Same-sex couples cope with stress better than opposite-sex couples

Married same-sex couples often deal with stress in a more healthy and cooperative way than opposite-sex couples, according to a new study. The researchers argue that this may be because same-sex couples face unique issues, including stigma, and may receive less support from wider family and traditional institutions compared to heterosexual couples.

To arrive at these findings, sociologists from the University of Texas at Austin analyzed survey responses from 419 middle-aged same-sex and opposite-sex married couples living in Massachusetts.

The researchers studied their relationships in terms of dyadic coping, the processes by which couples manage stress together through joint problem solving, communicating empathy, expressing solidarity, and redistributing responsibility in response to the problem. They also measured negative dyadic coping, in which the spouse reacts ambivalently or even hostilely in response to the other’s stress.

The study notes that women generally engage more in dyadic coping compared to men in heterosexual relationships. However, when it came to same-sex partnerships, both men and women were more likely to work together to cope with stress, compared to their counterparts in opposite-sex marriages.

“While those married to women receive the most positive coping support from their partners, those married to men receive the most negative dyadic coping. Unlike men and women in same-sex marriages, men and women in opposite-sex marriages are less likely to work to cope with stress together,” the study concluded.

In addition, same-sex marriages were reported to have slightly higher marital quality than same-sex couples, just as previous research has indicated.

“This research shows that while there are some gender differences in dyadic coping efforts, the effects of supportive and cooperative dyadic coping as well as negative dyadic coping on marital quality are the same for all couples,” said Yiwen Wang, lead author of the study and PhD candidate in UT Austin’s Department of Sociology, said in a statement.

“Our findings also highlight the importance of coping as a couple for marital quality in different relationship contexts, which may be an avenue through which couples work together to enhance relationship well-being,” Wang added.

The researchers explain that not nearly the same amount of research has been done on the dyadic treatment of same-sex relationships. However, understanding the dynamics of these relationships could have some real benefits for all troubled couples.

“Same-sex couples face unique stressors related to discrimination and stigma. Being treated as a couple can be especially important for them, since they don’t get as much support from extended family, friends or institutions as same-sex couples,” added Debra Umberson, professor of sociology at UT Austin.

“Including same-sex spouses and examining how they work together to manage stress compared to opposite-sex spouses can help us better understand the ways in which gender dynamics play out in marriages Umberson said.

The new study was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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