected by alcohol or other drugs wait until after you have either sobered up or come down. You don’t want to say something that you regret and make the issue worse!

Are open relationships the only option?

Lots of men feel that open relationships are the norm in the gay community. This isn’t true. There are many long-term, monogamous gay male couples. You may not see them because they no longer feel the need to make appearances in the gay scene. However you and your partner want to live out your relationship is up to you. Talking about it with each other is the only way to find out what is going to work for you both.

At different times we desire different things from a relationship. Some relationships may be strictly monogamous while others may be ‘open.’ There may be many reasons why one partner seeks sex with others while the other partner is content with the way things are. Perhaps one partner’s libido fluctuates or they require something else from sex.

If you’re the one seeking to explore other sexual outlets, it is important that you raise this with your partner. Both partners need to be able to discuss why sex is desired outside the partnership and the effect it may have on intimacy and the relationship. Emphasise the
other aspects that the two of you share that no-one else does, be very clear about how much you care for your partner and how much he means to you. Listen to his needs and consider all options. The need for reassurance and validation of the relationship is essential
– relationships are a bit like gardens – without constant upkeep they wither and die, or the weeds take over.

There is an important health issue that needs to be considered if one or both of you are planning on having sex with casual partners. Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) like gonorrhoea and herpes can be passed on, even when condoms are used! STIs can cause
the skin or membranes in your penis, anus and throat to become sore, inflamed or bleed. This makes it easier for HIV to get into your bloodstream, increasing the chance of you becoming HIV positive. Using condoms and lube as well as having regular sexual health
check-ups are important things to consider if having sex with other partners.

If, however, you want to negotiate an ‘open’ relationship, there are many things to be considered. Many gay men seek sex with other lovers once the initial attraction to their partner dies down, and seeking sex with others has been read incorrectly as signalling the
end of a relationship. Gay men desire sex for a variety of reasons, everything from emotional closeness to simply getting off. While we might be pissed off that our partner is going off with others for reasons of closeness (“he can get that at home”) sometimes there are things that long-term partners can’t supply.

No matter how long, strong or good a relationship is, it’s impossible to recapture that ‘not knowing’ that comes with a first encounter, or even in the early days of a relationship. Some guys get off on the thrill of the chase, others the ‘conquest’ of a sexual encounter. Some guys are into variety and others might be into sexual practices that their partner isn’t.

Wanting sex with other people isn’t necessarily a sign that you don’t want each other. Wanting others sexually isn’t going to replace every other aspect of the relationship that the two of you have together.

You may find that only one of the partnership wants to take other lovers. It may be that your partner wants casual encounters. He may be used to having unprotected sex with other guys. That’s something that he’s not going to be able to get in his relationship with you. Ask
yourself if you are able to allow for that to happen with others? How do you feel about that?

Different people at different times have different sex drives. In the beginning of relationships, sex is usually quite high on the menu. A couple may be having sex three or four times a week, for example, and one may be thinking “maybe this will pick up as we get more
comfortable with each other” while the other may be thinking “well, here’s hoping this dies down after a while.” If neither of you wants to undergo a complete change of personality, one of you having a separate sexual outlet may be a solution.

Jealousy, of course, is another issue. This can eat away at the best relationships. It’s better to look at this honestly, in the beginning. There’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with having strong feelings. Letting them get out of control and seeking to control others, however, isn’t healthy for either of you.

There are so many different ways that you might have an open relationship. Often, finding out what works for you is a case of trial and error. This can be hurtful at times, but if you’re both committed to it, it’s going to get you the best results.

There are a variety of needs to be met, or desired things in relationships. Talk about what you have found works in the past. Some people insist on honesty and want to know every detail. Others have been hurt by too much honesty in the past and want only the barest of details. Still others prefer to not know anything about the sex their partner might be having. You may need to discuss and agree on whether sex will be: without agreements; with only anonymous sex partners; only sex outside the relationship at beats, like saunas; only
sex with no emotional involvement; nothing that is allowed to be repeated; only with on-going ‘external’ or ‘secondary’ partners. Is it ‘open’ with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy; partial disclosure; or tell all?

Beyond these arrangements, you may want to include some fine print. A few of these suggestions might be useful:
• The person who just had sex outside of the relationship might want to think about how to tell the other partner about the news (working this out in advance will cause less drama when the time comes).
• How much can the other person ask without crossing the line into invasion of privacy?
• See if you can tell your partner about extra-curricular sex before some other ‘well-meaning’ person in the community tells him before you do.
• What happens if one of you picks up a sexually transmissible infection from outside the relationship?

Out of control

Most gay relationships are based on love and respect. Some are based on abuse and control. Abuse and control in a relationship is domestic violence – and is much more than a lovers’ tiff. Even though domestic violence isn’t a term we often hear associated with gay
relationships, it happens. It is any type of behaviour by one partner that attempts to gain and maintain control over the other. Ongoing humiliation, threats, stalking, ‘outing’, verbal abuse, controlling finances without permission, physical violence and sexual assault are all examples of domestic violence. Domestic violence may be present in some relationships from the beginning while for others it may start or get worse following a positive HIV diagnosis. HIV can cause tension, stress and a range of other problems within a relationship
but it does not cause domestic violence.