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Transcript: Wed., Dec. 1 at noon ET

On Love: Relationship advice for same-sex couples

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Ellen McCarthy and Alapaki Yee
Washington Post Staff Writer and co-founder of the Gay Couples Institute
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:00 PM

Alapaki Yee, co-founder of the Gay Couples Institute, joins The Post's Ellen McCarthy to take your questions and comments, and discuss relationship advice for same-sex couples.

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McCarthy writes about weddings and relationships in Sunday's Arts & Style OnLove section.

Yee along with his partner and fellow therapist, Salvatore Garanzini, founded the Gay Couples Institute in 2007 to help gay men and women create and sustain healthy relationships.

Read McCarthy's profile of Yee and the organization: Counselors get at the heart of issues for same-sex couples (Sept. 2009)

For more marital and relationship advice and to see how other couples have gotten to the altar, visit our On Love section.

The transcript follows.

____________________

Ellen McCarthy: Happy Wednesday, everyone.

I'm excited we have Alapaki Yee with us today. The psychological community is just now starting to really dig into questions about the dynamics of same-sex relationships. Yee and his partner, Salvatore Garanzini, are among the first to focus their counseling services on gay and lesbian couples. He has lots of great insights to share so we'll get right to it.

Alapaki Yee: Great to be here! Thanks for having me. I'm seeing some great questions. I'm answering them right now!

_______________________

Leesburg, Va.: My partner and I have been together for 14 years. I read the Post article on your practice in which you say, "That curiosity you have on a first date? There are ways to keep that going." Could you expand on that?

washingtonpost.com: Read the story here: Counselors get at the heart of issues for same-sex couples (Sept. 2009)

Alapaki Yee: To keep the spark alive. Couples are doing three things: Continually getting to know their partner; catching their partner doing something right and telling them about it and "Turning Toward". Couples are always 'bidding' for one another's attention in everyday interaction. Couples who last long-term are aware of how one's partner asks for connection and expresses emotional needs, and decide to turn toward these bids (rather than turning away or against them). You and your partner will need to find ways to recognize each other's sexual bids and remember to turn towards them, instead of away.

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Ellen McCarthy: Maybe you can tell us a little about the origins of the Gay Couples Institute. What drove you and Garanzini to start the organization?

Alapaki Yee: Our approach is based on 35 years of research in watching how couples last into the long-term. It basically looks at what couples are doing right to last long term and what they are doing wrong to break up. Nothing like this exist to help same-sex couples stay together. Our mission is to bring this approach to the gay and lesbian community.

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Cozy dudes: My partner and I have both similar and different interests. Similarities include motorcycles, home improvement, and home maintenance projects.

But when we settle down after dinner in the leisure room, he resorts to tapping at his laptop, mostly on blogs and Facebook, while I enjoy my TiVo entertainment on the big screen.

Both of us have jobs that require high Internet usage, so for me, when I get home, I just like to dress down, exercise, have a nice dinner and chill.

I want more quality time with him in the evening hours, and not turn my head to see him sitting on the opposite sofa pecking at the laptop keyboard. I've asked him, in a pleasant tone, several times to stop this, but he persists. Should I be worried or should I try another way to be tactful in resolving this issue?

Alapaki Yee: Couples are always 'bidding' for one another's attention in everyday interaction. It may be beneficial to sit down with your partner and plan out "US" time. List out the activities together you want to do, schedule them and plan them out. That way, there's dedicated time for the two of you to spend without the computer. It's a fun way to say, "hey I want more of you."

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Ellen and Alapaki. Marriage is a new opportunity that gay people have in D.C. and in several other places. There are volumes written about heterosexual marriage ceremonies. Are there any good guides on a gay ceremony? I'm a fan of tradition, but obviously two men don't fit neatly into the bride wearing white or having bridesmaids or even whose parents walk down the aisle first.

Any suggestions?

Ellen McCarthy: I've covered a number of gay weddings for the Post and it seems to me that there's a great opportunity here to take the best of traditional wedding ceremonies, cut the rituals you don't like, and make it as personal as possible. Web sites like www.gayweddings.com and www.twogrooms.com might provide inspiration.

The weddings I like best are the ones that really reflect the couple. Who cares about the "rules" on these things. Throw the wedding you want.

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Washington, D.C.: What are some of the common dynamics or issues that LBGT couples face that are unique?

Alapaki Yee: All couples fight about Money, Sex, Parenting, Getting along with In-Laws, Tidiness/Chores and Use of Personal Free Time. Open relationships, adopting, not being out to your folks (so you can't take your partner home for the holidays) remain some of the top issues.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello! My partner and I have been together for three years. We are happy, but have an issue with sex. My drive is a lot higher than his and we don't have it as frequently as I'd like. How can we compromise to where I feel more satisfied but he doesn't feel pressure to perform above his true desire?

Alapaki Yee: Sex is a common one that comes up a lot. What we've seen to work is to first talk about the issue. You first need to understand the pressure and worries prior to moving too quickly to problem solving or compromise. There's always a back story to why your partner may be feeling pressured. Listen and validate that with him.

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Richmond, Va.: This is more like a disjointed observation, but here goes . . . I'm 50+ and have known many couples who just can't seem to make their relationships last. Additionally, as a parent of a gay child, I've seen her go through more relationships significant or otherwise. I only know one couple who has made more than 20 years. Are same sex relationships inherently more dramatic (i.e., moving in together after a couple of dates) then heterosexual relationships?

Alapaki Yee: Esther Rothblum, a professor of Women's Studies at San Diego State University, coauthored a fascinating study completed in January, 2008. She, and another associated study found:

-Same sex partners are generally happier than their straight siblings who married.

-Gay couples take larger risks to live openly, thus they must work harder to stay together. By working harder to stay together, they end up creating happier relationships.

-Same sex couples automatically experience a greater sense of compatibility, possibly due to the fact that less "translation" is needed between the sexes. (Basically, when your partner is of the same sex as you, he/she is already at a communication advantage, as compared to heterosexual couples.)

-Same sex couples are: more honest with each other about monogamy and sex more mature, considerate, and fair to each other more funny and affectionate when they argue less controlling take things less personally

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I'm just starting a relationship with a great guy and I have been known to move too quickly. I am trying to relax and take it easy, but I am constantly worried that I am either doing too much or not enough. I am also not sure when I should invite him to hang out with my friends and how much time I should spend with his friends, especially since those times together usually involve alcohol and bars. Any suggestions on how to find the right balance between spending enough time together to get know each other better vs. time apart vs. time with each others friends?

Alapaki Yee: Use of personal free time is a common issues that comes up. It's always hard in the beginning to find that right balance. I do know that "Turning Towards" your partners bids for attention 87% of the time helps to build a strong friendship and to keep a relationship alive. Transparency helps in the beginning to build good trust. If you feel comfortable, I wonder what would happen if you just asked him if the amount of time you're spending with him is appropriate. See what he says.

_______________________

Washington, D.C. : My partner and I have been together for more than two decades, and I am now discovering that he has been, and continues to be, unfaithful, to a fairly rampant degree. We are talking dozens of hook-ups, which seem to be happening regularly. I only know this by secretly reading his e-mail -- something that I'm not particularly proud of, but I feel that I need to know what's going on. Should I confront him? I would like him to stop, and feel like I am being made a fool of. But what are the consequences?

Alapaki Yee: Through this conflict, the two of you have an opportunity to get closer. Confronting him won't be an easy choice. But consider this:

70-75% of couples make it through infidelity (Shirley Glass, Ph.D, author of "Not Just Friends").

Couples go through three phases when they are going through an affair recovery:

1. Interrogation (flip out like a NYPD fact finding)

2. Seek Information (Answer succintly and non-defensiveness. There's times it may seem like it's an interrogation but it's not ... it's seeking info to move fwd.)

3. Let's learn from this (move organically into this phase, where you realizes pieces of this and how you can learn from this but no rush moving here too quickly)

I would get the Shirley Glass book "Not Just Friends" and start there.

_______________________

Barcelona, Spain (but originally from the USA): I am 43-year-old woman and started dating women about a year and half ago. I was previously married (to a man) for over eight years and dated men following my divorce.

I am getting into a serious relationship with a woman now. I am concerned because the women I have dated (including the woman I am seeing currently) all have pretty limited financial means and seem much less fiscally responsible than the men I have dated.

I am not super wealthy, but I bought my house cash, have a substantial retirement savings and live comfortably. I also have a great education and good job. However, add another person to the equation who hasn't even started a retirement plan and I start to panic.

I know that lesbian couples are often at a disadvantage financially due to the lower average income of women.

Have you dealt with female relationships facing this problem? How do they handle it? I guess I never considered that I would ever end up with someone who made LESS money than me, but if I keep dating women it is looking like I might have to get used to it. But I'm really not interested in being the bread-winner.

It is freaking me out and causing me to question if I should move forward in my current relationship.

Alapaki Yee: It sounds like having money and financial security is important. Keep in mind that all couples fight about money, sex, in-laws, parenting, use of personal free time and tidiness. When you select your partner, you have just selected their set of problems. You break up with them and do out with someone else, you have not essentially selecting another set of problems. So, in this case, money may be a concern but the tidiness and sex is great. In another relationship, the money may NOT be a concern but the sex is. You're always exchanging one set of problems with another. What I will say is find the set of problems you feel you can manage, tolerant and be patient with to see through with your partner.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: I appreciate your insights above on keeping the spark alive in a relationship, but what about those of us who are looking for love?

I am a gay man in my early thirties and it always seems the "rules" for dating and relationships for gay men are at least a little different than our straight counterparts. What tips do you have for gay men who are interested in developing healthy relationships early on?

Alapaki Yee: We get asked this quite a bit in out clinic. At the foundation of every relationship is:

Love Maps: The foundation of the house, The Love Map, is a road map of one's partner's inner psychological world. It involves the couple knowing one another and periodically updating this knowledge.

Fondness/Admiration: We have found that couples who last long-term seem to always be catching each other doing something right, rather than focusing on the negative. This ends up building an atmosphere of appreciation, fondness, affection, and respect. In terms of your relationship .

Turning Towards: Couples are always 'bidding' for one another's attention in everyday interaction. Couples who last long-term are aware of how one's partner asks for connection and expresses emotional needs, and decide to turn toward these bids (rather than turning away or against them).

So, with the next guy you meet, get to know them, tell them what you like about them and remember to answer his bids for your attention.

_______________________

Ellen McCarthy: Can you tell us about some of the biggest mistakes you see couples making that eventually lead them to breakup?

Alapaki Yee: Couples will sit with a problem for six years before they address it. The largest mistake we see is couples not dealing with issues that arise. Remember that all couples fight about sex, money, in-laws, parenting, use of free time and tidiness. None of these issues itself will end the relationship, but the tension it creates will. I would also say that it's not the things you talk about that will end relationships. It's all the things you don't talk about.

_______________________

Portland, Oregon: I recently started dating women after dating only men for many years. I have started to see a woman seriously. I do not want to tell people at work (we work at the same company). I have told family and friends, but don't want work people to gossip about me. Also, I have a concern that it could have a negative impact on my career. I am sort of a "star perfomer," and have a very public-facing, high-profile position at my company.

My girlfriend is very "out" at work and everywhere. I know it bothers her that I don't let people at work know, and she is waiting for me to finally come out at work.

How can I mange this better and not hurt her feelings?

Alapaki Yee: Being out to friends, family at home and at work is a personal decision and you will do it in your own way and your own time. In the meantime, this sounds like it's loaded with a lot of meaning for you. There is a way to communicate each other's different perspective on this by taking turns talking about this issue. The speaker talks about herself and what being out means while the listener just validates and actively listens. Validating is not the same as agreeing. In validation, you are listening very carefully to how your partners feeling about this issue and why they may be feeling that way.

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Ellen McCarthy: What are some of the things that have surprised you most about counseling same-sex couples since opening the Institute?

Alapaki Yee: Some big surprise is how needed our institute is to help couples last long-term. We realize more and more how an institute like ours really doesn't exist and how same-sex couples really feel comfortable seeing us b/c we understand their issues.

_______________________

Ellen McCarthy: Have you counseled straight couples in the past? How similar or different are the dynamics from same-sex couples?

Alapaki Yee: In short, there's research that says same-sex couples are kinder to each other when they fight than straight couples. They are less critical, defensive, contemptuous (belligerence, name calling, looking down at your partner) and they stonewall (cutting off communication) less.

I point to again Esther Rothblum, a professor of Women's Studies at San Diego State University, coauthored a fascinating study completed in January, 2008. She, and another associated study found:

-Same sex partners are generally happier than their straight siblings who married.

-Gay couples take larger risks to live openly, thus they must work harder to stay together. By working harder to stay together, they end up creating happier relationships.

-Same sex couples automatically experience a greater sense of compatibility, possibly due to the fact that less "translation" is needed between the sexes. (Basically, when your partner is of the same sex as you, he/she is already at a communication advantage, as compared to heterosexual couples.)

Same sex couples are:

-more honest with each other about monogamy and sex

-more mature, considerate, and fair to each other

-more funny and affectionate when they argue

-less controlling

-take things less personally

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: RE: The infidelity question/situation, thanks for the advice. But, when asked: "How do you know I'm cheating?" by my partner, will I lose his trust/respect when I tell him I've been reading his e-mail? Or is -he- the one who should be concerned about losing -my- trust and respect? Or should we both be concerned? It's complicated.

Alapaki Yee: No doubt bringing it out into the open is difficult. Often times the cheating partner is angry b/c they just "got caught." You will have to decide for yourself whether or not to confront him. Ask yourself : What do I have to gain if I confront him? What do I lose if I don't?

Alapaki Yee: In addition, we've seen that tension is the #1 reason why couples break up. My concern is that 'not talking about it' is going to build more tension and resentment on your part towards him. Something to think about as well.

_______________________

Texas: What is the best information resource available on finances for gay couples who are married but not recognized by the law? Specifically, resources on taxes, estates and investing would be great.

Ellen McCarthy: I know there are lawyers in the DC area who specialize in helping gay couples with legal issues. You should contact your local HRC to see if they recommend some reputable lawyers in your area who can do the same.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Do you have any advice/insight for "moving on" when a long-term relationship has ended, and it wasn't your choice or what you wanted? My five-year relationship ended six months ago and my "ex" is seeing someone else. Our worlds are connected, so there's no way to avoid seeing him occasionally . . . and I feel like I should be further along the mourning/grieving/letting go process.

Alapaki Yee: I'm sorry to hear that the relationship ended. You need to give yourself time to grief and not add additional pressure on giving yourself a timeline. Make sure you get support from family and friends, perhaps even seeing a counselor to help with this transition. This book also helps: How to Survive the Lost of a Love,Harold Bloomfield

It's a little dated but the words are very meaningful and poignant.

_______________________

New York, N.Y.: What are your thoughts on how to deal with monogamy in same-sex male couples? My partner and I are in our late-20s and have been together for eight years. This is something we struggle with. He is more interested in opening the relationship up than I am, and I'm having a hard time coming up with reasons not to do so, other than jealousy and insecurities about how I look (he's fitter than I am). Most of our gay couple friends (especially those older than us) have relationships that are open in varying degrees and with varying amounts of disclosure. Would be grateful for your thoughts on this issue.

Alapaki Yee: Open Relationships are not uncommon. It may be beneficial to look at WHY one is looking for sex outside of the relationship. Open Relationships should be approached if the couple is coming from a place of abundance not deficit.

We see a lot of couples struggling with this and one of the things we've notice is that there are a lot of healthy monogamous relationships, and unhealthy open ones and a lot of healthy open ones and unhealthy monogamous ones.

Gay open relationships are a really difficult topic for many couples. Clearly, an open relationship is right for some couples, and not right for others.

Address the following:

1. Is this right for me?

2. How do I maintain emotional monogamy:

3. How do I establish rules around this issue?

The big thing to not do is make unilateral decisions one way or the other as this is a partnership that will require both of you to address and compromise on.

_______________________

Ellen McCarthy: Thanks for the great questions, everyone. And Alapaki, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Alapaki Yee: Thank you Ellen and everyone for your wonderful questions! Many of the answers to these questions are on our blog site at: http://www.gaycouplesinstitute.org/blog/index.php.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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