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- The warning signs of divorce look different in LGBTQ couples when compared to their heterosexual peers.
- Relationship expert Adam P. Romero told Business Insider that minority stress, or the unique pressures faced by members of a marginalized group, is one of the main causes of divorce in LGBTQ couples.
- We rounded up eight factors that psychologists have found can predict divorce including internalized homophobia, job discrimination, and unequal paternity leave policies.
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LGBTQ couples are marrying at higher rates — but like all good things, sometimes those unions come to bitter ends.
However, relationship experts say they aren’t just falling out of love. Unlike their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ couples experience emotional triggers like discrimination and prejudice that can affect how they interact with each other. Social scientists call this issue “minority stress,” or the chronically high levels of stress faced by people in a stigmatized group.
“Research suggests the stress related to living in a society that doesn’t completely value their sexual orientation can create strife in the relationship,” Adam P. Romero, a co-editor of “LGBTQ Divorce and Relationship Dissolution: Psychological and Legal Perspectives and Implications for Practice,” and director of Federal Policy at the William’s Institute, told Business Insider.
There are roughly 646,500 same-sex married couples in the US, according to a 2019 report by the William’s Institute. For LGBTQ couples, the odds of breaking up are about 0% to 1.8% annually, which is slightly less than their heterosexual peers, who have a 2% divorce rate.
Everything from having in-laws who are unsupportive to a workplace that offers unequal parental leave for same-sex parents can wreak havoc on LGBTQ relationships.
Below, we’ve rounded up eight factors that predict divorce in LGBTQ couples.
An unsupportive family
LGBTQ couples often face bias in their families. A 2013 Pew Research study of about 1,000 LGBT people found that 39% of adults have experienced rejection from a family member or close friend at some point in their lives.
Experts say that families act as a “protective” layer in romantic relationships. This is because they can provide social support. Without this, however, it can be a potential trigger for divorce.
“Research has long shown that straight couples, not always, but often receive familial support that is protective for the relationship, ” Romero said. “LGBT people, if they’re coming from unaccepting families, they’re denied that level of familial support and maybe also social support.”
You consistently misgender your partner
Misgendering, or referring to a person by the wrong pronoun, is a form of minority stress largely experienced by the transgender and nonbinary community. When a significant other comes out as trans or nonbinary, their partner may refer to them using the incorrect pronoun.
“The cisgender partner may see their spouse coming out as transgender as a threat to their own sexual identity or orientation,” Romero said. Rampant misgendering is not only distressing, but Romero said it “could end up leading to strife in the relationship or even divorce.”
Last year, Towson University’s Sexual and Gender Identity Lab found that romantic partners who were aware of their significant other’s gender identity often ignored their gender during arguments. This included avoiding a partner’s chosen name or misgendering them in verbal disputes.
Towson University researchers concluded that these assumptions “created an unsafe environment, impacting disclosure of their gender nonconforming or agender identity.”
Your job offers unequal paternity leave.
Gay and bisexual fathers who receive less workplace parental leave can potentially have unequal household duties. Ultimately, psychologists say these issues can jeopardize a marriage.
Last year, the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) reported that gay fathers receive five fewer months of paid leave than heterosexual couples and same-sex female couples.
The study examined paternity laws in 33 member countries under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an economic and social policy forum.
“A lot of the differences in leave stem from gender stereotypes where women are the primary caregivers,” Elizabeth Wong, the lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last September.
When dads are short-changed on parental leave, Wong said this can “undervalue the importance of fathers’ involvement.” In fact, last year sociologists discovered that men taking parental leave report higher rates of relationship stability. When LGBTQ couples aren’t facing these obstacles, however, Romero said same-sex couples are more “egalitarian in their division of household labor,” which can lead to relationship stability.
You are bisexual
Bisexual people not only make up at least 52% of the LGBTQ community, according to a 2016 report by the Movement Advancement Project, they also face disproportionate rates of stigma.
This can range from the negative depiction of bisexual characters in films to higher domestic violence rates.
“One theory could be that the different-sex partner who is the perpetrator of the violence is threatened by the bisexuality, or sees it as a violation of trust,” Romero said.
Research shows bisexual people are also more likely to experience a hostile work environment. This includes biphobic jokes or being given an unfair review on the job because of their sexual orientation. Because of this, experts say this population also feels more financial strain.
“We also know that bisexuals have much higher rates of poverty than both straight people and gay and lesbian people,” Romero said. “Higher levels of financial stress for bisexuals, in turn, could suggest a risk factor for divorce.”
People read your partner as just your ‘friend’
When you and your partner are read as friends rather than a couple, this can lead to feelings of invisibility in a relationship, Business Insider previously reported.
Adam Blum, a founder of the Gay Therapy Center in New York, told Business Insider that when queer couples are not read as partners this can lead to minority stress.
Over time, LGBTQ people might internalize this invalidation, which can deteriorate a relationship. Romero wants LGBTQ people to be aware of how they’re internalizing the discrimination they face.
“Are you dealing with it in a healthy way that actually promotes relationship stability?” Romero said. “Or are you dealing with it in an unhealthy way that may endanger the relationship?”
You are a woman who dates other women
A William Institute study following 515 couples in Vermont from 2002 to 2014 found that women who date other women were twice as likely as gay male couples to end their relationship. Researchers suggest that similar studies on heterosexual couples found women have higher standards for relationship quality than men.
“We suspect that similar dynamics may be at play with the lesbian couples in our study, leading to the higher dissolution rate,” Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University and a visiting scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law said in a press release.
Lisa Power, a cofounder of the LGBTQ charity Stonewall, told the Economist last month that same-sex female couples break up more often because they tend to move quicker from first dates to marriage.
Being fired from your job
LGBTQ people are more likely than their straight peers to be fired from their job because of their gender or sexual identity. During this time, the person may feel doubly marginalized because they are experiencing the social and financial consequences of being a sexual minority.
Furthermore, because many LGBTQ people experience rejection from either family or friends, they may not have the support to bounce back.
“Financial stress can be even more potent,” Romero said. “If an LGBT person doesn’t have a parent or someone else that they might rely on in a time of need.”
Currently, it is legal to fire an LGBTQ person in 26 states, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ social policy organization. A lack of job protection can add to financial distress and further divide the relationship.